Guest Post: Connie Williams On The Importance Of Volunteers In The Battle To Flip The Literacy Narrative

The past couple of weeks I’ve been obsessed with the dismal student reading scores coming out of Nashville’s public schools. I’m known be a tad dramatic, but 17.5 percent is a low number no matter what you’re measuring. Further, a number as large as 82.5 percent that represents kids of color not reading at the level expected warrants Broadway-play dramatic. 

Instead, I plan to do my part to flip the statistics and change the narrative by raising awareness and accepting an offer to get in front kids with a book a few times a year. Connie Williams with Reading is Fundamental (RIF) is recruiting volunteers to read to students in select schools around the district. Join me. #FliptheScript.

Screenshot 2017-10-26 at 8.17.10 PM

If you, like many of us, are discouraged about the latest report on reading levels for Nashville children, I have a suggestion. Be part of the solution.

It’s tempting to sit around and have endless discussions about what others should do differently and who is at fault. The answer is that we are all at fault that 7 out of 10 Nashville children can’t read at grade level, and 8 out of 10 children of color in my wonderful, forward-looking hometown can’t read at grade level. That’s so shameful that I can hardly bear to think about it.

There are many ways that regular people like you and me can help our children, and this fall I’m helping Book’em place volunteers in elementary schools as part of the Reading is Fundamental (RIF) program. RIF volunteers visit a Nashville public school classroom five times during the school year. On each visit, they read a book or two to the class and then they let each child pick out a new book of their own to keep. Volunteers can share their favorite stories, talk about their love of books, and encourage children to read.  

But the most important part is letting the children pick out their own books, provided by Book’em, some of them for the first time. The Handbook of Early Literacy says that in middle income neighborhoods the ratio of books per child is 13 to 1, in low-income neighborhoods the ratio is 1 age-appropriate book for every 300 children. I want to think we do better than that in Nashville with Imagination Library for toddlers and pre-schoolers and the best library system in the U.S. in the Nashville Public Library, but I know that the children in RIF classrooms are overjoyed to receive these books and even more excited to be able to pick out the ones they want.

I understand that what we can accomplish as readers and book providers to these precious children is not the magic answer. It’s certainly not as big and shiny as teacher training or teaching methods or parent engagement or more funding or even one-on-one weekly volunteer tutoring in an MNPS Reading Clinic, but I know that it’s meaningful. And it’s something that almost anyone can do.

Are you willing to give 10 hours total of your time to help a classroom of children during this school year? We still need a few more volunteers at Cockrill, Park Avenue, Tom Joy, KIPP Kirkpatrick, Explore, and Dodson schools. Email me to learn more or to sign up at

Connie Williams is the former executive director of Metro Schools’ longtime partner PENCIL Foundation, which is known for its impact on the Nashville community through the creation and nurturing of hundreds of partnerships between business and schools. When not recruiting and training reading volunteers, Ms. Williams teaches at Belmont University.


Hello? Can You Hear Me?

Adele, Imma need you to come from the other side and say hi right to my face.  Otherwise, sista, I won’t be able to hear ya.

That’s what I saw my audiologist say.

Oh yeah, apparently I’ve been half-hearing with my ears and the other half with my eyes. Funny that my blog’s title is Volume and Light.  I’m one big Shakespearean tragedy.


The ways of the ear are miraculous.  

When scheduling the hearing test, they requested that I bring someone whose voice is familiar, so it was either Linwood or Jax. Hubs, like many before him, believed my listeners were discriminatory – “I think you hear what you wanna hear.” Such a load of earwax.  I learned him.  But I digress.

We made it to the audiologist on a Friday morning during a thunderstorm.  The first test put the incredulous Linwood in one corner and me in the opposite corner about 12 feet apart. He was instructed to read a list of words and I was instructed to repeat, with eyes closed. Nervous and a little miffed, I sat straight in my chair ready to repeat every word from the voice I’d been hearing for more than 25 years.  “Wipe” wait, what?  White? “Fat” uh, Jax? No shit, it was that bad. “Ms. Hawkins, people tend to miss 2 or 3, you missed 10 and an additional 7 you guessed and got correct.”  I hate you, ear man.  Yo mama must be so disappointed in you.

It’s amazing how soundwaves vibrate the “little hair” in the ear canal making its way to the brain in the time it takes one to snap her fingers.  When the little hair is damaged, the hearing of varying frequencies become compromised.  That’s me.  Damaged little hair. Frequency challenged.



Why Test?

My hearing has been crap for several years, but when you’re not working full-time and your nest is semi-empty, you’re forced to pay attention to yourself.  The years of hearing “mama, you don’t hear that?” and “Vesia, I know you heard me” didn’t really motivate me.  However, my crazy, beautiful best friend did.

My bestie, Pam,  recently had surgery and I couldn’t make to Atlanta to see her so I had to rely on our phone conversations.  For years I have been secretly decoding our phone events.  I spend roughly 50% of my input asking her to repeat herself and other times to keep her from getting tired (or pissed) I would just pretend to understand.  Nearly every phone call she says “I thought I told you..” or “Don’t you remember me telling you?” I either pretend to remember or concede to forgetting. Something about her voice’s frequency translates into a garbled mess through the phone –and, oh yeah, I can’t utilize my eyes.  The one person whose voice I’ve listened to for more than 35 years has eluded me.  So I broke the news that our phone calls have been one big, fat lie. For the remainder of the call she spoke slowly and lowly. I cussed her good.


What Now?

The audiologist with the disappointed mama explained that years of non-use atrophies the part of the brain that controls sound.  So stupid.  So even with hearing aids I will only take in about 90% of sound.  Of course, I’m going to fight for that 90%. I assured the ear man (and I’m sure my belly hanging over my pants confirmed) that there are no issues with vanity here.  I just want to hear – be part of the conversation instead of “compensating” by pretending to look at my phone or take pictures.

In all seriousness, I can’t help but wonder what I’ve missed.  What have I misunderstood? I’ve conducted hundreds of business and personal transactions and, surely, I’ve missed something.  So, my friends, if you have said something that warranted a response and I just looked and smiled, my apologies.  I didn’t hear a word you said.  Charge it to my ears.

“Hello from the other side

I must of called a thousand times

To tell you I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done

But when I call you never seem to be home

Hello from the outside

At least I can say that I tried…” – Adele


Victory in Silence and Darkness

DISCLAIMER: As I write, I’m suffering from the flu.  There’s an 80% percent chance I won’t remember this post.

The purpose of this blog is to shine light on the awesome and provide a mic for quiet greatness- and to just be silly – my greatest character trait. Since my last post two months ago, I’ve experienced a string of crappy crap,  all while deploying a pretty intense job search. I’ve fought the self-bashing, why me-ing, and comparing; at 44 years old with adult children I’m better equipped for the battle.

But at 44 years old I realize I’m looking for a job at 44 years old.  Yikes! The people who have known me longest will say “I knew she shouldn’t have joined that campaign.” To you, I say, you are not a friend.  Knowing what I know now, I’d make the same decision. The silence and darkness has taught me some things:

  • I’m not the same person I was a year ago.
  • as a notorious people-pleaser, I realize how harmful I’ve been to myself.
  • I will no longer apologize for my feelings, beliefs, decisions, and interests.
  • I am a reformed avoider of conflict. (see people-pleaser)

This is not a woe-is-me party. It’s me taking responsibility for my losses, mistakes, decisions, and choices. The silence spoke to me solidly and clearly.  The darkness provided a sheath of protection allowing me to feel without consequences.  How could I have known that in darkness I’d see my true self?  That silence would amplify my truth?

I’ve been on the battlefield, but I’m sure – no, I know- I will win.  Volume and Light will resume with silliness because beauty and wonder never go on holiday.

To my friends: you have kept me going.  Advice you’ve given over time, calls, texts, emails, connections made, lunches (a bazillion lunches), crafting lessons, well wishes, and more prominently, the prayers.  Even in darkness I could see the blessings and the silence, in rare form, perfectly delivered the proper messages.

Until next time…

Roll. Bounce… or just stand.

It was the late 80’s and Sunday nights were my time for worship.  I lived approximately 7 miles from the fellowship facility, but it seemed to be 70 miles because we had no car.

I would start calling friends for a ride on Friday because I wanted to save Sunday afternoon for choosing an outfit. It was serious.  There was no place that made me feel peaceful, confident and happy.  The lights, the smells, the guys, the dancing, and the MUSIC. The music.

I went back in time last night as I visited my old stomping grounds; place of worship. Rivergate Skate Center.  Ahhh, the place that sucked out the gloom week after week and replaced it with pure joy!  I couldn’t believe I was back in that place.  Same lights, same smells and SCREEEEEEEEEECH!


First, my daughter had to help me take off my boots.  And, oh yeah, I went with my 20 year old daughter.  Second,  I had to learn to balance on the same skates (those skates were at least 30 yrs old) with an additional ## lbs. Third, the DJ was nicknamed Granny. Fourth, the guys – well, what guys, I’m married!  Fifth, my first roll around the rink was met with some strange pain in my hip.  Then my calves.  Then my thighs.  Did I say my back?  I went on a Wednesday night.   Because, you know, there are no other options for the old and fluffy.

Ol Skool

With the extra fluff, aches and pains, I tackled the hardwood with zero poise, yet somehow remained upright.  The music – ole skool- was not as awesome as I remembered or maybe my trepidation muted the bass lines that would normally get me going.  Rolling.  Bouncing.  I became acquainted with areas of the skate center traditionally reserved for lame-o’s.  Those who stand and watch the cool people.  Once I was a cool people.  Now, I’m a card-carrying lame-o.

Still, the best part of the whole night was time with my girl and watching her have fun.  And I didn’t embarrass her.  So, even though I felt each of the 25 years since I last skated successfully, I exited those doors popping with pure joy.  Some things never change.


Always Start at the Beginning

Ever fried a turkey? It’s simple, right?  Buy $400 of peanut oil and fry for like 45 minutes compared to the 4-hour saga of baking.  Sounds too good to be true?  Because IT IS!  You have to let the darn oil reach, like, 6,000 degrees before dunking Mr. Turkey.  And if it’s cold and windy outside, well, just put him in the oven.  Not too many Thanksgivings ago, we thought we would serve our guests a piping hot turkey – straight from the fryer.  After waiting 1.5 hours later than we planned, we served the bird. Let’s just say he could have flown away.    #thanksgivingfail

Not quite sure what the hell the title of this inaugural post means, but, unlike that fried turkey, it’s a good start.  Hopefully, this little blog will be the start of a meaningful, fun, and fruitful relationship.

Why a blog? At your age? With your limited writing skills? And tired sense of humor?

If you must know…

I am a 44 year old, married mom of 2 adult-aged wanna-be adults.  I love my little family, but I have issues.  I suspect most of us do.  So I’m putting it out there; sacrificing a little dignity for the greater good.  We may wax poetic about our Pinterest woes or build a bitch session around education. From the pigskin to PMS and all points in between.  We will discuss it, Adele it, Netflix it, Google it, love it and leave it.

While I lack even the most basic of writing skills, I come equipped with voice and heart with a double shot of wisdom.  Because I learn from mistakes like partially cooked turkeys can kill humans.

So, for you and for me, I’m turning up the volume and letting this little light shine.  From silence to song and absence to brilliance. Together.