As director of MTSU’s Office of Intercultural and Diversity Affairs, Vincent Windrow knows how important literacy is in allowing everyone to understand the world around them.
That’s why he spearheaded the effort to organize the Aug. 4 Literacy Day, a back-to-school effort to raise community awareness about an issue that affects virtually every area of a person’s life.
“Literacy is for life,” Windrow told a crowd gathered on Murfreesboro’s Civic Plaza. “This event is about ‘better’ — better lives, better people, a better community … and a better future for you, and for me, and for us.”
The event, which drew about 300 participants, began with a march starting at Central Magnet School on Main Street and ended downtown on Civic Plaza.
Primary partner agencies for Literacy Day included the Olive Branch Missionary Baptist Church (where Windrow serves as pastor), Read to Succeed, Linebaugh Library and the United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties.
And while the genesis of the event stemmed from Windrow’s service as a local pastor, he pointed out that such an effort strongly aligns with his university role of helping young people become successful, productive citizens.
Windrow helps some area youths begin that journey through MTSU’s Scholars Academy Summer Institute. The five-week annual program whets the academic appetites of about 30 minority high-school graduates, who will be first-generation college students, by allowing them to work with various MTSU colleges and departments in the surrounding community.
“It’s very hands-on in terms of (students) being able to articulate ideas, analyze information … those types of things that they won’t need just here at MTSU, but in their careers, in their family life, all of that.”
Participants stay on campus, attend two free freshman-level courses and take part in team-building exercises, leadership training, the MTSU Summer Reading Program and service-learning projects.
This year’s scholars participated in Literacy Day, making posters for the march and reciting MTSU’s “True Blue” pledge at Civic Plaza.
“One of the things I did not know before taking the position here is how underprepared some of the student body is,” Windrow said before the event. “MTSU goes to extraordinary lengths, great lengths, to help students catch up, but it is a challenge. We remain committed to retaining our students after we recruit them. It’s who we are, what we do and how we do it.”
Once at the plaza, Literacy Day featured a short program of speakers and display booths from several local nonprofit organizations, including Greenhouse Ministries, United Way, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Rutherford County and Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
Murfreesboro City Councilman Ron Washington and Rutherford County Commissioner Jeff Jordan read and presented proclamations from the two mayors recognizing Literacy Day.
Windrow reminded participants that literacy is a lifelong pursuit.
“We can not allow literacy to be dismissed or discounted,” he said. “We must not ignore the fact that too many children and too many adults can not read or write.
“We’ve marched today, and we’ve met today, but what will you do about literacy tomorrow? Will you become an advocate in your home? Will you promote literacy in your neighborhood? Will you read more and watch less? Will you become more literate about your health and your wealth?
“We are counting on you.”
Windrow served on an event-organizing committee that included Lisa Mitchell, executive director of Read to Succeed, who also challenged the crowd to embrace literacy’s importance to the success of the community.
“I want us all to get excited about literacy … it’s not just about reading,” Mitchell said. “Working together, we can stand together as a community and raise the level of literacy and our lives for all of us for generations to come.”
Also among the speakers was Mark Byrnes, dean of MTSU’s College of Liberal Arts and outgoing Rutherford County Board of Education chairman.
Windrow said he plans to make Literacy Day an annual event, particularly in the face of statistics that suggest more than 40 percent of Rutherford County adults read at or below the average third-grade level. Ten percent of the county’s adults read at or below the first-grade level, 13 percent don’t have a high-school diploma and more than 12 percent live below the poverty level, those figures show.
“In a time when many of us are divided by politics and religion and rhetoric, in a time when crime continues to creep closer and closer to each of our doorsteps, in a time when health disparities and achievement gaps still exist, we need something that will pull us together, together in a common bond, with a common goal, for the common good. Literacy is that something. Literacy is the tie that binds us together.”
— Jimmy Hart (Jimmy.Hart@mtsu.edu)