“Most people think that they don’t know anyone who can’t read, but the person who can’t read is your co-worker, your next door neighbor or the person you just passed on the street. It’s the person sitting beside of you in the church pew.” Earl Mills
Every once in a while, I come across a story that reawakens in me a deep belief in the life-changing the power of words. Here’s a hopeful one I wanted to share:
Earl Mills was middle-aged, married, and the father of five children. He’d worked for 25 years for the same company. Earl was active in his community and his church. But all his life, he harbored a secret only his wife knew: He didn’t know how to read.
His secret finally came to light one evening in front of other people whose opinion he valued when he was asked to read a Bible passage at a meeting. At 44 years old, he made a decision that changed his life. He asked for help. When he was assessed, his counselors learned that he was reading at a second-grade level. He had a hard time spelling words like “girl” and “bird.”
Over the next three years, while working and raising his family, Earl embarked on the challenging process of learning how to master the words that had eluded him all his life. As he struggled to improve his literacy, he also learned to capture his frustrations and moments of victory on paper. Today, he is the author of several books of poetry, including From Illiterate to Poet and From Illiterate to Author.*
In addition to being a newly minted poet, Earl is now a passionate literacy advocate. At a recent National ProLiteracy Conference (Proliteracy.org), he stood up and read several of his inspiring, heartfelt poems to 500 literacy professionals. What a soul-satisfying moment that must have been for him! Three years before, he couldn’t read — now he was reciting poems he’d penned.
Every year, one in six young adults — more than 1.2 million people — drop out of high school without having learned to read. Think of all the poets and page-turners who might love and buy books who are lost to illiteracy. What a gift to the world newly minted readers like Earl can be. Bravo, Earl — write on!
* I’ll be sharing one of Earl’s poems in this week’s “Something Wonderful” post.