Sammy King

When Sammy King learned about Helen Keller at the age of 66, he took her story as inspiration that he could also accomplish a difficult goal: continue working with his tutor at Literacy Action of Central Arkansas and finally become literate.

Raised by a man who could not even sign his name and wanted his son to get the education he never got, Sammy nonetheless left school in the 6th grade. At age 18, Sammy was drafted to fight in Vietnam. He could man a machine gun, but he couldn’t read, and some of his Army brothers treated him differently because of it. It made him ashamed. “I’m not dumb,” Sammy said, but he couldn’t seem to find help. After his time in Vietnam, his inability to read presented new challenges: He suffered from PTSD, and because he couldn’t read, it was almost impossible to get adequate treatment.

When Sammy met Kathleen, the woman who became his wife, she tried to teach him to read. But they were both working and didn’t have the energy to tackle the difficult task in their free time. After retirement, however, Sammy decided to visit Literacy Action and started working with volunteer tutor Pratt Remmel. At times, the difficulty and frustration made him question if it was worth it. But he stuck with it, faithfully spending several hours each week studying and practicing his reading skills.

Sammy now reads at a 6th grade level. He finally read a book about Helen Keller. More significantly, however, was when—after 19 years of marriage—he was able to pick out Kathleen’s anniversary card himself and sign it, “to my loving wife.” Sammy says he now has the confidence he lacked his whole life, and Kathleen says, “It’s been an honor … to be with someone who has come out of hiding.” He said learning to read “took the burden I’ve been carrying all my life,” and he hopes others who can’t read won’t wait as long as he did to get help.

Video Credit to Arkansas Literacy Councils