People of Literacy Mid-South: Meet Sam

Friday, Jan 15, 2016

I’m happy to introduce our new column, People of Literacy Mid-South! The People of Literacy Mid-South column will takes a close look at the good folks that make our organization tick. We’ll also be looking at volunteers, learners, and board members here, so stay tuned!

This week, we’re profiling smattson [at] literacymidsouth [dot] org">Sam Mattson, Literacy Mid-South’s Collaborative Action Manager. Sam is a native Memphian and a graduate of Rhodes College, where he earned his Bachelor’s of Arts degree in History & Philosophy with a minor in African-American Studies. Sam is a relatively new face at Literacy Mid-South, but he’s already done lots of great work.

What do you do?

My title at Literacy Mid-South is Collaborative Action Manager, but that’s pretty confusing. Essentially I build and manage partnerships with organizations that have stake in elementary-age students. In order to manage partnerships I have to know about elementary literacy instruction and what resources are available to the community. As the point person for resources, I am the supervisor for the Literacy Mid-South VISTA project. We are an intermediary site for the AmeriCorps*VISTA program and are providing VISTAs to several organizations here in Memphis.

What brought you to (or keeps you in) Memphis?

Memphis has so much character. There is nothing quite like the variety of neighborhoods here, and each neighborhood has its own personality. You can go just about anywhere in Memphis and find people who care very deeply about their neighborhood and the city. It is truly impressive, considering the history of Memphis, the way that people persevere. This makes me want to stick around and do my part for the city.

What is one of the biggest educational challenges that Memphis faces?

I think our biggest educational challenge in our classrooms is lack of school readiness. So many kids come into school and are performing at levels far behind their peers. It is hard for teachers to prepare adequate lessons for kids when they are all starting from different places.

However, I think one of the biggest challenges for the system is that we lose sight of the students. The conversation shouldn’t be about survival and self-preservation, but about helping the kids. They are ultimately the future and we need to prepare them effectively to learn and grow.

How do you think we as a community can work to create lifelong learners?

Collaboration. One effort with one specific focus will never be able to accomplish anything on its own. For instance, increasing third grade reading is an effort that requires more than just improving reading instruction. There are several issues that need to be addressed, including school attendance issues, physical/social/emotional health barriers, and a lack of financial resources. If the community can come together, offer what they have available, and provide support for the needs of everyone, then we will create a community full of lifelong learners.

How does your work help Literacy Mid-South to create a community engaged in continuous learning?

For many years, Literacy Mid-South had the sole priority of serving the needs of adults struggling to read. However, it became increasingly clear that instead of catching people (adults) on the back end, Literacy Mid-South also needed to try and aid the efforts at the beginning of the process (elementary students). Literacy Mid-South was uniquely situated as the literacy organization to start this work. That being said, Literacy Mid-South was not looking to become a school, but rather provide organizations already doing the work with the resources, partnerships, and knowledge necessary to get over the hump.

What would you do (for a career) if you weren’t doing this?

I have two deep passions that sort of control my actions and decisions. The first is social justice. Social justice is what ultimately guided me into education and to this job specifically. There is a chance I would have gone into law or criminal justice as another avenue for social justice, but I am currently happy with the path I am taking.

The second passion is for sports and athletics. I am a huge basketball, soccer, football, and cross country/track fan. I have followed the Grizzlies since I moved here 11 years ago and am so excited about the way they have grown and adopted the characteristics of the city they call home. If it were not for my passion for social justice I would be involved in sports or athletics somehow, either through journalism, coaching, or managing.

If you could make everyone on earth read one book, what book would it be?

 My favorite book of all time is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Every time someone asks me what book they should read, it is my go to. The beginning of the book is a little drawn out, but the character and plot development more than makes up for it.  I was unable to put it down and I am certain that anyone who loves a good plot twist would love this book as well.

If you could spend one day in another person’s body, who would you choose to be? What would you do that day?

If I were able to spend the day as one person, I think it would be Lebron James. As a former collegiate athlete and a big basketball fan, it would be an eye opening experience to go through his routines and practice schedule as well as play in a game. Lebron James is probably the best all-around male athlete in the world right now and he is at the peak of his game. There would be no better experience for an athlete and basketball fan than to see a high-level game from the point of view of one of the best basketball players of all time.

You can only eat one more dish for the rest of your life? What dish do you choose and why?

This is one of the hardest questions I have ever gotten. As of right now, I think I would have to go Gus’s Fried Chicken. I’m not sure if that has to do with the complex flavors and spices that are making my mouth water as I say this or the combination of the juicy chicken and all of those sides… I guess I know where I’m going for dinner.

Tell us something about you that would surprise us.

This is going to sound kind of boring but I am really not a huge of fan of TV shows. I much prefer sitting down to watch a movie than I do a TV show. I also really enjoy watching bad movies. Something about bad movies just makes me laugh.