Each year The Rapides Foundation presents a Symposium as a way to gather around a topic of importance and to recognize its September 1, 1994, creation. The focus of the 2022 Symposium was Early Childhood Literacy and featured Super Bowl Champion, author and Share the Magic Foundation Founder/CEO Malcolm Mitchell sharing his personal story about the transformational power of reading.
“The importance of early childhood literacy has been raised as a critical issue for many years at the local, state and national levels,” said Joe Rosier, President and CEO of The Rapides Foundation. “The Foundation’s School Readiness work focuses on increasing kindergarten readiness because children who attend high-quality early childhood programs before kindergarten are more likely to complete high school and go through their school careers without repeating a grade.”
Joe Rosier, President and CEO of The Rapides Foundation
The Foundation allocates 40 percent of its spending to its Education Initiative to increase the level of educational attainment and achievement as the primary path to improved economic, social and health status. The work is implemented in the areas of School Readiness, Effective Schools, and Career and Postsecondary Readiness. The mission of The Rapides Foundation is to improve the health status of Central Louisiana, and large-scale improvement in educational attainment across the region is necessary for improved health status.
The Rapides Foundation’s ninth annual Symposium was held in the Randolph Riverfront Center in Alexandria.
Ben Close, M.D., chairman of The Rapides Foundation Board of Trustees, opened the event, emphasizing the importance of early childhood literacy as a topic that is critical to the Foundation’s mission. He said most people may recognize featured guest Malcolm Mitchell “as a Super Bowl Champion with the New England Patriots, but today we want to hear about the powerful work that he does with his foundation, Share the Magic.”
Joe Rosier, President and CEO of The Rapides Foundation, provided an overview of the Foundation’s work, which focuses on three areas: Healthy People, Education and Healthy Communities. The Foundation’s programs and initiatives are guided by evidence-based research and community assessments, and follow its mission of improving the health status of Central Louisiana.
Ben Close, M.D., Board Chairman
“Why does a health foundation work in the area of education? The answer is simple. As a health foundation, we know that access to care and healthy behaviors are important. But we also know that over time, the level of educational attainment is a strong driver of health status in a community. With higher levels of education and training, people are better able to have higher incomes, health insurance, purchase a home and educate their children. All of those contribute to improved health outcomes,” he said.
Rosier said the Foundation’s School Readiness Initiative strives to prepare young children for school success and to improve literacy skills. Students who are not reading at grade level by the third grade will struggle academically and are among the most vulnerable to eventually drop out of school. In Central Louisiana, 60 percent of third graders are at risk for academic and literacy challenges.
In his presentation, Read to a Better Future, Mitchell described his own literacy challenges in the hopes of inspiring others. “I decided to tell you that truth because it is my hope to encourage you, to inspire you, to motivate you and to try to get kids to understand the value of education, to try to get communities to understand the value of education, to try to get states to understand the importance of education.”
Malcolm Mitchell, featured speaker for the 2022 Symposium
Mitchell grew up in Valdosta, Georgia, and attended the University of Georgia where he was a top 10 all-time wide receiver. He was drafted by the New England Patriots in 2016, and became a Super Bowl Champion in February 2017. Long before his football career took off, Mitchell struggled with reading, which in many cases can lead to harsh consequences like poverty, incarceration and failure to complete high school. He changed his trajectory when he developed a love of reading in college.
“My biggest challenge was reading. It wasn’t until I got to the University of Georgia that I realized I had made a very big mistake in neglecting my education,” he said. He sought to teach himself to read. “It was very difficult. Sometimes embarrassing. But once I got through that process and truly understood the power of books, my life was never the same.”
He began to love reading, and even joined a book club after a chance meeting with a middle-aged woman in a local bookstore. He was the only man and by far the youngest in the club.
“Reading set me free. This gave me hope beyond my immediate circumstances, that I had hope outside of football. I thought to myself, ‘I have to tell everybody I know.’ Some of my friends, when football ended, they did not have hope. They had no understanding of what else the world had to offer,” he said.
In 2016 he established Share the Magic Foundation to transform children’s lives through literacy just like his life had been transformed. Share the Magic Foundation has reached more than 400,000 students across the country and internationally through Read with Malcolm Literacy Initiatives.
“I believe kids can actually read their way to a better future. The most empowering tool you can offer to a human being is the ability to read, and they will start solving their own problems because that is what happened to me,” Mitchell said.
Dr. Cade Brumley, Louisiana State Superintendent of Education
The 2022 Symposium concluded with Dr. Cade Brumley, Louisiana Superintendent of Education, who discussed the state’s emphasis on reading and literacy under his leadership. “We have taken literacy and reading for granted for way too long. We just assume that kids will show up for school and just magically they will learn how to read. Unfortunately that philosophy does not work,” he said. “Together I believe we can have a reading revival. It starts for us with a few simple initiatives, and first and foremost among those is teaching our kids how to read.”