Margo Hudson, a Clevelander who won the National Learner Award in Dallas two years ago, reflected recently on how “literacy turned chaos into opportunity.”
Her remarks kicked off the 2018 edition of Cleveland Book Week and attracted an early morning crowd to the East Cleveland Public Library under the banner of Creative Mornings – Cleveland.
After 11 years spent sitting for six tests, Hudson earned her GED – a fortitude reflected in her erect posture, elegant up-do and patience with audience questions. She said Seeds of Literacy provided the format — one-on-one tutoring — that allowed her to learn best.
“Literacy has made my life limitless,” said Hudson, who now tutors in math. “I am a different person, with a different life now. I am always learning. I am always looking for what’s next. I know I have more to offer now, and I am looking for the chance to do that.”
Jo Steigerwald, Seeds development director, said her literacy nonprofit serves about 1,000 adult learners each year. Eighty-four percent live in poverty, which is unsurprising, she said, because literacy is tightly linked to economic outcomes. She called low-literacy a quiet crisis that impedes two-thirds of city residents.
Here is Margo Hudson’s full speech:
Good morning! My name is Margo Hudson.
I am a graduate of Seeds of Literacy, a basic education and High School Equivalency prep program for adults in Cleveland, Ohio.
Today, I am honored to share my story of how literacy turned chaos into opportunity.
I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. I had a hard childhood, with abuse in the home. I left home when I was 16. I didn’t finish the 9th grade, or high school. I went right to work.
I had a lot of jobs, but none of them paid very well. I worked in nursing homes, fast food restaurants, as a home health aide and a housecleaner.
By the time I was in my 40s, I was working at the airport, cleaning airplanes. It was hard work. You were out in the elements and had to work fast, cleaning planes between flights.
I wanted something else, but I didn’t think I had anything to offer anyone. I didn’t have my GED. I didn’t have much self-confidence. I cleaned airplanes, and didn’t think I had anything in common with people who were flying on those planes. I never stood out.
I didn’t feel good about myself and was going through depression. I thought to myself, “I’ve got to do something with my life.”
I wanted to get my GED and check that off my list. I had tried programs before, but I didn’t finish. I came to Seeds of Literacy because it had one to one tutoring. I was determined that this time would be different.
I worked on my GED for 11 years at Seeds. I studied every chance I got: on my lunch break, 15-minute break, while waiting on my ride. On the bus, in the doctor’s office. I didn’t give up. During the time I was working on my GED at Seeds, I got a better job working in the President’s Club at the airport.
I took the GED 6 times before I passed. I will never forget the phone call from Chris at Seeds, telling me that I passed.
And my life changed at that moment. I didn’t know it at the time, but my life would never be the same. I thought I would be proud to finish the GED and get it off my plate. I would have never imagined what would happen next.
I started to read more. I started to think I had something to offer others. I had more self-confidence. I started volunteering at Seeds. I thought I could help with filing, but they asked me to tutor! So for the past 6 years, I’ve been tutoring students twice a week, on my days off. My specialty is fractions.
I had always wanted to play music, so I started taking keyboard lessons and practicing every day. I learned to make candy, knit ruffly scarves, and duct tape crafts. I kept learning new things.
I started talking to my customers at the Club. I felt that I had something to share. We talked about books we read, and our families, and I shared my story with them. Many of my customers are in business and government, and I would have never thought I had things in common with them. But I do.
In 2016, I won the National Learner of the Year Award. I attended a conference in Dallas to accept the award and participate in workshops. Governor Kasich gave me the Courage Award, and I was invited to lead the pledge of allegiance at a session of the Republican National Convention here in Cleveland.
I was named one of Cleveland’s Most Interesting People in 2017 by Cleveland Magazine. The Cleveland Foundation chose me as one of Cleveland’s Place Makers this year, and I am so honored to be a part of Creative Mornings today!
Best of all, I am now a literacy ambassador. Over the past two and a half years, I have shared the story about how education changed my life with people at homeless shelters, recovery programs, health fairs, back to school events, library programs, Senators and Congresspeople. I want to give back to the community, and I can do that by sharing my passion about literacy and how the GED changed my life. I am blessed to be out talking to people.
I would never have imagined doing these things before I got my GED. I see opportunities now that I didn’t before. When we feel shy or afraid, we miss opportunities, and the chance to share ourselves.
As Mel Robbins says in The Five Second Rule, “At any age, and with any goal, we have the power to own ourselves. Look inside, take a step and try something to change your life.”
Literacy has made my life limitless. I am a different person, with a different life now. I am always learning. I am always looking for what’s next. I know I have more to offer now, and I am looking for the chance to do that.
You know, whatever happened in our lives, we cannot go back. We are here now, and this is what we have to work with. It’s hard sometimes. You have to want it, and work at it. We need to continuously work on ourselves. We should be a different person than we were last month, or last week, or even yesterday.
I learned these lessons through improving my literacy skills. We can all learn. We can all change. My advice for dreamers is to go for it. Surround yourself with quality people to see what’s possible. It can be hard work and you need to be disciplined and persistent.
You might not get perfect, but you will get better!