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Impact  >  Student Story

Emmett Jackson

Emmett Jackson is a street minister, a husband and proud father of 10 children, a former DLC student, and an inspiring advocate for adult literacy.

Originally from Richmond, VA, Mr. Jackson had to leave school in the third grade to support his younger brothers and sisters. As a teenager, he tried to go back to school to get an education, but he felt that people were laughing at him, and so he left school for good. In 2001, Mr. Jackson lost his job and was unable to find employment due his inability to read and write and due to severe health problems.

In 2003, Mr. Jackson and his family moved to Durham in hopes of changing their fortune. In 2006, Mr. Jackson turned to a philanthropic organization for financial assistance and came away with something more – a referral to the Durham Literacy Center.

With the DLC’s assistance, Mr. Jackson wrote letters to government officials asking for help in his six-year struggle to obtain disability income. Several weeks later, Mr. Jackson began receiving the long-awaited income that has improved his family’s standard of living considerably. This was one of Mr. Jackson’s many victories at the DLC.

Mr. Jackson and his family returned to Richmond in February 2009, but he remains an important member of the DLC’s extended family. With ongoing assistance from the DLC, Mr. Jackson has written the first draft of his autobiography to share the lessons he has learned about the effects of substance abuse and the value of education and religious faith. Mr. Jackson is a passionate advocate for the DLC. He shared his story on the TV news program “The Heart of Carolina Perspectives” on WTVD ABC News 11, in a DLC video documentary entitled “Never Too Late,” and in an audio documentary created by students at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies. He was also featured in a Durham Herald Sun article titled “Man Making Strides with the Literacy Center” (1/9/09).

Emmmett says that “The Durham Literacy Center has been such a help to me and my family. I used to try to hide the fact that I couldn’t read, but now I speak up. Learning to read has helped me with my family, pronouncing words, and reaching out to people. Together, we can bring down crime…and bring hope to people who need it. People want to do the right thing. Let’s help them.”


Man making strides with the Literacy Center

BY NEIL OFFEN : The Herald-Sun
Jan 9, 2009

DURHAM — When Emmett Jackson drove a car, he sometimes didn’t know where to turn because he couldn’t make out what the street signs said. “I couldn’t read at all,” Jackson, 58, said. “I could spell or count a little, but I couldn’t read street addresses. I couldn’t really read, period.” Getting around was difficult. “I had to memorize a lot, but it was hard,” Jackson said. “When I was laid off, I couldn’t get a new job because I couldn’t read any kind of paper instructions. It was hard to get around. I had to learn from the street.”

He told few people of his inability. “I was embarrassed,” Jackson said. “If I thought they would make fun of me, I wouldn’t tell them. I don’t want to make people think I’m a nobody.”

Jackson, who lives on East Main Street, was one of the thousands of local residents who was functionally illiterate. The National Center for Education Statistics in a report issued Thursday said an estimated 13 percent of adults in Durham County do not have sufficient reading skills to understand simple English language directions on a bottle of medicine.

Jackson, a retired shipyard worker who grew up in rural Virginia, never learned those skills because he dropped out of school while in third grade.

“I never learned to read because my father and mother were real poor, and I had eight brothers and sisters,” he said. “When my father died, I had to take care of them and I couldn’t go to school anymore.”

Five years ago, Jackson moved to Durham. Two years ago, he said a woman he met told him about the Durham Literacy Center.

“I was interested,” he said. “I wanted to upgrade my education. I didn’t have the education I needed for the ministry.” Jackson became one of about 500 functionally illiterate local residents the center serves.

“We’d serve more people if we could,” said Reginald Hodges, executive director of the center. “But we just don’t have the resources.”

Jackson, an Elder at the Greater Zion Wall House of Miracles and a street minister, began working with a center tutor, Rebecca Schaffer. With her, Jackson has completed Step 1 of the center’s Wilson Reading System.

“She started working with me,” Jackson said. “She’s come out to my house, I’ve gone out to her house, we’ve gone to the Literacy Center together. It’s been good. I love it.”

Jackson said his reading ability is now at the level of a fifth grader. “I still got a long way to go,” he acknowledged. “I’m going to continue. My goal is to get everything I can get. I want to be able to really read.”


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