Celebrate Black Nonprofits: Metro East Literacy Project

“I’m not saying that what I’m doing is the answer, it’s just a tool in the toolbox.”

Imagine a life where you could not read. Everyday tasks such as driving or going to school would be much more difficult, if not impossible. This was the life of Roberta Morris, a housekeeper who worked for a family and was never sent to school. Roberta’s struggles inspired her granddaughter Linda Mitchell to dedicate her life to teaching children to read. My grandmother would take the newspaper and just turn the pages as if she were reading it. That yearning and desire inspired me to make a vow that I was going to teach people how to read,” says Linda.

Metro East Literacy Project (MELP) was founded in 2012 by Linda Mitchell with the hopes of putting an end to illiteracy. With a staggering 67% percent of 3rd graders and 80% of low-income children in the nation not being able to read proficiently by the end of 3rd grade, it puts their education and future at risk. By the time 4th grade rolls around, students are beginning to read to learn rather than learn to read, which is why proficiency is crucial. In addition, kids who are not reading proficiently by the end of 3rd grade are at a higher risk of dropping out and living below the poverty line.

Linda developed her natural teaching gift by substituting in schools, teaching at a Christian school, and serving as a parent-teacher educator for the St. Louis Public Schools district. As a child growing up in Chicago, Linda was an avid reader and spent much time at the library. She currently serves on the board of her local library. “All of these experiences helped me see something about home versus school environments: home is the powerhouse and where literacy culture begins,” says Linda.

Through MELP, Linda provides families with bags of books and gives reading lessons. The books donated are for both children and adults in hopes that if the child sees someone else reading in their household, they will also begin to read. Linda refers to homes with few books as “Book Deserts”. The term was coined by Unite for Literacy and is used to call attention to structural inequalities that compromise children’s reading development. Below is a map of the St. Louis Region that shows the amounts of books in homes in the area.

“I learned that having books in a home can really make a difference in a child’s life. The mission of the Metro East Literacy Project is to give families access to books and eliminate book deserts,” says Linda. “I’m not saying that what I’m doing is the answer, it’s just a tool in the toolbox.”

Regarding long-term goals, Linda aims to reduce the percentage of kids unable to read proficiently. In addition, she plans to establish the Roberta A. Morris Family Literacy Award after her late grandmother and give it to a family that has shown remarkable change or transformation from getting books in their home to. The award is intended to reward that family but also to spread awareness about how much of an impact having books in a home can make.

Volunteers sorting books.

As a Black-led organization, Linda’s biggest challenge is gaining interest from other corporations and getting the help and funding she needs to keep her organization afloat for the foreseeable future. “We are not as far into the game as other organizations,” says Linda. “We have the people and the desire, but we need the resources to catch up.” You can help MELP by making a donation of books or dollars, or by signing on as a volunteer.

Click here to learn more about Metro East Literacy Project.

Video by Notable Human Films, courtesy of Metro East Literacy Project.