Sammy is a student at the Literacy Action of Central Arkansas. When Sammy King learned about Helen Keller at the age of 66, he took her story as inspiration that he too could 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 had a chance to get, Sammy nonetheless left school in the 6th grade. In 1968, King, then 18, 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,” King 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, but as he couldn’t read, it was almost impossible to get adequate treatment.
Nineteen years ago, however, he met Kathleen, the woman who became his wife. Kathleen tried to teach him to read, but she and King, both working, didn’t have the energy to tackle the difficult task in their free time. After retirement, however, King 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 reading skills.
King is now reading at about a sixth-grade level. He’s finally read a book about Helen Keller. More significant, 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.” King says he now has confidence he lacked his whole life, and for Kathleen, “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 hoped others who can’t read wouldn’t wait as long as he did to get help.