Success Stories: Literacy as Currency

Today’s guest blog post comes from Michelle Janaye. Michelle is the assistant director of The H.O.P.E. Scholarship, a non-profit organization designed to empower financially-challenged students with need-based scholarships. She is also a freelance writer and videographer in the Chicago metropolitan area. Follow her on Twitter @michellejanaye.

There was never a time in my life where books and reading were not important. As a kid my mom read bedtime stories to me. Dr. Seuss was my favorite. When I got a little older, I read those same stories to her.

I’ve always loved trips to the library and was frequently disciplined for reading by flashlight when I was supposed to be sleeping. I had a library card for nearly every library within a 20-mile radius of my home. At my elementary school there was an annual reading competition, I remember duking it out with the top readers in my class.

It’s no wonder I became a writer.

I always understood that literacy was a currency. I would assert that reading and reading comprehension is the price students pay for academic excellence and the price that adults pay for professional success. Without the knowledge of words and books, we are forever in debt.

Growing up in an underserved community, I was never ostracized for my voracious reading appetite. In fact, we had impromptu spelling bees in my hood. If you couldn’t read or spell, no one took you seriously. I guess that I always wanted to be taken seriously.

Books like the Phantom Tollbooth, A Wrinkle in Time, Monster Blood, Fudge-A-Mania and Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry painted decadent pictures on the canvass of my imagination and inspired me to dream the type of dreams that seem silly in real life but make sense in books.

I was captivated by secret gardens where sickly children grew well and magic tollbooths that transported precocious boys on extraordinary quests to rescue princesses in far-away lands. If their gardens could dispense happiness, then so could  the playground in my neighborhood. If these kids could become heroes in their world, then certainly I could do something heroic in mine.

As an adult, I revel in the time set aside for hot coffee and a good book. Authors like Zadie Smith and Khaled Hosseini push the boundaries of story telling and word play. They seduce me with tragedy I hope to never experience, humor I wish I could recreate and love that seems palpable between pages.

While there is less magic in my reading regimen, it is still rich with adventure. At 27, I am still traveling to far-away lands and meeting heroes in unexpected places. The euphoria once conjured by libraries is now nurtured by book stores, and my thirst for good stories goes unquenched.