Where there’s a will, there’s a way! As we continue our series for National Literacy Month, we share insight into overcoming low literacy in college and graduating despite the odds. Yes, it is possible to graduate college while still hiding the shame of low literacy!
Watch the video below about Reading to New Heights’ Executive Director Deidra Mayberry’s story and how she graduated from college while hiding her literacy secret.
If you or someone you know may be battling with literacy, please send this blog to them, so they know they are not alone, and we are here to help.
“Even when my husband and I started dating, I had so much fear because I didn’t want him to know that I can’t read at a high level. It was a really long secret.” – Reading to New Heights Learner.
Like our learners, co-founder of Reading to New Heights, Deidra Mayberry, has had direct experience with literacy shame in relationships. Watch the video below as we continue to explore literacy shame during National Literacy Month.
If you or someone you know may be battling with literacy, please send this blog to them so they know they are not alone, and we are here to help.
Co-founder of Reading to New Heights, Deidra Mayberry, shares her experience with literacy shame in the workplace. Shame met her at the door of her job every day. Eventually, that feeling turned into fear of being exposed and unqualified for her career.
Watch the video above as we continue to explore literacy shame during National Literacy Month. If you or someone you know may be battling with literacy, please send this blog to them so they know they are not alone, and we are here to help.
Doreen’s struggle with reading stems from her childhood, which was impacted by a debilitating illness known as Lupus. She often didn’t want to eat as a child as her condition affected her physically and mentally.
“I was the youngest of eight children, and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me for a while, but then I was diagnosed with Lupus,” she said. “It did impact me and my learning and my health. I just struggled. I struggled in school and struggled to learn to read.”
Fortunately, Doreen graduated high school and was very involved in her church. More than 30 years ago, she met her now husband at her church but was afraid to tell him about her reading struggles when they were dating. She was embarrassed and concerned about what he might say.
“I had to be honest and finally tell him,” she confessed. “Luckily, he said he didn’t care! We’ve been married for over 30 years, and he is so smart.”
While married, Doreen worked at a steady job for more than 25 years before retiring medically due to Lupus complications. She said she would use sight words to get by at work but was embarrassed when people like her supervisor would notice her reading struggles. However, she was highly organized and well-loved and completed her job proficiently.
After retiring, Doreen was more than ready to put her literacy woes behind her. After hearing about this program from her brother, she joined Reading to New Heights more than two years ago after several failed attempts with other literacy programs that did not work for her. She was so excited to start this long-time-awaited journey with a new program.
“I’ve been praying for a program like this since I was a child so that I could learn how to read. I am so grateful,” exclaimed Doreen.
Doreen has had great success and now reads with confidence. She meets virtually with her instructor twice a week and has developed a special bond. One day, by happenstance, she was discussing her progress in the program with her brother and discovered that they have the same instructor!
“It makes for great conversations between the two of us, and we’re both learning a lot because [our instructor] really puts all of her time into making sure you understand,” she said. “We’re both just so grateful for her and the program.”
Doreen has so many aspirations after joining the program, including starting a YouTube channel and authoring her first book.
“This is one of the best programs ever! I have tried all the other ones, but this one gives you the understanding you need,” she says. “I’m reading now. I am more confident, and I want to write a book. If I can do it, so can everyone who struggles with reading.”
The word literacy is used quite often, but how is it truly defined? And why does it matter?
We’re glad you asked and happy to share our thoughts.
Literacy has been defined and redefined as the world, society changes, and more is expected of people. The word literate means more now than simply knowing how to read. The term has more weight and depth than the old, direct translation.
Reading to New Heights defines literacy as the ability to use printed and written information to function well in society.
The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development) simplifies this idea well:
Literacy is more than just reading, writing, and numeracy. It’s not about being literate or illiterate anymore, but having adequate skills for today’s demands.
In refining our own definition, we were inspired by definitions of literacy from other places, most notably the following:
UNESCO – Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute, and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.
NAAL (National Assessment of Adult Literacy) – Literacy is using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.
ProLiteracy – Literacy is the ability to read, write, compute, and use technology at a level that enables an individual to reach his or her full potential as a parent, employee, and community member.
We love these definitions. And while someone is on the journey to learning, they are indeed learning. At Reading to New Heights, we call that beloved group adult learners. And we never use the term illiterate as it implies ignorance and is an insulting term to use. Literacy is a continuum, and people gain literacy on a scale. Learning is a continuous journey, so in essence, everyone over the age of 18 are adult learners.
The more you know, the more you grow! We hope to spread awareness and empower adults through literacy support.
Share this with someone you know today!
We are so thankful that United Way Dallas allowed Reading to New Heights to participate in their 12-week program designed to help foster early-stage social ventures led and staffed by women and people of color. Known as the Social Innovation Incubator, we, alongside other participants, had the opportunity to:
- Utilize personalize leadership coaching to empower participants as they develop their venture and grow their leadership
- Access seed funding and compete in a pitch competition for additional funding of up to $5,000
- Prioritization for future programs through United Way of Metropolitan Dallas
Last week, United Way Dallas granted us two awards—the Sustainability Awards and the Audience Choice Award–after a successful pitch.
“We are honored to be a part of this program not only because of the professional development and support but also because it provides endless opportunities to move our mission forward and create a safe place for adults to learn and improve their literacy skills. Everything we do is with current and future learners in mind,” says Deidra Mayberry, Reading to New Heights’ Executive Director and Co-founder.
Founded in 2020, Reading to New Heights is still in the startup phase. Focusing exclusively on startups led and staffed by women and people of color, the Social Innovation program fosters greater equity in the local social innovation sector. The program works to intentionally address historical barriers to success that many women and people of color encounter when launching a startup, including opportunity and resource gaps, as well as systemic racial and gender inequities.
“Social innovation is an exciting area because it’s all about leveraging more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just solutions to our community’s biggest challenges,” said Alexis Snow, senior manager of innovation at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.
Thank you, United Way Dallas!
Before I met Deidra Mayberry, I was really in the dark about the disturbing statistics available on the breadth and depth of functional illiteracy among adults in this country. As Deidra puts it…
In a matter of just one day, people go from children who struggle with reading to adults who struggle with reading.
That makes sense because one day you are legally considered a child and the next, on your eighteenth birthday, you are suddenly plunged into the world with full adult responsibilities whether you’ve mastered basic literacy skills or not. As a lifelong educator, I’m a little bit embarrassed by how unaware I’ve been about this particular issue. Deidra cites a disturbing 2020 Forbes article by Michael T. Nietzel that articulates the widespread implications of the problem.
There’s 130 million adults in the U.S. that cannot read above a third grade level.
Someone you know likely struggles to read. According to UNESCO, despite a steady rise in the literacy rate over the past 50 years, there are still 773 million adults around the world who cannot read. The majority are women.
While that number can easily be overwhelming, it is essential to know that there are solutions to reducing this number. It is why Reading to New Heights was founded–to chip away at that number and empower those on the journey to reading proficiency.
And while monetary donations support our efforts of hiring certified instructors, paying for curriculum, and ensuring we achieve our mission, there are other ways to give back. Here are a few tips if you’re looking for ways to reduce illiteracy rates and get involved.
- Share our social media
You never know who in your social circle is struggling with literacy, and perhaps sharing a post could be the sign that someone needs to start their journey of improving their reading skills. Follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook, and share a post as a sign of solidarity and support.
- Become a volunteer
Our volunteers make our mission possible. You can support by offering your time, skills, and expertise with as little as four hours a week. We would love to have you join us! If you have an active teaching certificate from any state, click here for more information.
- Be a listening ear
Reading hardships are often a hidden struggle. If someone confides in you about their struggles or desire to improve their reading skills, take the time to listen and support them. Share our resources and let them know that they are not alone.
For an inspirational clip of how Reading to New Heights co-founder Deidra Mayberry confided in her friend about her struggles, watch this clip from the Kelly Clarkson Show.
Remember that literacy is one of the greatest gifts, and you have the tools to share it.