Valley man inspired by KTAR’s Mike Broomhead to learn to read at age 55
PHOENIX – Approximately 500,000 adults in Maricopa County are considered to be “functionally illiterate.”
If you met Mike Austin, you’d have no idea he was one of them.
Austin told KTAR News 92.3 FM he guesses he reads at about a second grade level.
“I don’t know where it went wrong, I showed up to school like any normal child,” he said. “It’s been carrying on through my whole life going through schooling and [brings up] mixed feelings of ‘why am I not learning?’”
Austin, born and raised in Las Vegas and the son of a single mother, said while he continued to move up grade levels in school, the concept of reading never really clicked and he learned to adapt.
He took an oral test to get his driver’s license and memorized landscaping and landmarks to learn major cross streets in his area.
Austin even started his own landscaping business while in Las Vegas, receiving help from friends and strangers he met along the way. Strangers like Carol, a woman who worked at the post office where he had a P.O. box for his business.
“She made flyers, special for me,” he recalled. “She made business cards. I pretty much had a design in my mind but she [brought] it to reality.”
About 5 years ago, Austin moved to the Valley to be closer to his daughter and grandkids.
His memorization tricks no longer worked and he became especially reliant on his smartphone to read for him and help navigate the unfamiliar streets.
After a few years in Phoenix, he set out on a mission to try and learn how to read by seeking out adult literacy courses in the spring of 2020.
“I had looked into taking classes but they weren’t taking no students because of the virus,” he said.
Austin grew discouraged and nearly gave up on the idea of learning how to read altogether, until one day when he turned on his radio and heard Mike Broomhead talking about KTAR’s Raise a Reader Campaign.
“That topic of literacy, donation of books, and the support, and that it starts with our kids,” Austin’s voice began to crack. “He… he touched me and he gave me hope.”
Now, Austin is working to no longer be just a statistic. Austin said he is committed to finally learning to read.
“I know that I can… I can beat this.”
And he hopes his story will inspire others to do the same.
“I thought it was something that maybe talking to me, to share my story, it might help somebody else out,” he said.
For more on adult literacy and education classes in Arizona, click here.