Memory Lane

Life, Literacy, And The Pursuit Of …

Photograph of Jackie Aguilera courtesy of Jackie Aguilera


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I have a confession to make, which I’m sure will make you roll your eyes.


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Interesting caveat and probably true.


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Every time we meet with Jackie (Aguilera) from the Mayor’s Office of Adult Literacy and hear what she’s doing in the world of adult education, I feel like I’m back in school and having to take copious notes.


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I am more than happy to send you “homework assignments” as I come across relevant articles and research.


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Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll stick to taking notes. But that does explain why you’re so knowledgeable about literacy.


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But, reading information is very different from being at the forefront of literacy innovation. And, if we had never met Jackie, I never would have realized how literacy is more than the dictionary definition, and encompasses more than just reading and writing.

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But that alone is such a critical part of all of our lives and can make the difference between struggling and success. Although I never stopped to think about any of that before we met Jackie.

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The funny thing is we first met her because of financial literacy.

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Yes, and I remember wondering why you decided we should go to a Houston Money Week meeting. And while our book was approved as a financial literacy textbook by the (Texas) State Board of Education, I still didn’t think we were qualified to talk about the topic.

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But, we did go. And, we met Jackie.

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That’s something I’ll never forget. I remember I let you do the talking when “newbies” had to introduce themselves, or I’d have talked their ears off. After the meeting, this confident but very approachable woman came striding across the room, extended her hand to me, and introduced herself. At the time, she was Literacy Coordinator at EastSide University.

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All I remember was her energy, commitment, and passion for financial literacy. Not usually a topic discussed with such enthusiasm.

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There’s an understatement. And not only did it take me by surprise, but I hate to admit it, it was contagious. Especially once we started working with her.

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Another confession?

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Maybe. Looking back, I still shake my head in amazement at the incredibly creative ways she made personal finance, typically such a “boring” topic, come alive. And how she used outside-the-box approaches to making learning relevant.

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And, fun. I still cannot believe she was able to turn something as basic as one of our bookmarks into an hour-long interactive class – using it to not only get conversation going, but to introduce critical life skills.


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I can’t believe how she incorporates our animated “teasers” into her literacy presentations. Using them to make a point in a light-hearted and fun way. Even if it points out how I was a poster child for not being “literate” when it comes to an assortment of life topics.


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I dislike the term “literacy” because it makes people feel like they are “illiterate” when they do not know something. In reality, they may never have been exposed to the information or given an opportunity to learn it.


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I can tell you first-hand that initially I felt stupid, until you pointed out I was merely sheltered. But that’s given me so much more empathy when I think of other people in the same position I once was.


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Which is why she had us do an assortment of “Conversation Starters” for various literacy topics that she uses – ranging from where this all started – financial literacy – to digital literacy, health literacy, and even news literacy and environmental literacy. To make the topics accessible in a non-threatening way.


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All I know is that she made me realize that literacy impacts every aspect of our lives. And it has an amazing ripple effect as it then lets us share our knowledge with our families.


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You forgot to mention that Jackie made us aware of National Literacy Month, although I am not sure it highlights the full extent of the concept of literacy. But, anything that raises awareness is important.


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I know it’s changed my life in many ways. And not only in terms of Red & Black, although being able to help her, albeit in a small way, help give people the desire, the confidence, the motivation, to learn is something I’ll always be grateful to Jackie for.


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Since we are strolling down memory lane, I cannot believe you did not mention how working with Jackie all these years has led to a deep respect for her and the friendship that has developed.


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So, are you going to confess that you can be warm and fuzzy?


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Never. I was merely stating facts.
Photo courtesy of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Some things should never be forgotten. That’s why tomorrow’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day was created by the United Nations to mark the unspeakable horror of the Nazi’s genocide of over six million Jews. An event beyond comprehension, which makes us wonder why many U.S. states don’t require students learn about the horrors of the Holocaust. How can we prevent atrocities from happening again if we don’t understand how they happened before? And as we see heartbreaking images from Ukraine, it reminds us of Holocaust images, and that evil will always be evil …

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Shoes. Seemingly endless shoes. That’s all I can think about.


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I know you cannot be talking about my closet.


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Far from it! It’s an image that’s forever burned in my memory. A pile of shoes, each one representing a life lost. Each one a story onto itself. Each one proof of something we should never forget.


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Normally, I would ask you to tell me what you are talking about or accuse you of being overly dramatic. But, not this time.
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New Year’s Eve is one of those nights (Black calls them “forced” celebrations) that often have great expectations attached to it. Many people make a big deal of it, but we prefer a lowkey approach, making the evening “special” by spending it with special people – for Red, her daughters, and for Black, close friends.

Some years it can be a bittersweet celebration (if loved ones have passed or no longer live close to home), but that can remind you of what’s most important.

So, let’s all toast to the promise and hope of a new year … and to champagne and toilet paper.



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New Year's Eve seems like the perfect time to stroll down memory lane, although I'm guessing your memories are much more interesting than mine.


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"Interesting" is a subjective word. Regardless, are you talking about memories in general? Or, New Year's Eve celebrations?


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Actually, it was just a passing comment. But since you've always seemed to make a bigger deal out of New Year's Eve than I have, are there any years that really stand out?


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Truth is the most memorable ones are the ones spent with celebrating with closest friends versus crowds. In fact, I think I have spent more than half of my New Year's Eves with John and Diana. Although, I will never forget bringing in 2000.
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We appreciate that not everyone celebrates Christmas, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a favorite Christmas memory. Interestingly, or is it ironically, Black, who barely tolerates the “forced” celebrations associated with holidays (and birthdays) and prefers to look forward to the future vs. reminisce about the past, likes to tell the story of the “Jewish Santa”. Black may see a deeper meaning to it, but for Red, it’s a favorite and heartwarming Christmas story, although she’d never tell Black that …

BLACK: I do not know at what age my Christmas memories began, but I do remember being very young and in awe of a very large – and very well decorated – Christmas tree in our family room. I even remember peeking down the stairs late one evening and seeing my mother standing extremely close to Santa Claus. OK, you might not find that an unusual memory, except my family is Jewish.

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