First Lady Dr. Jill Biden Delivers Remarks as National Action Plan to Combat Low Adult Literacy Announced

Washington, D.C. — The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy today held its biennial National Summit on Adult Literacy at the REACH at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Summit convened adult literacy experts, education researchers, edtech innovators, philanthropic leaders and industry partners for collaborative work to solve the problem of low literacy in America.

First Lady of the United States Jill Biden delivered the event’s keynote remarks.

First Lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden at the 2021 National Summit on Adult Literacy.

“Reading is the foundation of all education. It affects every aspect of our society. Barbara Bush chose literacy because she wanted to help the most people possible. She believed that everything she was worried about – from homelessness to hunger and crime – could be tied back to literacy and education. And she was right,” stated Dr. Biden. “The last four decades of research have proved what she understood instinctively: That jobs, helping your child through school or the ability to support your family all require the ability to read. Today, the seeds she planted have grown to become a powerful organization with a national strategy to tackle one of the most urgent challenges of our times: adult literacy.”

Today, 130 million Americans – roughly 54% of adults aged 16-74 – lack proficiency in literacy, essentially reading below a sixth-grade level. This year’s Summit centered on the implementation of the National Action Plan for Adult Literacy.

Both the Summit and National Action Plan were conceived and convened by the Barbara Bush Foundation under the leadership of president and CEO British A. Robinson.

“Literacy is inextricably linked to the economic wellbeing of not just individuals and their families, but businesses, communities and our nation as a whole. When someone can read better, they have more options in life. That’s why literacy is really about opportunity and closing gaps. It’s about equity,” shared Robinson. “Today – the launch of the first-ever National Action Plan for Adult Literacy – marks a new start. We are thrilled to be joined by so many wonderful partners in this transformational moment and movement for the cause of literacy.”

Representatives from Business Roundtable, Dollar General, Humana, Intel, Microsoft and Shell participated in panel discussion focused on the role of large employers, funders and foundations in solving the literacy challenge.

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation served as presenting sponsor of the Summit. Denine Torr, Dollar General’s vice president of corporate social responsibility and philanthropy, shared, “We are hopeful – and confident – that, by working together under the auspices of the National Action Plan, we will achieve transformative impact over the next five years and beyond. We believe we can make meaningful and lasting improvements, so that we achieve our shared vision of a country in which all adults can easily access high-quality, effective literacy support in their hometown communities – whether that is urban centers or rural America. Because a zip code should not define access or opportunities.”

The Barbara Bush Foundation also presented the Dyer Pearl Literacy Award to four national and community-based organizations that have performed exemplary work in the field of family literacy. These awards went to the Coalition on Adult Basic Education; ProLiteracy; the Irving, Texas Independent School District Adult Education Program; Strong City Baltimore; and Sharon Darling, founder of the National Center for Families Learning.

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