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Writers group to address illiteracy in Detroit at November Conference

Photo: Eddie Connor

It’s a story most city residents already know, still it’s hard to comprehend. A report released in May by the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund (DRWF) revealed that nearly half of adults are functionally illiterate—that equates to more than 200,000 individuals in the Motor City. The numbers tell a story about the inability of Detroiters to fill out a job application, vote in elections or read a prescription.

Tackling the issue of illiteracy is no small feat, but organizations like the Motown Writers Network wants to do what it can to bring the community together to address the problem.  Author Sylvia Hubbard, Founder of MWN, is organizing the two day event—The Essence of Motown Literary Jam and Conference. “Our goal is to strengthen the Metro Detroit literary network and literacy falls under the scope of our mission”, said Hubbard.

The community literacy discussion happens Saturday, November 12th at 1:30 p.m. at the Virgil Carr Cultural Center at 311 E. Grand River in Detroit. For more information, go to  “As authors, we need customers and if we have a low percentage of readers in our area, it’s not very helpful to be selling books to people if they can’t read them. Without readers, we can’t support ourselves,” added Hubbard.

According to the report issued by the DRWF, half of those 200,000 people ‘do’ have a high school diploma or a GED. The other 100,000 do not. That number means more adult education isn’t the answer. The DRWF report revealed that many Detroit citizens lack the basic skills needed to gain meaningful employment. Comprehensive services to improve reading, writing, math and digital literacy are clearly lacking in the region for a variety of complex reasons.

Many programs either don’t provide adequate education and training or supportive services for low income individuals, are not equipped to address learning disabilities or do not have the resources to help those at lowest levels of literacy, according to the report.  The report didn’t pick on Detroit alone. Surrounding communities such as Inkster at (34%) Pontiac (34%) Southfield (24%), and Warren (17%), are also dealing with high levels of illiteracy.

In addition, bookstores have become non-existent and funding cuts have closed libraries in many communities. Those that remain open, are only open for a few hours and don’t have the resources necessary to actively engage adults and children in reading programs and other activities. The void exists in many urban and suburban areas.  The MWN conference seeks to address those issues. It will feature, for example, a literary discussion featuring an all male panel of community leaders speaking on the topic: “How can organizations and citizens help increase literacy in Metro Detroit?”

Hubbard explained that the all-male panel of business leaders, elected officials and community activists was assembled on purpose to drive home a message. “I’m bringing all these powerful men into one room to talk about what we need to do to strengthen our community. We (women) don’t give them enough credit in terms of what men need to be in our lives”. The panelists include Luther Keith, Arise Detroit Founder; Hansen Clarke, Democratic Congressman from Detroit; Dr. Reginald Eadie, President, Detroit Receiving Hospital; Calvin Colbert, Director of Detroit Impact Center; James Tate, Detroit City Councilman; Ken Harris, President of the Detroit Charter Commission and President and CEO Detroit Black Expo and Chair of Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce; Eddie Connor, Author and TV Host of CBS CW50 Street Beat; and Yusef Shakur, author and owner of Urban Network Café.

MWN is also asking readers to help literacy and the literary community by attending the workshop and bringing gently used or new books that will be donated to two different organizations: Detroit Reads, hosted by the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit Impact Center Library, located in the Greenfield and Plymouth area.  “The male panel brings to light the large need for minorities, whether African American or Hispanic to step up as community leaders to make Detroit better,” said Hubbard. “Coming from a male point of view, it hits home with people who are in need of literacy. Hearing these leaders makes an impact,” she added.

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