Giving truth to Memphis youth
By Lily Donaldson & Morrell Pruitte Jr. (Bolton High School & White Station High School)
Imagine going through your whole life being unable to read anything. You might get lost often since you couldn’t read a road sign or a map. You couldn’t order your favorite item from a menu without the aid of pictures. You wouldn’t even understand an email or a text message from your friend. Now imagine trying to find a job. For 120,000 adults in the Memphis and even more children and teens, this is a reality. A reality that one organization in particular is working to change.
The Memphis Literacy Council was started by a group of former teachers in 1972, and in 2010 it was decentralized, reformed, and renamed, and Literacy Mid-South was born with the mission “to create a community actively engaged in learning,” and the vision “to have a 100 percent literate population.” The organization defines literacy as the ability “to read well enough to get into a GED program, usually at a seventh to eight grade.
While Literacy Mid-South aims to get all adults in the mid-south to a junior high reading level, there are still over 120,000 Memphians that cannot read at over a third grade reading level. That’s 5.4 percent of the city, and the statistics are even higher on the national scale; the National Institute of Literacy and Department of Education estimates that 14 percent of adults living in the United States are illiterate, and yearly the U.S. government spends $225,000,000,000 to support illiterate adults.
Troy L. Wiggins is one of the current eight employees of Literacy Mid-South. He is an avid author and the Adult Learning Coordinator for Literacy Mid-South.
He told the story of one of his students, a 65-year-old business woman who was illiterate, showing that even “successful people can be illiterate.”
“She owned her own business for 25 years and she couldn’t read. Her family didn’t even know…She hid it from everyone,” Wiggins said.
Literacy Mid-South hosts a number of events all around Memphis to increase literacy rates in as many ways as possible. Some events are open to the community and are completely free, such as the Mid-South Book Festival, which has public book readings, bookstores, and writing workshops. There are also private classes that meet in groups sessions or one-on-one instructor and student sessions. Classes are available for adults who are fluent English speakers and those who learning English as a second language. These classes cost a small fee up front; however, the cost is worth it because statistics show that those who have joined and committed to the program have seen a 30 percent increase in their reading level in a year.
Mid-South Literacy uses volunteers from around the community. Miss Tipton Grace Burgess is an avid supporter of literacy throughout the Mid-South. Through her Miss America charity program, Ready, Set Read!: Encouraging a Love For Reading, she works with many local literacy organizations, including Mid-South Literacy.
“I enjoy promoting Literacy Mid-South and their events. One of my favorite [of their] events…is the Book Blast at Wolfchase Galleria. I spent the afternoon reading and visiting with children and talking to parents about the importance of childhood literacy,” said Burgess.
Over 500 adult learners have been served and over 300 volunteers have worked to improved Memphis’ reading level. The number of illiterates may be growing, but Literacy Mid-South will keep teaching and change the way people live their lives, one word at a time.
To find more about what the organization is doing to improve illiteracy in the Mid-South, visit literacymidsouthorg.