Reported By Nancy Amons
Those of us born in America take for granted that we have certain rights, like the right to vote. But for thousands of legal immigrants in Nashville, citizenship is a far-off goal with many obstacles.
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Now a new program is in the works to overcome one of the biggest challenges to citizenship: the ability to read and write in English.
Annie James is a native of the African country of Liberia. The 71-year-old never attended a day of school in her life.
She learned to read in a Nashville adult literacy program. Her teacher, Bonnie Myers, also planted the seed that Annie might one day become an American citizen.
"Bonnie opened my head and put citizenship in my head," Annie James laughed as she remembered.
Annie failed at her first attempt, went home and studied some more. Two months later, she took the test again and passed.
"I cried when I passed, she said. She has voted in every election since.
Annie's story is one the Nashville Adult Literacy Council hopes to repeat a few hundred times over. The council just got a federal grant to pay for 11 new citizenship classes for adult immigrants.
"This population would be legal immigrants, because one of the requirements to be in the class is to have an unexpired green card," said Meg Nugent, executive director of the Nashville Adult Literacy Council.
Many of the immigrants, like Annie, are refugees from war-torn countries. Annie still walks with a limp from injuries she received in Africa in the early 1990s, when her country was at war. Many of her relatives were killed.
"I don't like to talk about it, because when I talk about it, it always brings tears," Annie said.
Teaching citizenship to English language learners is a challenge.
"Many students, they don't know, they can hold the book upside down. They have no idea," said Bonnie Myers. "Sometimes I think my job is a little like kindergarten."
But the payoff is enormous. Annie can now read food labels, instructions from her doctor and her own mail.
"I'm enjoying it. And I love it. Yes. I appreciate that, she said.
The locations and schedule for the new citizenship classes haven't been set up yet.
For more information, call the Nashville Adult Literacy Council at 615-298-8060.
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