Filed Under:  Education, Local, News

Community literacy program kicks off 9th season

23rd September 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Tabachnik
Contributing Writer

The Young Leadership Council (YLC) held its annual One Book One New Orleans kickoff party on September 18 at the Marigny Opera House, marking the commencement of its three-month literacy awareness campaign.

During the event, One Book One New Orleans organizers announced Louisi­ana by Jamaican writer and sociologist Erna Brodber as this year’s book selection.

Louisiana tells the story of Ella Townsend, a Jamaican-born anthropologist who travels to St. Mary Parish, Louisiana on a fellowship in anthropology from Columbia University to document the lives of the small South Louisiana community.

“This book is about the different ways of knowing,” said T.R. Johnson, an English professor from Tulane University who will sit on a panel about the book. “A voodoo priest versus an anthropologist; it’s strange and fascinating.”

“One Book One New Orleans seeks to promote literacy and community,” said Kaylee Smith, the project’s volunteer co-project leader.

“Each year we provide books to literacy organizations in the city, engage volunteers to assist with the project, raise awareness of literacy statistics in our community and give New Orleans a reason and avenue to come together to celebrate reading,” said Smith.

The project, which is presented in partnership with the Literacy Alliance of Greater New Orleans, is just one of the nine civic projects managed by the Young Leadership Council. Volunteers for YLC projects come from a variety of professional backgrounds, some related and others not.

“We have attorneys, petroleum engineers, Wells Fargo financial analysts,” Lindsay Jackiel, a volunteer who works with the organization’s College Admissions Project which pairs students with mentors to help navigate the college admissions process. “It’s a very broad cross-section of people.”

Organizers of the annual book event said they hope to “start a dialogue about the low literacy rate in New Orleans.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 40 percent of those age 16 and above in the Greater New Orleans area read below a 5th-grade level while 31 percent read below an 8th-grade level. Combined, this means that 71 percent of people over 16 cannot read at a high school level.

“Literacy is both a critical communication tool for every human being and a universally accessible way to explore the world around us,” said Natalie Mitchell, the co-project leader. “In our community and around the world, low literacy is a barrier for many to assist their children with school, obtain a job that pays a living wage, address their health issues, and participate fully as citizens.”

According to a study published by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, New Orleans has a greater share of low-skilled workers that the U.S. and reports that “26 percent of the current working-age population are low-skilled and likely low-literate compared to 23 percent nationally.”

Improving literacy rates is just one step, however. The study goes on to state that a review of current job projections suggests lower-skilled adults who obtain professional certificates, credentials and associate’s degrees are more likely to have “middle-skilled” job opportunities available to them. By getting residents to share the experience of reading the same book at the same time every, One Book organizers are hoping to raise awareness about these figures.

“All of these tasks fulfill our mission in a unique and important way,” said Smith.

One Book One New Orleans has free public events scheduled around the city from now until December 4. These include a panel discussion on voodoo at Tulane University, a book packing party for the Books 2 Prisoners program, and a reading by the author herself at Xavier University.

“A love of reading has opened my eyes to people and cultures that I would never have known otherwise,” said Natalie Mitchell, volunteer co-project leader for One Book One New Orleans, “and it has made me a better person for it.”

For more information on the events that will occur during the One Book One New Orleans campaign, visit www.onebookoneneworleans.com.

This article originally published in the September 23, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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