Health & Medicine

Devotion to literacy makes him a superhero

In the second grade, as he was walking to his remedial reading class, Floyd Stokes remembers being teased by his cousin.

That didn't feel good.

"She teased me because I didn't know how to read," Stokes said. "I got decent grades, but had I been pushed, I would have done better."

Now, at 42, Stokes has become a pusher of literacy.

He has put together the SuperReader 50 State Tour, sponsored by Kohl's department stores and American Literacy Corp., a non-profit organization of which he is the founder and executive director. ALC is based in Harrisburg, Pa.

At 1 p.m. Saturday at the Northside Branch of the Lexington Public Library, Stokes will energize children by donning his superhero uniform — mask, cape and tights — and urging children in kindergarten through fifth grade to read.

Stokes, who has read to more than 85,000 children in 10 years as his alter ego, "SuperReader," is visiting libraries, schools and community organizations in each state to interact with children and give those in attendance free books as long as supplies last.

"I'm traveling in a small car," he said, laughing.

SuperReader represents the best aspects of reading, such as intelligence, self-confidence, high self-esteem and empowerment. He reads to the children and works crafts with them for about 45 minutes.

"Reading is the foundation of learning," he said. "It is an opportunity for children to be more successful."

Stokes said his mother, who lives in Mississippi, is illiterate, as are or were many of the people he grew up around.

Because of that firsthand experience with someone who functions outside the world of reading, Stokes said, education became very important to him. "I broke the cycle of illiteracy by going to school and learning to read and learning to love to read," he said.

In 2007, His fight against illiteracy earned him a James Patterson PageTurner Award, created by the best-selling author to recognize achievements in the promotion of literacy.

Not everyone in Stokes' family embraced literacy and learning, however.

Stokes said his older brother took another route, choosing to drop out of school before getting into trouble and going to prison. He saves that story for the older children he talks to, telling them not to embrace the negative images around them.

"You can't make prison look good," he said.

Stokes is also the author of four children's books, with a fifth scheduled to be released in June. The books will be available for sale at the event.

With summer coming and schools closing, we really need to get our children accustomed to going to the library. Their minds need to remain as active as their bodies.

Mary Landrum, a children's librarian at Northside, said she has been working with two fifth-grade book clubs at Mary Todd and Booker T. Washington elementary schools to make reading fun. Plus, she said, she will be working with the day camp at Consolidated Baptist Church to keep reading high on the children's list of summer activities.

Many of the children she serves, she said, are minorities, which is the group Stokes is targeting, as well.

In Kentucky, reading scores at the fourth- and eighth-grade levels increased in 2009, the only state in which that happened, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Nation's Report Card.

But the achievement gap is still dangerously wide along racial and cultural lines. Reading well helps students in all subjects.

Stokes, the father of five, said his son, a junior in college, is on full scholarship, as his daughter will be when she graduates from high school this spring.

"It is all about being successful in life," he said.