- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

Community involvement, early childhood development and adult education are crucial to increasing the literacy rate in the District, speakers and audience members said at a forum yesterday.

“I cannot do everything, but I can do something, and even though I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can” was the message Wally “Famous” Amos gave the about 35 community members and literacy activists at the forum.

Mr. Amos, cookie entrepreneur and childhood-literacy champion, was one of several panelists who participated yesterday in the Sixth Citizens Forum event — Reading and Writing vs. Reality in our Communities: What must be done to break the cycle of illiteracy in Washington, D.C.? — held at the Arbor Ballroom in The Washington Times building in Northeast.

“I think we all must focus on what we can do, and how we can get involved,” Mr. Amos said.

Other panelists included Deborah A. Gist, D.C. state education officer; Leila Plassey, executive director of the National Coalition For Literacy; and Jeff Carter, executive director of D.C. LEARNs.

According to a report by the D.C. State Education Agency, last year, at least 62 percent of the city’s residents fell into the two lowest levels of reading proficiency. The report also said that nearly one-quarter of D.C. residents — more than 130,000 — need to improve their reading skills.

“We’ve got to go back to the basics,” Ella McCall-Haygan, a community activist who runs the literacy program From Streets to Skills, told the audience. “We need to stop relying on everybody, and we need to help ourselves. … This is important; we must come together as a community and help each other.”

Miss Gist said D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who is not running for re-election, is focusing on adult illiteracy and its negative effects.

“This issue is very important for economic development in the city,” she said. “Businesses depend upon workers having good literacy skills.”

Last month, Mr. Williams announced the formation of a literacy task force of about 20 business and community leaders.

The group will examine the problem of adult illiteracy and develop solutions that can be shared with Mr. Williams’ successor next year, the mayor said.

Miss Gist said the task force will have its first meeting in June and indicated that the city will expand the program to include childhood illiteracy.

Mr. Carter said there are more than 120 nonprofit organizations in the city that focus on teaching children and adults to become more literate.

The Washington Times LLC has hosted the six community forums, which examine various issues, including baseball in the District and gang violence.

Brian Bauman, a special-projects manager for The Times who helps organize the forums, said yesterday’s forum “was probably one of the most substantive discussions we’ve had to date. The quality of resources of the organizations represented by the participants and also the cooperation of the panel melded together very nicely.”

LIBERTY’S PROMISE

Founded: 2005

Employees: Two full time, one volunteer

Description: Liberty’s Promise is an Alexandria-based nonprofit that encourages young, low-income legal immigrants to become politically active in the United States through internships and civics classes. The program has placed 24 students in internships and connected 25 to civics classes and job-skill workshops during the past year.

Address: 1010 Pendleton St., Alexandria, VA 22314-1837

Contact: Robert M. Ponichtera, executive director, 703/549-9950.


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