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.
Download Backstory PDF
Pass It On®
me from thier AUGUST 16, 2021
Your Name from Location MARCH 16, 2021
People, pass it on!!!!!!! ;) please...
Somebody from USA OCTOBER 7, 2019
This is inspiring and a very amazing true story.
EvalosTiz from Germany SEPTEMBER 8, 2019
My best thing about relationship
EvalosTiz from Germany SEPTEMBER 5, 2019
My best thing about relationship
Anonymous AUGUST 12, 2019
this is very much encouraging
Anonymous AUGUST 9, 2019
this is encouraging!!
Anonymous APRIL 20, 2018
I love this
Anonymous JANUARY 9, 2018
poop AUGUST 22, 2017
hi from lis AUGUST 22, 2017
Pinapple from Pen AUGUST 15, 2017
JEFFEY AUGUST 15, 2017
I LIKES DOGS
EDGY from PINEAPPLE AUGUST 15, 2017
THIS IS AMAZING
Anonyums from boi NOVEMBER 30, 2016
George from New Jersey NOVEMBER 14, 2016
kayla from im 13 OCTOBER 31, 2016
she did the right thing. the first grade teacher is a role model such as Alferd she could've taunt him but she didnt she kind this artical should be on the front page of the news paper
anonymus from Hawaii MARCH 14, 2016
Lee from stampy's lovely world MARCH 14, 2016
Mumble from Unknown MARCH 14, 2016
Keep from Up the good work MARCH 10, 2016
ANONYMOUS from HAWAII FEBRUARY 26, 2016
That is SUPER inspirational!
jack from texas JANUARY 14, 2016
Anonymous from Hawaii DECEMBER 18, 2015
That is SUPER inspirational!
lesly from denver, colorado SEPTEMBER 23, 2015
so inspiring, love it <3
Jessica from Denver, Colorado SEPTEMBER 23, 2015
Diane from Dublin, Ireland SEPTEMBER 14, 2015
I've been an adult literacy tutor for 10 years. I've learnt more from my students than they could ever possibly learn from me. Rock on literacy.
NULL from NULL JUNE 26, 2015
I agree - it is never too late to learn. Even when we are elderly, we still keep learning something that is brand-new every day... :)
NULL from NULL MARCH 25, 2015
RIP I love you uncle!
NULL from NULL MARCH 10, 2015
This was my grandpa. He passed away yesterday. He inspired me that it's never too late to reach your goals in life. My family and I have truly lost a treasure. His aspirations and dreams will live on in his kids, grand kids, and great grand kids. We love you grandpa!
Mr.Kristian from Fishers, IN MAY 31, 2014
This is what living is all about and this video really set my tone for the day, Thank you.
Reyna from Rowland Heights,CA MAY 6, 2014
It really is never to late to learn. Even though your old, it doesn't mean you can't be as smart as the others.
Esther Stewart from Trinidad APRIL 27, 2014
Such an inspiring story. Congratulations to the teacher who was willing to assist him. Hope it will be an inspiration for others. It is never too late to achieve your goals.
hayley from washington FEBRUARY 9, 2014
wow im proud of him
Sally Fisher from New York City FEBRUARY 7, 2014
I want to teach an adult how to read, as a volunteer. Where can I go to find a chance to do this?
Joe Dapper from Barre, MA FEBRUARY 3, 2014
Love this story. SO inspiring! Saw the billboard last week and had to learn more about Alferd's story.
Thanks for sharing, and thanks to The Foundation for a Better Life being a big part of making me a person, husband, and father to be!
God bless you!
riley clayton robinson from Walnut, Ms JANUARY 29, 2014
good Job man
Riley Robinson from Walnut School JANUARY 29, 2014
John from Indianapolis JANUARY 27, 2014
From a grammatical standpoint, the billboard should read something like: "He couldn't read this book, until age 70." The phrase 'Until 70.' is not a complete sentence.
Brittany from Lexington, KY DECEMBER 29, 2013
What a wonderful story! As a teacher, I know how Ms. Hamilton must feel being able to teach a wonderful person like Alferd, and I hope to have dedicated students like him in my classroom. Simply wonderful!
Courtnee from Oregon NOVEMBER 13, 2013
I thought that this story was very touching. It is amazing that you tried so hard and then succeeded in what you wanted!
mona moussa from egypt NOVEMBER 5, 2013
Thomas from Fridley MN OCTOBER 30, 2013
i showed this video to a 50 year old African American who did not read, he was so inspired that he actually signed up for an adult literacy program, Thank Values for putting Alfred on the site, it has changed this mans life, he has hopes and dreams and stated this can open up so many doors for him
Holly from Hopkins, MN OCTOBER 23, 2013
Alferd WIlliams is such an inspiring person. He tells us never to give up, no matter how old you are. He's told us that people love you even when you're not the same. Thank you, Alferd. You're inspiring us all.
Mona Moussa from Egypt AUGUST 30, 2013
ALfred is a great example of not only never to late to learn but how he ego and never a problem. sitting among first graders inspired the little ones and gvae Alfred a purpose to continue and learn. He is defnitiely a great man. May God Bless ALicia for recognizing how sharing life with others and helping each other is the essence of life.
Kate from San Diego AUGUST 21, 2013
If you ever want the feeling that you are doing something irrepressibly wonderful, become a tutor ... even for a short time. I've never done anything that was so immediately rewarding and inspiring ... and I always felt that I got more out of the experience than what I was able to give, but I understand that this isn't unusual. Like nothing else, everyone is able to “Pass it on”
Jan from South Dakota JULY 11, 2013
"I'm the man that didn't give up. Don't quit." I love that! What a wonderful way to desire to be remembered!
Rachael from Maryland JULY 5, 2013
This is absolutely beautiful! I wish there was an embed code so that I could place it on my blog. Learning is the most satisfying thing, no matter what age.
Matthew Qunicy Brown from Brooklyn, NY, USA JULY 1, 2013
Hi Mr. Alferd,
Thank you for telling your story and being a good example. I have learned from you that I must work every day. After time passes, I could become smarter and smarter, if I keep learning, focusing and trying.
Love, Matthew Brown, age 8
norman from india JUNE 13, 2013
WOW - There Is No Time Line To Learning As Said Learning Is A Gift
Jennifer from Nora JUNE 11, 2013
I think your right! But why did you learn at 70?
Barbara from Kentucky JUNE 5, 2013
What an inspiration, kudos to Ms. Hamilton and Alfred...........Wow what a story love it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Janice from Philadelphia JUNE 3, 2013
What inspiration! Thank you both for sharing your story.
Sheran from New York MAY 28, 2013
what a lovely story I like when he says what you start finish and that was my imspiration I started college had kids and didn't finish but now thier grown time to finish. Thank You Alfred and teacher Hamilton
Norma from Lakewood, CA MAY 27, 2013
Beautiful. Simply beautiful. No barriers-just human caring and interaction. What an example both of these people are!
Reuben from British Columbia, Canada MAY 26, 2013
Very inspirational. He is definitely affecting the children and all adults in a positive way. He truly never gave up!
Beth from Massachusetts MAY 26, 2013
Truly inspiring - the teacher, the student and the circle of giving they create. Bravo.
LIsa from Minnesota MAY 25, 2013
Wendy from Orange County, California MAY 25, 2013
What precious people.
Angela from Saint paul mn MAY 25, 2013
Now if I could just get my father to follow this mans lead.... what a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing.
Deborah from Greenville, SC MAY 25, 2013
What a gift, to give and to receive, heartwarming!!!
Juli Finch from Ramona, Ca. MAY 25, 2013
Oh my goodness, I could hardly fight back the tears! This story was such a great source of inspiration on so many levels. I was touched by the fact that Alfred Williams (an elderly man) was willing to acknowledge he couldn’t read (admitting inabilities/disabilities isn’t easy). I can only image how humbling it must have been for Alfred to tell Mrs. Hamilton he couldn’t read, and to be willing to accept help offered him from a much younger woman. As for Mrs. Hamilton a loving and selfless teacher, what an amazing example she sets for those who serve in some capacity as teacher. We should all seek to look for the potential and the innate abilities that lie deep within everyone regardless of one’s color, race, age or gender. Thanks for the sharing this inspiring story…I will seek to honor the good feelings I received as I watched this video by striving to be a teacher like this one. I will also work harder at believing in myself and my ability to overcome my own difficulties in reading. I will most certainly pass this video on to others, as I know that many can be truly inspired by this story. Thanks again for printing it. Juli F. It is true “within everyone lie the endless possibilities for greatness” Og Mandino.
Deb Boulley from Bayfield,WI MAY 24, 2013
Literacy is just that beautiful, and Alfred's story is one that every Teacher looks for to remember..........
Marilyn from Minnesota MAY 24, 2013
Alferd's story is so amazing and beautiful! I am an AmeriCorps Minnesota Reading Corps tutor of K-3rd grade students that are reading just below their grade level and need a boost to reach their target goal. Alferd is an inspiration with his attitude, skills,enthusiasm, and dedication. Congratulations Alferd on learning to read and what a wonderful teacher Ms. Hamilton has been for you. What a blessing you are for each other.
Belen from Spain MAY 24, 2013
A great man and a great teacher too. After reading this history everybody should take this man as an example. Is never to late to learn new things. Many thanks for share it this man is a truly hero for me.
Debra from Niagara Falls MAY 24, 2013
Beautiful story. Thank you!
Jackie from Tarzana, CA MAY 24, 2013
I love Alferd. I love Aleisa. What an inspirational team. Pass it on!
Cecilia from Syracuse,NY MAY 24, 2013
Oh great! I am proud to be a teacher, very nice Story. Congrat Alesia we are proud of you.
Bob from Topeka MAY 24, 2013
great stuff here; way to go, Alferd and Alesia. We are all blessed just to see this video
John from Atlanta MAY 24, 2013
I have received 'Quote of the Day' for a few years now and they are so inspiring! I have passed them on to dozens. Keep up the good work, we all need to be lifted up in today's uncertainty.
Lynise Tarring from Hilo, HI MAY 24, 2013
It's never to late to learn, to give, and to share. Amen
Monique from Nacogdoches, Texas MAY 24, 2013
Thank you Alfred and Alesia for this inspiring story. You both are blessed beyond measure for helping others!
Charlene from Virginia MAY 24, 2013
This is a special message! I just submitted my retirement forms after 31 years as a classroom teacher! You are so right! It's never too late to learn!
pakprink from Thailand MAY 9, 2013
Rai Shauna from Columbus, Ohio APRIL 27, 2013
So glad, I decided to search the internet to find this site. I've been looking forward to reading his story. I told my mom 'hey did you see that billboard about the man who couldn't read until he was 70' I asked her while we passed it. I wanted to cry after reading this. That woman who helped him, is an incredible woman.
Nayoung Maum from Manila, Philippines MARCH 13, 2013
Great story! Thank you ..I am really happy that I ve found this website!
turkey from somewhere MARCH 12, 2013
This story is amazing!
smiles from english class MARCH 11, 2013
Wow! To think that you can learn to read at age 70.
Molly from CT MARCH 11, 2013
Awesome story, it is so touching but it is true "It is never to late to learn."
dj from south windsor MARCH 11, 2013
Wow that is very inspirational to me because I had trouble reading and knowing he couldn't read until he was 70 makes me feel like I am not alone.
a.m. from connecticut MARCH 11, 2013
That is so true. It is never to late to learn...
someone on the web from somewhere on earth MARCH 11, 2013
DR from Rogers FEBRUARY 19, 2013
This inspired me a lot, and after reading this I have gotten to a better reading level!
Mya from Arcadia, CA FEBRUARY 8, 2013
I am uplifted, encouraged and inspired by this story. Bless both teacher and student!
yushii from connecticut FEBRUARY 4, 2013
all smiles from ct FEBRUARY 4, 2013
This is amazing!
Nick from Baltimore FEBRUARY 3, 2013
These post are a wonderful pick me up when you start to get down about the state of the world. Congratulations Alfred; it took a lot of courage for you to attend Mrs. hamiliton's class. I hope you enjoy the benefits of all you have learned, and hope that your story inspires others to follow in your steps!
Aileen from Ireland JANUARY 24, 2013
How admirable, you inspire me to try harder in middle age at the things I find difficult thank you for that!
M.G.Martin jr from baltimore Md JANUARY 23, 2013
Never give up! All things are possible!
Niki Q from MI,USA JANUARY 17, 2013
This man is truly amazing. At that point,I probably would have thought,"What's the use?" But he kept on trying."It's never too late to learn." I will try to always remember that. This one story has already changed my way of thought. :)
Matthew from Lexington, KY JANUARY 3, 2013
This is a really heart warming story. I have nothing but respect for Alferd for his dedication and passion to better himself. His teacher puts my heart at ease knowing that there are still people out there who will take it upon themselves to help someone in need like that. Props to them both.
meliyah from yuma arizona NOVEMBER 16, 2012
WOW!!!! so interesting.
Gisela from Florida SEPTEMBER 12, 2012
Thanks!!!! One smile brings more smiles!!
Jan from Saint Joseph, mo JUNE 27, 2012
I know this man and the struggles he went through to accomplish this challenge. He is a wonderful man and he has an awesome teacher! Alesia Hamilton is a wonderful teacher and has a heart of gold to take on this challenge too! What an amazing story about these people. Makes me proud to know them personally! Keep on reading Alferd!