A woman’s efforts to curb illiteracy in Highland Park, one book at a time

ducator Alma Greer knows the value of an education from deep in her soul.

A proud daughter of the South, she remembers when her brown skin required her to sit at the back of the bus.  Her mind’s eye still sees restrooms marked White and Colored. The pain of going past the spiffy white school to a one-room schoolhouse for black kids in Macon, Ga., aches still.

The sting of inferiority tried to break her spirit. One thing saved her: Education.

She learned to love reading, and loves it still.

Literacy took her from poverty to prosperity. So even though she retired from teaching years ago, Greer still gives her time and energy in various ways to light a fire for the desire to read, especially among black boys and girls.


She founded Legacy of Literacy in 2004. It became a nonprofit organization in 2014. It takes its motto from Frederick Douglass. “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

Legacy of Literacy works with schools, businesses and municipalities on projects that promote reading. Among them:

  • Real Men Read, an initiative that encourages black men to volunteer to read in classrooms in Detroit and Highland Park. 
  • Real Kids Read gets children to volunteer to read to senior citizens in area nursing homes.
  • Literacy in the Park, a one-day celebration on reading on the grounds of the closed McGregor Library in Highland Park. Volunteer storytellers – including Greer herself – command the ears of eager children. In addition, the children themselves are encouraged to read books on the lawn. In exchange for reading, children get tickets to fun activities such as pony rides and a video-game truck.

Greer’s latest initiative is called Boys, Books and Barbers. Patterned after a program she heard about in Harlem, books are placed on bookshelves in black barbershops so children can read while waiting for service or while getting their haircuts. When men at the shop pick up books, it further encourages the children to do the same.

Their first bookshelf was put in this past fall at M.L.I. Executive Barbershop in downtown Detroit. Greer hopes to have fully-stocked bookshelves in at least 10 shops in 2017.

“The kids come in and just flock to it,” says shop owner Marcus L. Iverson. “We’ve had nothing but positive feedback.”

Greer fervently believes learning opens doors for children, as it did for her.

After her family moved north to Detroit while she was still a child, she immersed herself in every opportunity to learn. She earned degrees from Wayne State and the University of Michigan. She became a teacher and administrator in Detroit and a school board member in Highland Park.

“I feel very strongly about the power of education and how it has improved the quality of my life,” she says. “I want all kids to have the opportunity to manifest their genius, and have choices about what to do with their lives.”

She’s especially interested in exciting black boys about learning. She sees it as a way to narrow the pipeline to prison.

She knows first-hand what an education can do.

“It has allowed me to travel the world,” she says. “I’ve been to five continents, including 10 countries in Africa. I have been able to give my children and grandchildren and other children opportunities they wouldn’t have had if I were not educated.”

“Because I’ve been so blessed, I feel a responsibility to be a blessing.”

For information on the Legacy of Literacy, visit legacyofliteracyinc.com.

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