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Reading, writing and… vending machines? How Read901 is working toward 100 percent literacy in the Mid-South

by Sam O’Bryant —

Sam O’Bryant

If you can read this article without trouble, it’s because someone invested in your literacy. 

More than 20 percent of adults in Tennessee can’t say the same, according to the National Institute for Literacy. Literacy isn’t just about reading books. Some folks might also have trouble with everyday tasks, like reading the label on a drug prescription or filling out a job application.

Adults, who have trouble with literacy ⸺ reading, writing, and communicating clearly ⸺ are likely pass that struggle down to their children, according to research from “Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal.”

They won’t be able to help with their homework or teach them how to use recent technologies. This is what keeps many families in a cycle of generational challenges. 

This crisis has been escalating for a long time in the Mid-South, and no one person alone can solve the problem.

My personal journey into literacy began with my mother and my Aunt Jean. In addition to being a middle-school history teacher, my mother also was a certified reading instructor. 

Using this skill, my mom made sure I was reading beyond grade level before I stepped into a first-grade classroom. 

My mom included weekly trips to the library, during the summer, to mitigate any sort of learning loss. My Aunt Jean, who was a librarian, made sure I was registered for summer reading programs. Aunt Jean also made it her mission to have me read books that were above my current grade level. 

Because of the work of my village to position literacy as a vital part of my upbringing, I was able to function in the classroom at a high level.

It takes hard work and a village to raise an empowered community, but the good news is that Memphis always has been a place where neighbors lend a helping hand.

If we apply that same grit-and-grind energy toward reaching 100 percent literacy, I know that we can do it. 

That’s why at Literacy Mid-South we’re launching a new campaign called Read901 to make sure everyone, regardless of zip code, financial status, or background, has the resources they need to learn. 

Our new online portal has free resources for children, parents, teachers, and friends to start their literacy journey, and continue it. 

These resources will help educate people from birth to late adulthood. Many of the people, who need these resources for themselves or their children, are working late nights at multiple jobs while juggling child or parent care.

That’s why we’ve also installed Read901 vending machines for convenience, beginning at Scenic Hills Elementary and For The Kingdom in the Raleigh community. 

These vending machines will house books for all ages and learning abilities, everything from children’s books to test guides to adult tutoring resources will all be available directly in the community for free.

It’s important to us that we make these resources accessible and convenient for everyone.

Poor literacy rates have been an issue for decades in Memphis and across the country. But together, we can help each other not only boost our reading levels, but build healthier, more educated communities where all our families thrive.

(Sam O’Bryant is president of Literacy Mid-South.)



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