Recently George and I hosted a special sneak preview of Precious in our hometown, Houston. The audience of 200 included young people and old, teachers and corporate executives, parents and grandparents, and folks of just about every ethnic and economic background. I planned to say a few words when the movie was over—but I was speechless. (My husband would tell you that is highly unusual.)
Precious is the story of an illiterate African-American teenager growing up in poverty in the 1980s. The abuse—sexual, physical, mental—this young woman suffers at the hands of her parents is difficult to watch; there are times when her hopelessness is overwhelming. But what saves her from a life of despair is a teacher who helps her learn to read and write.
After 30 years promoting literacy, I've never felt more energized. Watching this movie, I was reminded why it's important that we keep working so hard. There are kids like Precious everywhere. Each day we walk by them: young boys and girls whose home lives are dark secrets. They are often abused or neglected, and seldom read to or given homework help. Without the skills they need to lead a productive life, the chances are good they will continue the cycle of poverty and illiteracy.
But if young people can read and write, they are less likely to drop out of school, turn to drugs and violence, get pregnant, or depend on welfare. There is not one child in America who wants that life. Kids want to learn. They want to stay in school. They want good jobs. They want a chance. Which is why, three decades ago, I decided to use my bully pulpit to promote literacy.
I'm proud that the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy has given out 773 literacy grants in 50 states and the District of Columbia. We give them to programs whose goal is to teach both parents and children to read. This is happening in schools, prisons, workplaces, and communities. The programs all have the same goal: read, read, read. We've made progress, but Precious is a new call to action.
If I were to give out a homework assignment, it would be this: go see the movie. You might be shocked when it's over that it was Barbara Bush who asked you to do so. But go see it—then ask yourself how you can help.