Our learners tell us what’s important to them…”In (Their) Words”

2014InOurWordsIn 1982, Nashville Adult Literacy Council (NALC) officially opened its doors to begin teaching adults throughout Davidson County how to read. As relationships were forged between learner and teacher, our literary tutors discovered that the personal stories the students had once locked inside but now shared with them were, in actuality, fascinating benchmarks in individual quests for literacy.

During the time of the civil rights movement, I was working and there were some great changes. The small part that I played helped a lot. There were white-only eating places on the job, and there were white-only restrooms, and I asked the supervisor of the shop, “Why?” He said, “This is the way we do things.” I said, “We are all human beings. Why can’t we sit down and eat together?” He said, “No, those things will not change as long as I am here.” And I said, “You do not have to be here.” In 1963, those things were changed. Black and whites were eating together and using the same restrooms.”

We found that each story stood alone as a powerful catalyst for the learner to get his or her voice heard, as each struggled to integrate into the diverse melting pot that had become downtown Nashville and its surrounding areas.

I am wondering what my aquatech wristwatch may have witnessed throughout its development. My aquatech wristwatch may have seen the War of 1812 or the fall of the Berlin Wall. My aquatech wristwatch may have experienced the gas shortages of the 1970’s or perhaps the Watergate break-ins. It could have witnessed the Vietnam War protest marches of the 1970’s or the Three Mile incident.

So, it set the powers-that-be at NALC to thinking: what would happen if we merged together all of the stories spoken by a dozen or more native tongues from all over the world into one long pen-and-ink narrative?

I came here in 1983 from Thailand where I was a refugee from Cambodia. I came with my mother and four other family members because the U.S. government had found us a sponsor her. I have freedom. I feel safe. I feel free to speak, and I am happy to live in the United States.

In 1992, NALC published its first collection of learner writings titled “Reading for Tomorrow.” The stories found within those initial pages inspired readers even more than anyone could foretell.

Before my brother dies, we lived in a two-room house. Although we only had two windows and two beds, we have a lot of love from our grandmother who raised us. I was so sad when he died on May 25, 1961. I love him still today.

It became an annual prerequisite to encourage our learners to write down their thoughts, dreams, and goals, and our printed publication took on a couple of different names throughout the years, like “Brave New Readers” and “The Sky’s the Limit” before settling on “In Our Words” in 2003 as the established official title.

I should tell you that I loved to dance: Count Basie, B. B. King, and Duke Ellington. I could dance to them all. I would look at the boys, but my grandmother was very tight on us and she did not let us out of the yard after dark. But, when I was 17 years old, I ran off and got married to my first husband. I was off and running in life.”

Since its inception, “In Our Words” (and its other earlier identities) has become one of the most powerful, motivating marketing tool the Nashville Adult Literacy Council has ever seen. Ultimately, it takes a lot of courage on the part of our adult learners to write on paper the transparent, heartfelt, extremely personal words that have the power to touch the hearts and open the minds of literally thousands of people who are given the wonderful opportunity to read them.

We all have many friends, but not all are real friends. What are real friends? Friendship is about understanding, trusting, and sharing. After I came to America, there was more than two years that I tried to make friends without the help of language, but with a smile and feeling. Never mind, we may never hope to make a real friend without language as a bridge for good understanding. When we get tutors here at Nashville Adult Literacy Council, I believe you can get a real friend without understanding each other well by language. You will get real help and have real friends with really better English day after day, and sooner or later, you are excellently expressing yourself like you are still in your hometown with your friends.

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