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Determined to read, motivated to succeed

Anthony Everson

Anthony Everson grew up in Miami, Fla. At age 14 he began working part time to help his single mother make ends meet. By 17 he was working nearly full time and going to high school. He couldn’t do both, so he quit school.

“We lived in a one-bedroom apartment. My mother worked as a maid and was always so tired. I helped pay the bills,” says Anthony, now 54. “I had to grow up quick.”

Anthony took warehouse jobs, drove a forklift and loaded ships at the Port of Miami. He worked hard, but he was never able to get ahead. In 1985, when he was 25, Anthony moved to Michigan to be near his father. He got married and had a son. Although his son has since graduated from high school, school remained a dream for Anthony.

Then he learned about adult literacy classes through the Kalamazoo Literacy Council, which is housed at Goodwill Industries of Southwestern Michigan. Last year, Anthony went back to school.

“I was really scared. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. But I told myself, ‘Man up. Whatever comes I can do it.’ And it turned out to be a great opportunity.”

When Anthony left school in the 10th grade, he read and wrote like a much younger student. As a teenager, he knew he’d fallen behind his classmates, but he was afraid to ask for help. The Kalamazoo Literacy Council paired Anthony with Carl Ill, a former high school English teacher and principal. That made Anthony even more nervous.

But Carl was nothing like Anthony expected. Carl knew that asking for help was an act of courage.

Says Carl, “You have to admire someone who’s 53 and says ‘I want to learn to read and write,’ and then puts in the time and the effort to make that a reality.”

“Carl was so nice,” says Anthony. “He started working with me the first time we met. He told me I could do it and he was right. Every time I get to a new workbook, he celebrates with me. I couldn’t believe anyone would be so kind.”

At the Literacy Council, the students are tested to determine their reading and writing abilities. Their goals depend on the individual. Some learn to read and write to perform their jobs better and to read to their children. Some go on to learn computer skills. Anthony wanted to improve his reading and writing to get a high school equivalency diploma. Students usually meet with a tutor once a week, but Anthony was so motivated that he met with Carl more often. In just one year Anthony was halfway to his goal. The experience helped him get a job at Goodwill Industries.

“I’m determined. I’m not going to let anybody or anything slow me down or stop me now,” says Anthony. And he means it. During much of the past year he held two jobs while studying. Then he had a heart attack. Once again, he found himself having to choose between work and school. This time, he quit his second job and now works only at Goodwill.

“You have to have an education to live in this society,” Anthony advises. “You need to get your diploma. If you’re motivated to do that, there is help right here.”

The Kalamazoo Literacy Council is part of the Adult Literacy Collaborative, which also serves as The Learning Network's Adult Learning Action Network.