Tracy Johnson has a message about reading issues.
If you can’t read, there’s a reason—and it’s not because you’re lazy or dumb. Johnson takes that message to low-income communities in Philadelphia, her hometown. It’s making a difference for a lot of people, both kids and adults.
Johnson is an adult with . But it took years for her to be diagnosed, and she’s determined to help others avoid what she experienced.
Johnson believes that raising awareness is the best way to help. A major part of her work is simply telling her story in areas that have little access to information about dyslexia and other learning differences.
In particular, Johnson goes to minority neighborhoods, like the one where she grew up. “When I’m working to raise awareness, I’m talking to people who look like me,” Johnson says. “It helps for them to be able to see, you did something with this.”
Johnson’s story is that of a smart kid who couldn’t read and didn’t know why. She was placed in classes in school. But she wasn’t tested for dyslexia until she was a young adult. By then her self-esteem had taken a blow, she says.
Finding out that she had dyslexia made all the difference for Johnson. She worked with a reading specialist. Johnson went from working as a cleaner to attending college. She already has one master’s degree and is getting another in special education.
Johnson also founded a nonprofit, Vessels of Hope. It’s a resource and referral service for low-income and minority kids and adults. She points visitors to free resources like Understood. The purpose of her website is the same as her in-person work.
Her efforts recently got a boost through a profile on a local news station. Since the news profile, more adults who can’t read have been reaching out to her. “People come to us for help, to talk, to just get through life,” says Johnson. “It’s about putting together the broken pieces.”
Johnson gives a lot of attention to the emotional side of reading struggles. She’s an afterschool volunteer at the Salvation Army, where she teaches self-esteem and character building to teens.
The bulk of her advocacy work takes place after hours and on weekends. Her full-time job is being an admissions counselor at a local college.
Johnson wants to continue to spread the word about learning differences. Last year she went to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She talked about training teachers and families in reading approaches for dyslexia.
Helping kids with learning differences early is always part of her message. Johnson shares her story to explain why it matters.
The trip to St. Croix was part of Johnson’s larger faith-based activism. She doesn’t hesitate to point to her faith as a strong source of her own hope. And it supports her, she says, in bringing hope to others about what can cause reading struggles—and resources that help.
Learn more about reading milestones to look for in your child. Explore ways to encourage your child’s reading. And get tips on how to help kids with reading issues like dyslexia at home.
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About the author
Lyn Pollard is a writer and mom to two kids who learn differently.