Written by Anthony Moujaes
Leaders of the United Church of Christ believe that literacy is essential to equality and justice. That key point is the emphasis of Reading Changes Lives, an all-church literacy initiative that is being launched in 2014 — and one of the initiatives outlined in the National Setting’s Vision Plan. This initiative will not only allow churches from across the denomination to participate first-hand in community service projects aimed at improving literacy rates among both children and adults, but also begin to raise even more awareness about how illiteracy can directly impact a range of social justice issues.
Many literacy advocates, including the officers of the church, strongly believe that the ability to read at a third-grade level at minimum allows a person to fully participate in his or her community, have better access to jobs, better support themselves and family, and raise children with strong literacy skills.
"The UCC has a long commitment to public education and to education in general," said the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, a national officer and executive minister for UCC Justice and Witness Ministries. "The fact that we face such a serious problem with illiteracy calls us to address the issue. The impact of illiteracy is broad, intersectional and complicated because it proportionally affects more people who are poor and people of color."
As a complicated and broad social justice issue, literacy impacts other issues, including economic justice, gender inequality, criminal justice, public education, and racial justice.
"We will focus on literacy justice and take action to help those who cannot read at a third-grade level," said Darlene Collins, the UCC’s national literacy coordinator. "Being illiterate is detrimental to basic human rights. Many adults read below this level and it prevents them from functioning successfully in today's society."
Reading Changes Lives, an ongoing initiative, will begin this fall with the inaugural "One Read," an all-church read with the inspirational book, "Hotdogs and Hamburgers: Unlocking Life’s Potential by Inspiring Literacy at Any Age," by Rob Shindler (currently available with free shipping for $11.99 single copy or $45.00 for a five-book package from UCC Resources).
The "One Read" will begin on September 8, 2014, National Literacy Day, and a free discussion guide and suggested timeline will be available this summer. Additionally, an eBook is available directly through Amazon, and an audio version of the book will be made available this summer.
Reading Changes Lives will continue into spring 2015 with March Forth for Literacy, beginning on March 4, 2015 with an all-church initiative with goals and hands-on participation similar to past initiatives, Mission 1 and Mission 4/1 Earth in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Also, General Synod 30, held in Cleveland in late June 2015, will specifically focus service projects around literacy within the city of Cleveland, one of the nation’s urban centers with the highest rates of illiteracy. This project will not only invite Synod attendees to bring new books to the gathering, but also offer a host of community outreach programs and projects.
Statistics show that almost 30 million people in the U.S. read below a fifth-grade level, which means that nearly 14 percent of the adult population doesn't read well enough to fill out a job application. Literacy statistics are even more looming in developing countries abroad.
"There is a great need to address the wide gap of opportunity, as it has laid stagnant for too long," said the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, UCC general minister and president. "The crisis is not only a global issue, but a growing issue in the U.S. Our history [as a church] dictates that we are charged as people of faith to take action."
"Many of our churches have engaged in after school programs and reading programs, and for us to take on this as an initiative is a way of honoring and respecting that it’s already happening," Jaramillo said. "We absolutely agree this is one of the issues of the day. As we talk to people in church life, we hear that reading isn’t a problem, but the data shows otherwise."
Learn more about the Reading Changes Lives literacy initiative at readingchangeslives.org.