On November 4th, 2008, Ulysses Martin voted for the first time in his life. Ulysses was 57 years old. Ulysees and I have been partners in a student and tutor pairing for the past several years. While Ulysses’s reading skills have grown much since he made the decision to learn to read, nothing has so signified how much he has progressed as voting in his first presidential election. With that single act, he crossed over barriers, both real and imagined, and signaled to himself and the world around him that he had achieved something important, something long hoped for, something precious that he earned for himself and no one could take from him. As Ulysses’s reading tutor, I could say how proud of him I was as I watched him vote, and I am proud of him, but my greater feeling was the joy I shared with him at that moment.
If Ulysses’ reading skills are still developing, his knowledge of world affairs, his interests, and his opinions were those of a mature 57 year old man. We discussed and debated the campaign and news items of interest and importance. As the campaign progressed we discussed voter registration. Ulysees was not a registered voter. He had never been a registered voter. If you cannot read, you are often excluded from many of the things people who read take for granted. Registering to vote became a part of our reading lessons and getting that first voter registration card a mark of special achievement. Voting in the election itself became the next great mountain waiting to be climbed and conquered.
We made our election plans months in advance. On Election Day, after going to the polls and voting with my wife, I picked up Ulysses and his friend, Nadine, and drove them to their voting site. He truly enjoyed being there and the easy acceptance that comes from participating as a member of your community in this fundamental civic responsibility. He felt a part of something that he had forever been apart from. After voting, we went to breakfast, and Ulysses told me, “We did it, our vote counted!” I believe at some level, that remark revealed a deeper, more fundamental connection to a community that he has often viewed from afar. In registering to vote and voting, Ulysses closed that gap and rightfully took a place in his community that he had long hoped for.
Stan Milesky, AACLC Tutor