Imagine not being able to read this sentence …

BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: You are now doing something millions of American can't. You're reading this. We'll admit that we never realized how many people are functionally illiterate, until we met someone who was doing something about it.

We first met Jackie Aguilera over a decade ago at a Houston Money Week meeting … her energy, enthusiasm, and passion for financial literacy not only took us by surprise, but it was contagious. (Admit it, financial literacy sounds boring.) But she was integrating it into a literacy and workforce readiness program for adults, and as we became friends and started working together, we realized she was a leader in her knowledge of adult literacy and a pioneer in how she approached it in dynamic and innovative ways. (DISCLAIMER: The next comment is not meant to plug our book, but as an example of her outside-the-box approach to making learning relevant.) And using unusual resources, such as our book, What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!, to engage students as well as teach a myriad of subjects, even using our bookmark (yes, a simple bookmark!) to introduce important life skills.

Having dedicated more than two decades to the field of adult literacy, she's now the Project Manager of the Mayor's Office for Adult Literacy (MOAL) Houston, working with Federico Salas-Isnardi, Director of MOAL, to carry out Mayor Turner's vision for a Houston where every individual can obtain the skills necessary to prosper and reach their full potential. (Houston is the only major city in the country where the Mayor's Office includes an Office for Adult Literacy!)

Along the way, Jackie has opened our eyes to the number of people who can't read (including one in three Houstonians), and made us stop and think about how that impacts every aspect of their lives … their families … their communities. Last week in our monthly Zoom session, she let us know that there would be a very exciting announcement. And she wasn't kidding! On Tuesday, the Mayor announced the "Houston Blueprint for Adult Literacy," a joint initiative of MOAL and the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation. We were watching the press conference and couldn't be prouder and more excited knowing that Jackie will be a part of this amazing endeavor. As former First Lady Barbara Bush said many years ago,

If you help a person to read, then their opportunities in life will be endless.

Texans are tough. And independent. But that may not be enough to win the war against the coronavirus.

BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: We were born and raised in New York, so although we both now live in Texas (Black got here with the oil and gas industry in the late 70s, whereas Red arrived in 2001 as her husband has a career that relocated them around the world), we sometimes struggle to understand the Texas way of doing things.

Case in point … trying to figure out Governor Greg Abbott's recent decision to end statewide mask mandates and allow all businesses to operate at full capacity. Red's first and foremost a mom, so it's not surprising she prefers a protective and overly cautious approach focused on keeping everyone safe, even if that means being inconvenienced for a little longer. And while she appreciated that the vaccines are now becoming more readily available, so few people have been vaccinated, which to her way of thinking is even more reason to "stay the course". Why rush into anything right now? And why not err on the side of caution?

Black, given her corporate background, combined with her pragmatism, has looked at the pandemic from a very different perspective, although she gets to the same conclusion. And she believes Red's "safety first" approach has important business implications as consumers will only go where they feel safe. And what was her reaction to the Governor's announcement? It initially featured some "colorful language" but was soon followed by one of her analogies, that while amusing Red, also made perfect sense to her,

I was just starting to feel better about going out into the world (masked, of course) but may continue to hide away as Texas is returning to its roots of the wild, wild, West. But instead of cowboys and masked bandits … we have unmasked, well, you decide what to call them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends that people wear masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and its variants. And many of Texas' largest cities have already announced they will keep requiring masks in municipal buildings after the mandate ends. So, Texas businesses, school districts, and individuals will have to decide for themselves what to do. And at the end of the day, all we can do is hope that everyone will make the right decisions.

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We do not like racist images. We do not like them here or there. We do not like them anywhere.

BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: When Black first emailed Red that six Dr. Seuss books would no longer be published because of racist and insensitive images, Red's reaction was quick and questioning,

I need to read those links, but my first reaction is … seriously? Is nothing sacred anymore?

Red's was concerned that the pendulum's swinging so far to one side of things and so fast, and wants to know that each case is truly being looked at on its own merits or, perhaps more accurately, faults.

Black, knowing her sister well, let her know that Dr. Seuss Enterprises proactively made the decision after working with a panel of experts, including educators. In fact, the decision was made last year, but they waited until Dr. Seuss's birthday to make the announcement. She also added, as the business half of Red & Black, that she didn't think these were any of their top-selling books, so would have minimal impact on their sales. However, she was confident any remaining copies would sell out fast and become collector's items.

Regardless, Red at that point understood the reasoning but still felt the same way that she feels about other similar decisions to "ban" things, such as the movie "Gone With The Wind" (they re-released it with a new introduction) or statues of Confederate leaders – you can't ignore history. And as a lover of history, she knows there's much to be learned, and on that we both agree.

To use one of Black's favorite words, we understand WHY these decisions are made, but think it's equally important that you consider using these things as teaching tools. You can't change how people saw things at the time, but you can change how you use them now. Acknowledging and discussing things, rather than just purging them, is the way to make lasting – and impactful – change.

Drug companies, typically competing against one another, are coming together in an amazing move to fight a common enemy … COVID.

BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: For those of you that might remember Monty Hall and the game show, "Let's Make A Deal," this latest news on the war against COVID may represent one of the best "deals" ever made – as it has the potential to vastly increase the availability of Johnson & Johnson's one-shot vaccine.

And for those of you who love history, it's often during wartime that American ingenuity and determination are at their best. There's no question that the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines were developed in record time. Now the challenge's getting the vaccines produced and into the arms of Americans. The idea of drugs companies, who are typically so competitive and secretive, working together is both a unique and historic approach, and had Black reflecting on her corporate experience,

When I worked in the oil and gas industry we, of course, were competing against other companies. But there also were times when we would partner on projects for an assortment of reasons (profits and reducing risk were the most common) – but never anything like this. This alliance between Merck and Johnson & Johnson shows the power of corporate collaboration when we're focused on the good of the American people.