This Actor Is Fighting Adult Illiteracy with All His Might

'It doesn’t surprise me that it's a worldwide problem, not just a U.S. issue,' said entertainer Idris Elba

by Zachary Leeman | Updated 13 Sep 2017 at 12:44 PM

Actor Idris Elba, star of this summer’s “The Dark Tower,” is using his clout as a well-known entertainer not just to secure the next big roles in Hollywood, but to put his weight behind an issue not discussed enough: illiteracy.

Wanda Steward is a formerly illiterate mother who struggled to read to her children at night. When she ended up making up her own tales based on the illustrations she saw, she actually became a storyteller. She created a character named Pong-Pong the Brave. The organization Project Literacy teamed with Steward to publish stories about the character.

It is through Steward that Elba got involved in the Project Literacy. Its goal? End illiteracy by 2030.

"It doesn't surprise me it's a worldwide problem, not just a U.S. issue. What you have to understand about illiteracy is that it's very hard to admit it. And it's easy to go around, pretending you can read or write," Elba recently told Fox News. "It doesn't surprise me it's such a huge problem, because it's almost undetectable."

The 45-year-old actor also said becoming a father made him more determined in his efforts to end illiteracy.

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"Just having children [inspired me]," he said. "Just being able to read books to my children. And the moment they recognized words, the moment they recognized the alphabet — that's truly one of the purest moments for me."

Elba came across the problem when he acted as an ambassador to the Prince's Trust, a U.K. charity founded by Prince Charles — Elba was born in the United Kingdom.

"There's an alarming amount of young people who cannot read or write."

"There's an alarming amount of young people who cannot read or write," he said. "And there's an alarming amount of young people who cannot read or write in jail. I'm meeting these gentlemen, and some of them become a common denominator — they cannot read or write. And as soon as they can read and write, that opens up a whole level of awareness for them, including their self-awareness, which sometimes makes them not want to reoffend. And that's really important here."

An avid reader himself, Elba said there is one particular book he would like to help bring to the big screen. "'The Alchemist' is one of the first books I read that I loved," he revealed. "'The Alchemist' is a really beautiful story, and I really would love to play that character and be in that film. It's a great, great story. Very simple, but it has a real touchstone and heart to it."

"The Alchemist" by Paul Coelho tells the story of Santiago, a young shepherd boy who seeks to expand his small world and go out in search of an extravagant worldly treasure.

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Elba can be seen next in the film "The Mountain Between Us," in theaters on October 6, with actress Kate Winslet, and he has plenty more projects on the way (a possible "Dark Tower" television series, and there are always rumors he might take on the Bond franchise — though he denies being interested anymore). But his focus will still partly remain on fighting illiteracy, no matter where his career takes him.

"This is something I feel quite passionate about. It speaks to me," said the artist. "I consider myself to be a self-taught person. Especially when it comes to my profession and pursuing the things I want to accomplish. I've always taught myself how do it. And illiteracy is a crisis among adults. I just want to raise some awareness around it."

(photo credit, homepage and article images: DFID — UK Department for International Development, Flickr)

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