MELP Archetype--A Vision Unfolding
by Linda M. Mitchell
Jasmyn Thomas is a 27-year-old African American single mom raising three children. They are Jakari, age 6, Delilah, age 4, and Janae, age 18 months. Jasmyn has lived all her life in a public housing community in East St. Louis, Illinois. She finished high school but suffered many absences throughout her schooling. That’s why she has a lot of gaps in her education and is a struggling reader.
Jasmyn missed a lot of school because she was taking care of her mom who was sick with lupus. Her mom died two years ago. Jasmyn never met her father. He left the family when she was two years old. Jasmyn's home included her mom, an older brother and sister, and a younger brother. Her older siblings have moved away and live in California. Her younger brother, Ronnie, age 19, lives with her off and on but rarely pays any bills. He is in and out of trouble and abuses drugs. Ronnie dropped out of high school because of reading disorders.
Jasmyn works as a housekeeper at a hotel. To earn extra income, Jasmyn braids hair for a lot of her friends. Sometimes her hair braiding work keeps her up late at night even though she must get up early to go work at the hotel the next day.
Jakari is in kindergarten, Delilah attends preschool, and Janae goes to daycare. Sometimes Jasmyn‘s aunt and uncle help watch the kids while Jasmyn is at work. They live close by in her public housing complex. Jasmyn relies on her uncle or a coworker to take her to work. Someone vandalized her car a year ago and she hasn’t been able to get it fixed. Jasmyn receives any type of government help she can get including food stamps. She gets food from food pantries as often as she can.
In fourth grade, Jasmyn attended a summer camp with several other neighborhood children. A charity paid all their expenses to stay at an overnight camp for a week. Jasmyn says those two summers she spent at camp were her fondest memories of childhood. She loved hiking in the woods and learning about nature and science. Sadly, she stopped going to summer camp when her mother's lupus got worse, and she wanted to stay close to help her.
Jasmyn's dream was to follow in her older siblings' footsteps and join the U.S. Army. But unfortunately, she did not pass the Army entrance exam when she took it right out of high school. She said when she has time she’ll study the practice exam so she can get a passing score. Jasmyn‘s dream is to join the Army and train for a job in the medical field.
Jasmyn has high ambitions, but the daily struggles of life keep her from progressing toward her dreams. Her children get by in school, but she wants them to thrive. When they are with her, she only lets them watch public television shows like Sesame Street, Daniel Tiger, and Teaching in Room 9. But when they go to her aunt and uncle‘s home, they get exposed to a lot more mature television programming.
Jasmyn has very few books in her home, ten at the most. She has a biography of Tupac that a friend gave her, a Bible, and a book on hair braiding. Her kids have a few Dr. Seuss books they got from school. She doesn't read books to her children or for herself.
A turning point happened in Jasmyn's life a year ago. She went to a food and book giveaway in her community. Besides the box of food, she also got a bag of 25 books from the Metro East Literacy Project. There were a wide variety of books in that bag. Each book had a sticker on the cover with a logo of a parent and child reading together. The logo read "The Imitate Reading Initiative."
When Jasmyn spread the books on a table, there were a few that caught her interest. One was a large coffee table book of beautiful illustrations of birds, flowers, and trees. That book reminded her of her summer camp experience. Another book was a handbook of English with explanations of grammar and writing. She also got a National Geographic magazine that had a map of South America in it. She opened the map and taped it on her wall so she could admire the flora and fauna of the vast Amazon region. In addition to the many novels that caught her attention, there was an inspirational book about hope and faith. Jasmyn had been losing hope for some time now. But Jasmyn was most intrigued by a textbook with illustrations of the human anatomy. She couldn’t understand and pronounce many of the words, but she enjoyed studying all the pictures and illustrations. Jasmyn felt a pang of desire as she browsed through the anatomy book. She was remembering her dream.
Jasmyn had filled out a survey about her reading habits when she got the bag of books. She had consented to a follow-up call by an encouragement team volunteer from the nonprofit, or ETV. The ETV explained that she would be contacting Jasmyn several times throughout the year to encourage her along her literacy journey. During those conversations, Jasmyn's confidence grew. The ETV applauded her efforts to improve her life by reading more.
Within the year, Jasmyn's family was transformed through literacy. The ETV connected her brother Ronnie with a tutor to help him overcome his dyslexia challenges. He enrolled in a GED preparation course at the local community college and earned his GED. He also got a job at the college that provided him with a steady income.
Jasmyn got several more books through the Metro East Literacy Project. She now has a library of 100 books in her home. Having those books created a culture of reading that affected the family's transformation. She was excited to see her children have books that they could read. Every now and then, she took time to read to them. Most important, when she was reading her book, her kids would come near her with their books to read and copy her. That’s the impact of the Imitate Reading Initiative in action.
Jasmyn's ETV helped her realize that she could take baby steps toward her dream of joining the Army and having a medical career. Her most important decision was to get help to practice the ASVAB test. Jasmyn successfully passed the exam and was recruited into the Army.
Jasmyn’s family transformation started because she received a bag of books. She won the Roberta Morris Family Literacy Award. The Metro East Literacy Project gives this award to a family that shows outstanding achievement in family literacy. Jazmyn's story shows the power of literacy to transform lives.
Note: Why highlight a mother’s literacy? A National Institutes of Health study found that improving a mother’s literacy was the greatest determinant of her children’s future academic success, outweighing other factors, such as neighborhood and family income.