Charlie and Louretta Rias.
Louretta Rias grew up on a farm in Mississippi, and let's just say the agrarian life wasn't conducive to book-learning. But the wife and mother eventually decided her time for literacy had come. So she signed up for classes at Literacy Mid-South in the Cooper-Young area. There, she learned to read.
"Now I can go online, y'all!" she said at a board luncheon earlier today. "Ooh, thank you Jesus!"
Who knew being able to pay bills on the internet could be so liberating? But to a person who once struggled to write notes to her children's teachers, and whose husband, Charlie, wasn't much better off, it's tantamount to a miracle. And it's even something cynical media types can appreciate.
Something that's a little harder to appreciate is the fact that about 120,000 people in the Memphis area are as functionally illiterate as the Riases used to be. That's a statistic new Literacy Mid-South executive director Kevin Dean trotted out along with the couple's warm-and-fuzzies. As far as Dean is concerned, his org should be a clearinghouse for community-wide literacy efforts in a place that needs them badly.
"We can't tackle the educational crisis in this town, but we can change how people perceive learning," he said.
Some of the ways Literacy Mid-South is doing that include the Academy Tutoring Project, in which volunteer tutors work in five charter schools; the Family Literacy Program, whose goal is to show parents how important it is to read to young children; the Literacy Coalition, which teaches other organizations how to train people; and more.
"We want to be the center of literacy in the Mid-South," Dean said.
And, at least for Charlie and Louretta Rias, it certainly is.