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WHEN THE READING LIGHT WENT ON

Margaret Jones, 55, Los Angeles Unified School District director overseeing more than $300 million in specially funded state and federal programs for poor or disadvantaged students:

My dad used to read the comic pages to me when I was just a tot. He passed away when I was 5, and then my mom would read to me.

Then, when I was in kindergarten or first grade, I learned how to read myself. My mom would make me turn the lights out at night and I recall having a flashlight under my bed so I could turn the flashlight on under the covers and read.

I enjoyed reading on Saturday mornings, before everybody else got up. I do remember around third grade that I was into King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and Merlin. And, of course, “Little Women” and “Little Men” and that whole group of books.

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As I got older, even in my teenage years, some of the other girls my age and I read those magazines that our parents would die if they knew we were reading--like True Confessions. I don’t even know the names, but I couldn’t bring them into the house.

It [a book] became a friend to me. When I finished one book, it was like losing a friend and I had to find another really quick to replace it. I have the same feeling today. When I’m really into a book and enjoying it, and when I finish it, I don’t know what to do. . . . Reading a book was like having that special, secret pal that you’re sharing this unfolding story with.

I also grew up in the South and as an African American, there was a real value put on reading because when your ancestors were denied the ability to learn to read, it made it more of a value for you. Many times students today don’t have that same need, that same drive, that same passion because they cannot identify. They’re too far removed from the generation of African Americans and other groups that were denied reading.

It was against the law at one time to teach African Americans to read. So, to me, it [reading] was “Aha! You thought you could keep me from learning, but you can’t!”

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