October 27th, 2008
11:22 AM ET

Want to vote, can't read

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/27/art.vote.signs.jpg]
Lolly Bowean

On a recent morning, a normally hidden employee of the "Steve Harvey Morning Show" stepped into the spotlight and made a bold confession. The security guard, whose nickname is Big Boom, had not voted in all of his 53 years.

He explained that he had never registered or voted because he could not read. He couldn't fill out the paperwork.

This may seem like an unusual reason for not voting, but it may be more common than you think. Big Boom's story is a poignant reminder that even in this historic year of African Americans breaking down barriers, basic literacy is still a challenge in many of our communities. Nine out of 10 African-American students have not mastered reading by the fourth grade, according to the National Institute for Literacy. And the most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy found that African Americans scored well below white adults in an assessment of reading comprehension.

I've had my own up-close encounters with illiteracy. I've had neighbors and relatives ask me to read documents to them or fill out paperwork. Not all of them admit to struggling with reading, but I suspect that's why they sought my help.

Still, a couple years ago, when I decided to volunteer at an adult literacy center, I was surprised to see there was such a need. Working with the members of the all-male group, I could see the extreme social and economic consequences of African-American boys that don't learn to read. Some of the men spent years trying to distract others from noticing their handicap. Some struggle to gain employment and have difficulty navigating everyday life.

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Filed under: Raw Politics
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. MPalalay (California)

    It is sad to hear about adult reading and for some, writing illiteracy, but unfortunately it still exists even in this age of reading and writing material heaven.

    I suppose I got lucky, because the love of reading came very naturally for me–or so I thought. You see, my family has always been avid readers of newspapers, magazines, books..anything! I was surrounded by plenty of opportunities to read and to write, as our home was always filled with them. Not only that, I had good role models through my parents, siblings, my grandparents, uncles and aunts.

    In the eyes of a child who grows up in this fertile and productive environment, curiousity, excitement and eagerness for these very important life skills therefore come easy and "naturally." I could not wait to learn very early in life how to "read" even if it meant starting witht the comic section of a newspaper or the pictures and illustrations in books. As an adult, there is not a day that I do not fill free time with reading anything I could get my hands on.

    Reading and writing go hand in hand. If one cannot read, almost always, one cannot write. The pleasures, adventures, and wisdom one gets from them are quite priceless, but it takes a patient and inspirational someone to expose children to such activities. With so many opportunities around such as libraries and tutorials, socio-economic class and age need not be a hindrance. It would be a greater tragedy not to be able to vote and have a say in someone's course in life–all because one did not learn how to read and write.

    October 27, 2008 at 4:20 pm |
  2. Larry

    What are the rates for non-african-americans?

    October 27, 2008 at 4:06 pm |

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