Arkansas-Pine Bluff game to promote adult literacy

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Grambling State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff will play an Oct. 14 football game at Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium, and organizers are using the event to promote an adult literacy effort.

The game got an endorsement Monday from Elroy Chinn, who for eight decades couldn't read.

"If you had wrote my name up on the board, I couldn't read it," he said in front of about 100 people that gathered at the Clinton Presidential Library for the announcement.

The graying, bespectacled Chinn said he started to read at 84 and loves it.

"My wife, she's got a bookcase," said Chinn, who turns 87 next month. "She's got every book you can read up there. And I want to read every last one of them."

Organizers of the literacy event hope to spread that kind of enthusiasm.

"The vision is on Oct. 14, 2006 -- and many people think I'm crazy when I say this -- we want 55,000 screaming individuals inside War Memorial not for the game but for the sake of literacy," said Fitz Hill, president of Arkansas Baptist College and a former
Arkansas assistant coach.

The Delta Classic-4-Literacy will cap a number of activities that promote literacy.

Funds raised by the game will benefit scholarships to Arkansas Baptist College, the Arkansas Literacy Councils and other literacy organizations, Hill said.

It's hoped that the event will increase awareness of the scope of adult illiteracy and encourage both volunteer tutors and people who want to read to come forward, Arkansas Literacy Councils executive director Marie Bruno.

She said it's difficult to estimate how many Arkansans have trouble reading but said the problem is widespread.

Chinn said that when he was growing up in El Campo, Texas, in the 1920s, his race kept him out of school.

"There wasn't no colored school. The only one was white," he said. "And they didn't like colored to go to that white [school]."

Chinn now lives in Midway, Ark., to be near his wife's family. He said he worked for 27 years at a Phoenix company that built airplane motors. He operated sandblasting equipment but he said he couldn't advance because of his lack of education.

If he needed to understand written language, he relied on other people to explain it to him.

His volunteer tutor, Diane Kemmerer, said Chinn sought help from a literacy organization because he wanted to read the Bible. He now reads at a fourth- or fifth-grade level and is just beginning math, she said.

"He wants to learn," said Kemmerer, a 68-year-old retired teacher. "He's pretty intelligent, he just never went to school."