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Central Florida Urban League Combats Illiteracy With Its One Billion Words Challenge

by Mellissa Thomas


While fashion is mainly artistic in nature, illiteracy limits fashion, and life in general. Hundreds of students enroll in college programs offering degrees in fashion merchandising and design, but without literacy, the students wouldn’t get far.

Imagine a millionaire fashion designer not being able to read.

During a press conference at its Empowerment Zone at 595 West Church Street in downtown Orlando Tuesday, Central Florida Urban League launched its ambitious offensive against illiteracy: the One Billion Words Challenge.


The “Summer Slide”

CFUL Board Chair Wesley Harris noted that children return to school from summer break further behind in reading skills than when they leave. “And for children who may already be struggling to read on grade level, the loss of reading skills during the summer is tragic…and totally avoidable.”

“There’s a 30 million-word gap among children in [underserved] communities,” Early Learning Coalition of Orange County CEO Karen Willis said at the press conference podium. She pledged ELCOC’s partnership in the challenge: reading to VPK and elementary school children. “We have to start with the babies.”

In an interview with OFM, ELCOC Communication Relations & Resource Development Director El Cabrel Lee added that children typically watch 7.5 hours of television per day, a major contributor to reading skill loss.


Central Florida Urban League's One Billion Words Challenge banner. CFUL plans to combat illiteracy with its 3-year initiative to read one billion words to children each summer.


The One Billion Words Challenge

CFUL Board Chairman Wesley Harris announced during the press conference that the One Billion Words Challenge is a three-year summer initiative, starting June 8 to September 14, 2015, and enlists entrepreneurs, corporations, fraternities, sororities, churches, public and private schools, and individuals to pledge a specific amount of words to read to children during the summer months that will collectively total one billion words each summer. Several major corporations and nonprofit organizations are already onboard, including SunTrust Bank, United Negro College Fund, Heart of Florida United Way, and the Adult Literacy League. UPS has already pledged to read twenty-five million words.

Central Florida Urban League Young Professionals pledged to read 50,000 words at the press conference.

“This has the potential to become a national initiative,” Lee said. “For this to be successful, we’ll need at least a hundred businesses, churches, fraternities, and sororities to get involved.” He further said he plans to go into the communities and churches to increase awareness and involvement.


Getting Involved

Anyone ready to jump in can simply email CFUL at info@cful.org or call (407)472-9992. For more information on the launch, read the official One Billion Word Challenge press release.



All images courtesy of Central Florida Urban League and Central Florida Urban League Young Professionals.



Mellissa Thomas headshotAbout the Author:
Orlando Fashion Magazine Chief Editor and Publisher Mellissa Thomas is a Jamaica-born writer. She’s a decorated U.S. Navy veteran with Entertainment Business Masters and Film Bachelors degrees from Full Sail University in Winter Park, FL.

She’s currently available for hire, writing content for websites, blogs, and marketing material, and as a book coach. She also writes poetry, screenplays, and ghostwrites books.

She has published four books, all available on Amazon.com. Her most recent release, “Faded Diamonds”, is now available in paperback on all major online book retailers and digitally available on the Kindle, Nook, and iBooks.



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