Igniting Change Through a Love of Community — and SportAlex McConduit has been waging a quiet one-man war on illiteracy.
Illiteracy among adults in New Orleans is estimated at 25 percent, or nearly twice the national average of 14 percent. And while programs to educate grown adults may be able to help in the short term, the long-term problem will only be solved by ensuring that children get a sound education and develop fundamental reading skills.
That's been a challenge in New Orleans, a city beset by high poverty rates and a historically dysfunctional school system. Making matters worse, many kids missed part or all of a year's schooling when they evacuated for Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall just as the school year started. Afterward, many families shuttled from place to place, disrupting education, and those that returned often discovered local schools hadn't reopened yet. On top of all this, many of the schools that did reopen lost their libraries to rising floodwaters. It would take time for donations and purchases to replenish damaged libraries.
In bringing his illustrated books to schools, Alex McConduit has been waging a quiet one-man war on illiteracy. He hopes that his first book, about a young football fan, can infect students with an enthusiasm for reading in part by building the story around the inspirational tale of the New Orleans Saints and their rags-to-riches win in the Super Bowl. The whole city — rich, poor, white, black — follows the team with a fervent devotion.
In seeking to inspire students, McConduit has become aware of several local programs that encourage literacy and excellence among students. One of the more innovative is 2-Cent, which was launched by a group of young performers who mix humor, education and entertainment to let kids know that knowledge is power, and that change for the better comes through literacy and education. They do so in part by talking to kids in a language they understand, employing hip-hop, humor and video. Last year, they also hosted a neighborhood literacy festival and distributed 3,000 books donated by Scholastic.
McConduit has also been impressed with the Urban League of Greater New Orleans' college track program. This offers both advice and financial incentives to high school students so that they may excel and continue on to college.
McConduit has seen how literacy can open worlds. He recently read a story written by a 17-year-old New Orleanian who only realized he couldn't read or write after evacuation landed him among far better-educated peers in Texas. The teenager returned home eager to advance, and recently wrote an essay about his transformation, which McConduit found incredibly moving. "He didn't have a mind patient enough to envision anything complex," McConduit says. "Now he's 17 and has grown to have a mind that understands complexity.
"We can't choose whether a hurricane hits us," McConduit adds. "But we can choose how we act afterwards."