About three years ago, I began to seek opportunities to get involved in some sort of community service in Nashville. Opportunity abounds in this town but I struggled for quite some time to find a cause that I could really put my weight behind. Passion cannot be manufactured nor should it be in the realm of community work. So, I waited for the right thing to come along.

I work for the international division of a publishing company so information and statistics regarding illiteracy often weave their way into my workday. Like many, I assumed that illiteracy wasn’t a major issue in the U.S. so data from developing countries was my focus. Until. Until I came across these facts outlined in the National Commission on Adult Literacy’s 2008 report, Reach Higher, AMERICA:

  • Among the 30 OECD countries, the U.S. is the only nation where young adults are less educated than the previous generations.
  • 2 million immigrants come the U.S. per year and 50% of them have low literacy skills.
  • 88 million adults have at least one major educational barrier. The barriers are: no high school diploma, no college or English language needs. Without these skills it’s unlikely that you’ll earn a family sustaining wage; at least two years of post secondary education are often necessary to live above the poverty line.
  • 56% of inmates have low literacy skills. 95% of them will return to our communities.

In sum, 91 million adults in the U.S. cannot read at a functional level. That is, nearly 30% of individuals over the age of 18 in this country cannot read at an 8th grade level or higher.

Knowing these statistics, coupled with conversations I’d had regarding the socioeconomic, familial, relational, spiritual and financial implications of illiteracy I knew that I had to do something to address the adult literacy needs in my city.

So, for a little over a year now I’ve been volunteering with the Nashville Adult Literacy Council, tutoring adults that are wanting to improve their skills in the areas of reading, writing and listening. Start Now, the specific program that I’m a part of, has allowed me to tutor a different student nearly every week.

The diversity of cultures, experiences, goals, dreams, challenges and triumphs I’ve encountered in my students have compelled me to continually look at every facet of this issue. The need to help these individuals is great and the resources available to them are scarce so I am passionate about activating individuals, companies, nonprofits, churches and the government to address this issue. Literacy is one of the most foundational elements to the empowerment of individuals and communities; without the eradication of illiteracy it’s unlikely the challenges faced in the areas of poverty, health & healthcare, teen pregnancy, fatherlessness, imprisonment, education, citizenship, drug addiction, our economy, apathy, injustice and the like will ever be removed.