`The city that reads' to hit the books to increase awareness about illiteracy

Group sets readathon for 24 hours Sept. 26

July 19, 2002|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Baltimore really will be "the city that reads" one day in September, when volunteers pore over novels and newspapers, menus and magazines in a 24-hour readathon intended to address the city's dismal literacy rate.

At 100 locations across the city, volunteers will read aloud in one-hour shifts around the clock, starting at 6:30 a.m. Sept. 26.

The event, called Need-to-Read, is meant to raise awareness about illiteracy and raise funds to address the problem.

Thirty-eight percent of the city's adults are functionally illiterate, meaning they read at or below the sixth-grade level, said Marlene McLaurin, chief executive officer of Baltimore Reads, a literacy group that is organizing the event. That's nearly twice the statewide illiteracy rate of 20 percent.

"A 38 percent adult illiteracy rate is unacceptable," said 4th District Councilwoman Catherine E. Pugh, who dreamed up the readathon. "And while this is a fun event, it is also a serious matter that demands our attention."

Organizers hope to raise at least $100,000 from sponsors who will be asked to pledge $1 for every minute of reading. The money will be donated to Baltimore Reads and other literacy programs. Volunteers will choose their reading material. .

As they recruit volunteer readers, organizers also are seeking locales around the city to hold the event: restaurants, college campuses and perhaps City Hall, where the slogan "the city that reads" was coined by the administration of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in 1989.

McLaurin, of Baltimore Reads, said adult literacy programs have suffered with the advent of welfare reform, which shifted government-funded adult education toward job training and away from reading instruction.

"The pressure from government funders is to get people into jobs, whether or not they can really read and write," she said. "Certainly job training is a focus that we agree is a critical one."

But McLaurin said literacy is essential "to ensure we're really working toward self-sufficiency, to help them get a job and hold a job and grow in it."

The readathon occurs when Baltimore is about to launch another reading program, one to encourage people across the city to read the same book. Baltimore is following the lead of Seattle, Chicago and other cities, which have urged their residents to read and discuss certain books.

In Baltimore, the reading assignment will be The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave: Written By Himself. The autobiography documents the life of the Maryland-born slave who became a prominent abolitionist after his escape to Massachusetts.

Organizers will formally announce the selection of Douglass' book at a news conference Aug. 7, said Mona Rock, a spokeswoman for the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

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