Over 33 years ago, Reading Rainbow aired for the first time to children across America to encourage them to read. It was the first of its kind – each episode centered on a theme from a book, and it aimed to bring a love of learning to each household. I remember watching Reading Rainbow as a child, and being entranced by its host, LeVar Burton.
Burton grew up in Southern California to a mom who was a social worker and educator, and a father who was a photographer for the US Army. He learned to love books from his mother who would both read to her children and lead by example by reading for her own enjoyment too. While Burton initially enrolled in seminary to become a priest, he left as a teenager and enrolled at the University of Southern California. He made his acting debut in the drama series Roots, where he played a young Kunta Kinte. From 1983 to 2006, Burton was the host and executive producer for Reading Rainbow, taking his viewers on adventures through real and imagined worlds, often narrated by other celebrities.
When Reading Rainbow went off the air a decade ago, Burton reimagined his beloved TV show into an iPad app and educational aid, with the mission “of bringing a passion for reading to Every Child, Everywhere.” In an interview with Think Progress, LeVar Burton said:
You need to teach your children how to read, and you need for them to love to read. If you want free, independent thinkers, people who can discern for themselves, people who want to actively participate in a democracy, you want them literate. If you want to control people, if you want to feed them a pack of lies and dominate them, keep them ignorant. For me, literacy means freedom. For the individual and for society.
Literacy means freedom. Literacy specifically increases job opportunities and access to further educational opportunities; literate individuals earn 30%-40% more than their illiterate counterparts across the globe. Illiteracy costs the global economy more than USD $1 trillion dollars each year, and at least one in five people worldwide struggle with illiteracy. This is not just a responsibility that we place on our teachers alone at Impact Network. We are a team – it is ALL of our responsibilities to make sure that our students are reading and writing at an appropriate level. Teacher supervisors are supporting each and every teacher in our system. Our admin staff in Zambia make sure that we have the school supplies, appropriate infrastructure, and resources to make our schools effective. Our team in the US ensures that we have the funding coming in to keep our schools running and support our team in Zambia. Every day, we are making strides in teaching our Impact scholars how to read, and investing in their education. And while it remains a battle to fight in the US, there’s even more work to be done in the rural communities where we are working. Let’s get to it.