People of Literacy Mid-South is a column that takes a close look at the folks that make our organization tick. This week we’re featuring Vernetta Anderson, a longtime member of Literacy Mid-South’s staff. Vernetta’s official position is Training Services Manager, but she wears many hats. Vernetta is a graduate of the University of Memphis, where she earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Business Administration. Her professional experiences are many and varied, as she explains below.
What do you do?
I manage the Read Memphis Project. It is one of our newer initiatives: a training and certification program that helps organizations set up their own literacy or adult education programs. In essence, we are replicating our Adult Learning Program in other community organizations. I assist Read Memphis partner organizations with navigating through the process to become a member of the Read Memphis cohort. I also oversee their training and provide them with all of the resources and materials that they need to be successful.
A number of organizations have already been certified by The Read Memphis Project to deliver literacy services to their clients. Among them are Shelby County Pre-Trial Services, Refugee Empowerment Program, Shelby County Division of Corrections and East End Church of Christ.
What is one of the biggest educational challenges facing the Mid-South?
The number of adults who struggle with reading has reached an epidemic proportion in our city. Adults are leaders of their families and are the pillars of our community, yet only a few providers exist in Memphis that serve adults who read below a 6th grade level. This low number of basic literacy providers for adults is the rationale behind the start of the Read Memphis Project. We need other organizations to join us in serving adults that are struggling with reading. Our attention to them will help them improve their long-term capabilities, which will directly improve the quality of life in the Mid-South.
As a longtime staff member, what has been your motivation for staying with Literacy Mid-South?
I have always been very sensitive to issues dealing with class, race and gender. So many people who are part of marginalized groups face serious literacy challenges, and a person’s literacy level greatly influences every facet of life and especially the opportunities that they can achieve. At Literacy Mid-South, we want everyone to have the opportunity to reach his or her full potential, and I am all about that.
What did you do before you worked for Literacy Mid-South?
As a volunteer manager, I helped present cultural exhibitions with the Wonders Series, and then helped present the performing arts at the Orpheum Theatre. I did a short stint in higher education teaching nonprofit management and ethics. I tell folks I used to work on the other side of the tracks, and now I work in the trenches…talking about a difference in class!
Would you switch roles with any other Literacy Mid-South employee? If so, who would you switch with?
I would not want to switch roles with anyone. I enjoy my role and feel that I am well suited to it. Due to my past experience with training organizations to set up their programs, I am able to speak to the administrative side of things, as well as the operations or instructional side.
If you could work any career for one day, what career would you choose?
I don’t know. I really have no idea, and I think that is mainly due to my having experiences in work that I could never dream or imagine. For instance, when the Olympic Torch made a trek through Memphis and the cauldron was lit during Sunset Symphony, on the banks of mighty Mississippi, I was a big part of that. It still gives me chills. While at the Orpheum Theatre, I had the opportunity to night after night stand in that grand lobby while the animals were launched down the aisles doing the opening act of The Lion King. Not everyone can include ‘misty water-colored memories’ in describing their work life.
If you could have any one real life or fictional superpower, what would it be?
Invisibility. (For some reason, this sounds better to me than being the proverbial fly
on the wall.)
What celebrity do people say you resemble? Do you agree with them?
I know this is not quite what you had in mind, but it makes a good story anyway. I had a job that required me to spend the day in a great deal of face-to-face persuasive social interaction with many people. One day I overheard some older ladies describing my persona, “Look at her go! She is like a black Scarlett O’Hara.” Did I agree? No, but still today I find the comparison most amusing, and the memory always brings a smug smile.
Describe what happens on a typical day off for you.
My off days begin early in the morning at the salon, followed by a wee bit of shopping (I call it blundering), then lunch with my husband, and I cap off the day by visiting a city attraction or matinee…and yes, I always have a plan for leisure.
What would be the title of your autobiography?
Plain Ole Garden-Variety Black.