"If you asked me to sing and dance, I would gladly sing and dance. But if you asked me to read out loud, I would just crumble." In the nearly 20 years since she was diagnosed with severe dyslexia at the age of 35, Michele Shepherd has become a vibrant advocate for lifelong education and learning through listening. After the RFB&D Roundtable last month, we sat down to capture her thoughts on access, independence, and self-esteem. "When you talk about access and independence, all I can think of is sitting at my dining room table years ago with my little headphones and cassette player, reading Shakespeare for the first time. The book was black ink on white pages, but it came alive; and listening to it gave it color. And that’s all I could think of: the color that RFB&D has given my life. I mean this: it truly gives life color! "In my ninth grade English class, I was always the last one to do my report. And the teacher said, 'Oh, Michele will take too long. Michele, go ahead and sit down. You’re not like your brothers and sisters; just sit down and I’ll grade your paper later.'"Now I’m 54 years old, I sit here with that memory, and it’s like, good grief! She had no clue; she thought she was helping me.
"If you asked me to sing and dance, I would gladly sing and dance. But if you asked me to read out loud, I would just crumble.
"For 30 years I suffered, thinking something was wrong with me. I planned everything around disguising my weakness, and always maneuvered around my disability. I’d miss my board meetings if my assistant wasn’t around to read for me; I’d all of the sudden become ill - that’s happened more than once.
"I’m not begrudging or belittling anyone, but we simply didn’t know back then what we know today. And now I do insist (and will go to my grave saying this), we have got to reach children early. It’s our future! And I truly believe a lot of this will be done through parent associations, because parents can move mountains.
"The key is reaching children early – first or second grade, while they still have their self esteem. That’s the important piece, that heart piece. I think Monty Anderson, Mike Jernigan and John Russo covered this very well at the RFB&D Roundtable – you know, the darkness of thinking that you’re different.
"These days, President Obama is talking about 'No Child Left Behind.' Well, we’d better get busy, because when you look at our prison systems. . . I could easily go on a rampage about this because it’s so close to my heart. It is so urgent for all of us to get the word out there."