Life-changing literacy: ‘Reading Rainbow’ host, ‘Roots’ and ‘Star Trek’ star LeVar Burton inspires as Lyceum speaker

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ULM Hawkeye

For Nirali Patel, calling LeVar Burton an inspiration is an “understatement.”

When Patel and her family moved to Monroe when she was in first grade, she didn’t know how to read. After being in the Monroe school system for a year, nothing changed.

“I got through first grade with the help of my teachers and other students. I got through it, but I never knew how to read,” Patel said.

When Patel was in second grade, some teachers at her school expressed concerns about whether she would ever read. However, her second grade teacher, Ms. Placke, thought otherwise.

According to Patel, Placke is a “big advocate for reading.” She worked with Patel one-on-one everyday and employeed a helping hand from someone else.

Almost everyday, Placke showed her class an episode of Reading Rainbow, of which LeVar Burton is and has always been the host.

Patel said that Burton’s love for reading cultivated the same love within herself.

“Seeing his passion for it and seeing the adventures he would go on…it made me want to learn even more,” Patel said.

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CHASING THE RAINBOW: LeVar Burton fans Katie Anyon, senior art major, and Leah Reitzell pose for a picture with their homemade signs at the Lyceum Series last Thursday.

Placke and Burton working together helped Patel become one of the top readers in her class in under a year, Patel said.

“If it weren’t for her and Reading Rainbow together, I probably wouldn’t be as successful. Both of them working hand and hand is the reason why I am who I am today,” Patel said.

Patel, now a junior secondary education major, attended this year’s Lyceum featuring LeVar Burton. She also attended the Patron Party preceding the event so she could talk to her childhood hero face to face.

Burton, who met Patel and took a selfie with her, said that he loves speaking on college campuses because of stories like hers.

“I feel a bit proprietary where you are concerned; I feel like I helped raise you. I’m invested,” Burton said.

Burton’s speech for the Lyceum was focused on the value of literacy and especially storytelling.

“As far as fulfilling one’s highest potential is concerned, literacy is the key,” Burton said.

Burton also discussed racial issues and how storytelling keeps our past alive as it did on “Roots.”

Of the Black Lives Matter movement, he said that such discourse is essential and that it is important that people understand the movement.

“A statement like Black Lives Matter does not in any way take away from the importance of the lives of any other category of individual human beings,” Burton said. He went on to explain that the movement calls out unequal treatment towards blacks in America and that it is not meant to devalue anyone else.

He weighed in on the #OscarsSoWhite controversy as well, saying that representation of all races is important to the inspiration of children at home who have the potential to go into that field one day.

Terrance Mickens Jr., a junior risk management and insurance major, said that he’s glad these subjects were brought up.

“I’m glad he pointed it out because all the lives matter and that’s what’s important,” Mickens said.