Alferd Williams was born in 1937 in Eudora, Arkansas, one of nine children in his family. When he was a boy, his parents, who worked as sharecroppers, could not afford for both Alferd and his twin brother to be gone all day to school. In order for both boys to get some education, Alferd’s mother devised a plan to alternate days where one twin would go to school while the other stayed home to help on the farm. However, Alferd’s twin would often rise early and sneak away to school, leaving Alferd to work long days on the farm throughout his school years. As a result, Alferd never learned to read.
Decades later, Alferd, then a resident of Saint Joseph, Missouri, began to help a single mother by walking her three children to and from school. The 68-year-old Alferd acted as a parent to the children and helped care for them every afternoon. What he could not help them with, however, was their homework.
When Alesia Hamilton, the first-grade teacher of one of the children, discovered that Alferd could not read the notes she had been sending home with the children, she began to teach him how to read. In the fall of 2006, Alferd enrolled as a first-grade student.
After completing the first grade, Alferd chose to stay in Alesia’s class and continue to learn with the new first-graders. Alesia encouraged Alferd’s passion for reading and, eventually, for teaching children to read. In fact, parents said their children would come home excited, with stories about how Alferd had helped them learn to read.
Alferd’s dream was to continue his work in Alesia’s class until he completed his GED. He wasn’t able to achieve that dream before his death in 2015, at age 77, having reached a third-grade reading level.
Of course, Alferd’s true accomplishments are much greater than reading alone. His legacy will live on in the generations of students, parents, teachers and community members he inspired. His name lives on, too, in the Alferd Williams Literacy Award, presented each year since 2009 by UPS and the Toys for Tots Literacy Program.
Literacy changed Alferd’s life, allowed him to fulfill his promise to his mother and opened a world of opportunities for him, as well as those who were fortunate to know him. His story shows that it is never too late to learn.
Literacy. Pass It On!
This billboard about Literacy features Alferd Williams.