Thursday, December 15, 2005


Some of the readers tonight spoke through tears; some fought nerves; some struggled to read the words at all. Yet each had his or her story, all worth telling, all worth hearing. They told stories of courage, persistence, and survival. They told stories of their own lives and their own worlds, and they told them in their own words.

What made it all the more remarkable is that all the adults who spoke are just learning to read and write. They are discovering their voices. Tonight they published their own book, and they stood up in front of friends, tutors, and family to read their writing.

They did not learn to read and write as children for any number of reasons. Some came from other countries and other languages. Some moved around a lot as children, or advanced through school just by age, not by ability. Some had disabilities that went unidentified or unaddressed. One learner summed it up nicely when she said, "Stupid has nothing to do with it."

They told their own stories of overcoming tremendous challenges: breast cancer, drug addiction, brain surgery, cerebral palsy, immigration, parenthood and illiteracy. For some, the act of writing and reading a story was completely new. The mayor, who spoke after the learners finished, dabbed at tears and remarked that she should know better by now than to wear mascara to these gatherings.

I attended the book launch as one of about one hundred volunteer tutors in the program. I tutor on weekends, helping a woman from Taiwan to learn English and establish a life in this country. I have Sundays when I get caught up in my own activities and don't feel like leaving to tutor, but once I arrive, I nearly always stay longer than I planned. Language and the culture necessary to understand it are endless.

I always learn something, too. I learn bits of her culture and her life, and I learn her persistence, determination, enthusiasm, and above all, courage. I thank them all for finding the courage tonight to speak.


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