The Power of Literacy

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Reading the morning paper. Photo: JH.

Monday, 5/15/23. Wonderful weather here in New York. High 70s, low 80s right into night time; just nice relaxing warm. You can see it on the street with people more relaxed about moving around, and definitely enjoying the comforts of the heat.

Catching up on the busy month, Literacy Partners, New York City’s premiere education nonprofit, held their annual gala at Cipriani South Street, drawing a Who’s Who of the entertainment, literary, publishing, and media worlds.

New York’s Mayor Eric Adams, Wade Davis, CEO, TelevisoUnivision; and Jon Yaged, CEO of MacMillan Publishers were honored.

Wade Davis, CEO of TelevisaUnivision.
Jon Yaged is honored by Jean Feiwel.
Jon Yaged.
Mayor Eric Adams and Tinika Brown Davis.

Holland Taylor received the LIZZIE Award, named in honor of a founder and the champion of Literacy Partners, Liz Smith. Past LIZZIE awardees Barbara Taylor Bradford, Joni Evans, and Lesley Stahl were also in attendance.

The Evening of Readings featured readings from Ayana Mathis and Minka Kelly. However, the real stars of the night were Marlon Smith and Patricia Gaspariano, Literacy Partners students who read from their own works.  Marlon, who has only recently learned to read, brought the room to a hush as he read from a poem he had written. Here’s Marlon’s video.

Anthony Tassi, with Patricia Gaspariano and her family.
Ayana Mathis.
Minka Kelly.

The evening was hosted by Cynthia McFadden. Guests included Karla Martinez, (co-host, Despierta Ameìrica, Univision), Laura Linney, Neil DeGrasse, Zibby and Kyle Owens, Richard Edelman, Lawrence Jacobs and Hannah Jacobs, Deborah Goodrich Royce, Mike and Kemp Steib, Jose Tomas, Katharine Raymond Hinton and Les Hinton, W. Ross Honey, Courtney E. K. Lewis, Sabfastian and Rina Neiles, Elizabeth Peabody, Eric Zinaterhofer, Tinika Brown Davis, and Anthony Tassi, CEO of Literacy Partners. 

There was also a special video presentation from Tom Hanks.

Karla Martínez.
Laura Linney.
Laura Linney.
Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Billy Norwich.
Katherine Raymond Hinton.
Cynthia McFadden.
Holland Taylor
Holland Taylor.
Tom Hanks via video.

Literacy Partners has provided critical literacy services to more than 25,000 New York City adults and their families since its inception in the 1970s. It arose from the sensitivity of certain individuals in the community who realized that there were/are many of us in our communities, of all, even late ages, who never learned to read. 

I first became aware of that fact through Liz, who also had learned of the project many years before that through her friends Parker Ladd, a publisher, and his life partner Arnold Scaasi, the fashion designer. Liz referred to herself as one of the three on the project “The Troika.”

Liz who besides her own career as a writer and columnist was always a voracious reader all her life. She was also a natural philanthropist in the natural sense of helping and assisting others not as fortunate or talented.

Liz with Arnold and Parker at an Evening of Readings to benefit Literacy Partners. Photo: Patrick McMullan

Learning that there are so many people out there working in the world who never learned to read was deeply alarming and shocking to her. The cause was from a variety of reasons, often having to do with severe economic situations. In other words, often from poor families working to simply survive and feed themselves and their families. 

The cause ultimately has to do with the lack of education their hardships created. That lack of knowledge is naturally always accompanied by embarrassment and concealing the fact. Overcoming that concealed embarrassment is always a challenge … until opportunity opens their eyes. Then they have the beautiful natural experience of discovery through words, as well as opportunity workwise.

Literacy Partners 2023 Gala at Cipriani South Street.

Liz checking in on DPC at an Evening of Readings in 2008.

The original object of Literacy Partners was to find ways to help people overcome their own barriers and to teach people on an individual basis how to read, from the beginning, like the rest of us when we were very young and in school.

Because Liz, Arnold and Parker were all prominent in the community we call New York, they were able to finally stage these fundraisers during the social season to attract prominent supporters. They turned their annual dinners into a sort of more serious party.

Featured guests were always two or three individuals who had graduated and/or just attended their lessons so that they could not only read but also write about it, and read it to the evening’s guests. Each dinner also included some celebrated or famous individuals who also spoke and read from their experiences in the process of learning.

Since its inception 50 years ago, more than 25,000 New York City residents, adults and families, have engaged in the program. With the organization’s founders/troika having moved on to higher heights, those succeeding the founders now take on a dual-generation approach to education, focusing on parents of young children. 

With free online and in-person classes, parents now can improve their reading, writing, and English skills while learning more about child development to boost their children’s early learning and school readiness. 

Literacy Partners is raising money to expand its high-quality, community-based literacy programs that empower adults to reach their full potential as individuals, parents, and citizens, and and the natural and deep sense of personal accomplishment and achievement in one’s life and community. To learn more, click here.

L. to r.: Patricia Gaspariano and her family; Karla Martínez.
L. to r.: David and Shira Maya; Minka Kelly.
Ajay Roy, Clare O’Rourke, Jon Yaged, Gracie Mercado, and Jennifer Gonzalez.
L. to r.:  Cynthia McFadden and Holland Taylor; Joni Evans and Bob Perkins.
Sam Glliland, Beth Davy, Deborah Royce, Betsey Selkowitz, Artie Selkowitz, and Chuck Royce.
L. to r.: Barbara Taylor Bradford and Avantikah Nehru Madan; Victoria and William Pao.
Les Hinton and Katherine Raymond Hinton.
L. to r.: Oonagh Yaged, Jon Yaged, and Katherine Daly; Tinika Brown Davis.
Kyle Owens, Zibby Owens, Stephanie Owens, and Ethan Lazar.
L. to r.: Sue and Herb Bard; Nadja Sayej.
Lauren Willig and James Ratcliffe.
L. to r.: Brian and Agnesa Buchwald; Andine and Sam Geoffroy.
Ayana Mathis and Christina Cook.
Anthony Tassi and Shondel Nero.
Anthony Tassi, Wade Davis, and W. Ross Honey.

Photographs by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Literacy Partners

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