Growing up, Deidra Mayberry and her six siblings were constantly moving because they had a military parent. Always being the new kids at school wasn’t easy, but when Deidra discovered she struggled with reading, it was even more difficult.
Being temporarily placed in special ed classes helped, but rejoining her classmates after three years left her feeling more isolated than ever. They hadn't been learning the same curriculum, so Deidra felt unworthy of being in lessons with her peers.
The shame she felt led her to continue hiding her struggle to avoid being mocked by her classmates and anyone else who might judge her, although she still faced harsh critics.
"I remember sharing that I wanted to be a psychologist and a school official directed me to rethink that because I was not smart enough. That day my imagination to dream died," Deidra said. "All the desire to do great things disappeared as I no longer felt equipped or worthy of more."
To make the most of her future after graduating, she became determined to truly learn how to read. She searched for classes but quickly discovered the setbacks illiterate adults face.
"I was turned away because I was over the age of 17, and other private options like one-on-one tutoring were financially out of reach for me," she said.
Determined to move forward, Deidra worked tirelessly to earn a degree in business. With help, she was able to graduate with C's and couldn't have been prouder of herself.
But when it came time to find a job, it fully hit her how much she still struggled with literacy.
"I never truly fixed my literacy problems. Instead, I found ways to work around them in order to spare myself the embarrassment and shame that I already felt daily," she said. "I relied heavily on movies to teach me and give me exposure to things in life that would help me relate to others. This caused me to live a life of fear, limitations, and hopelessness."
After years of struggle, Deidra finally found the courage to reach out to a friend who happily gave her private tutoring lessons until she could afford her own.
"The hope, courage, and confidence she helped me find was the beautiful moment of empowerment that reminded me to create and provide a resource for people just like me," she said.
So she did just that! In March 2020, Deidra and a friend created the nonprofit Reading to New Heights. Here, adults get confidential virtual tutoring sessions with certified educators. Best of all? It's free.
The nonprofit officially got started on March 12, 2020, just a day before local lockdowns due to COVID-19 began, leading Deidra to question if this was a sign she shouldn't be doing this. Thankfully, she went on to believe the exact opposite.
"Though illiteracy and functional illiteracy can affect anyone, people in low-income and underserved communities of color are more likely to be limited in education, income, and workplace advancement opportunities because of it," she said. "Illiteracy and functional illiteracy can be directly linked to higher prison populations, lower household incomes, and inaccessibility to quality healthcare."
She added, "By committing to developing the fundamentals of reading, our adult learners overcome both the psychological and environmental limitations of illiteracy."
Since launching, Reading to New Heights has been featured in the news and has quickly grown to 20 participants. They've even been accepted into an Incubator Program with United Way, which will support them as they build their organization, something greatly needed to keep their programs running.
"It's kind of ironic, the very thing I was ashamed of and thought I had to hide for years was the one thing that, once I shared it, not only freed me but gave me hope and provided a way to help others," Deidra said. "I love that my story has been about helping others find the courage to share and take the first step to start their literacy journey."
You can donate to Reading to New Heights on GoFundMe. Share this story with a friend to encourage them today.
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