LONG BEACH, CA-Reading is a privilege. Learning is an opportunity. If a child is unable to read their chances to learn dips compared to their classmates. Competing on a level playing field in the classroom can simply be the difference of a student putting on a pair eyeglasses to enable them to perform better.
Vision To Learn, which hands out free eye exams and free glasses to students in low-income communities, understands this quite well. The non-profit organization, with an emphatic statement on this crisis, has identified 1.5 million students lacking the ability to learn because of this handicap.
Unfortunately, this number can very easily translate into something more egregious later on for these students: illiteracy. For low-income communities and communities of color, this is a sticking point.
According to U.S. statistics, there are 32 million adults in this country who can’t read. Hispanic adults make up 41 percent of the population that read below basic reading skills. African Americans comprise 24 percent of that number.
By reaching out to viable partners such as the Los Angeles Clippers Foundation, Vision To Learn is doing something about bringing a solution to this problem. Vision To Learn is spreading good cheer to students and school districts in six states, including California.
On March 14, in front of a gymnasium full of wide-eyed and excited students, Vision To Learn and the Los Angeles Clippers Foundation made a big splash at George Washington Middle School in Long Beach.
Vision To Learn made the announcement with Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, Long Beach Unified School District Superintendent Chris Steinhauser and Los Angeles Clippers President Gillian Zucker present that it would be distributing 75,000 eyeglasses to identifiable students in the district.
“I think wearing glasses is cool,” Garcia said. “This is one of the best things that can happen, I think, to the school district and the city as well.”
Providing 75,000 pairs of glasses to a school district is no small undertaking. That’s more than making a big splash. That is going for a swim in the pool. Vision To Learn and the Los Angeles Clippers Foundation previously came together in 2016 to provide 12,000 glasses to Inglewood students.
With Long Beach Unified School District being a much bigger district, addressing students in need of requiring eyeglasses is a greater task. Long Beach Unified School District, through its website, states that it currently provides education to 75,000 students.
That means Vision To Learn and the Los Angeles Clippers Foundation will essentially be helping to provide eyeglasses to every student in the district should they need them. Steinhauser is excited about this prospect.
“This is huge,” Steinshauser said. “Seventy percent of my students are in poverty, so we always have kids that need glasses. We know we have kids that don’t get them in a timely manner because the resources aren’t just there. So many of my family members have to choose between food, health and self, so for the Clippers organization and Vision To Learn to come to us and say, ‘We want to give everybody in your community glasses who need them,’ we believe is a huge game-changer for us. I’m so blessed as a superintendent. I want all of these kids to come back and make this community a great community.”
For some of the students at George Washington Middle School, the big splash for them came in the form of Los Angeles Clippers players Paul Pierce, Brice Johnson and Diamond Stone taking time out of their schedule to participate in the afternoon event. Pierce, who is known for his vast community work, said it was “excellent opportunity” for the Los Angeles Clippers Foundation to work in partnership with Vision To Learn on this venture.
“We look and see what communities need it the most,” Pierce said. “We know Long Beach was one of the primary targets. As you can see in Inglewood, we gave away 12,00 glasses. When we got to Long Beach, it was 80,000. So it’s much needed in this community for kids that need glasses.”
The Los Angeles Clippers Foundation received an assist in teaming up with Vision To Learn from their starting point guard. Chris Paul, through an event held for the Chris Paul Family Foundation, was the catalyst in getting the initial contact going with Vision To Learn. Pierce, as he has done throughout his Hall of Fame career on the basketball court, is now steering the vehicle.
“We’re inspired by our fans and the things that are important to them, and certainly by our athletes,” Zucker said. “In this case, it was our point guard who said, ‘Hey, this is a great program,’ and was doing something to help support it. And we thought, let’s us try to do something.”
That idea turned into a snowball for Zucker and the Los Angeles Clippers Foundation. In a good way.
“Initially, it was about five schools in the Watts [South Los Angeles] area that we thought we would bring the program to, but based on [Clippers owners] Steve Ballmer, and his pushing off everything we do to think bigger, we started thinking that way,” said Zucker. “One of our other players, Paul Pierce, who is a product of the Inglewood School District, said, ‘How about if we tackle all of Inglewood? Would there be a way we could do this for every kid who is part of the Inglewood School District?’ That was a big program last year. Coming off of that, and successfully accomplishing something of that magnitude with so many people, we thought, ‘Let’s go bigger!’ So here we are in Long Beach, pretty excited to kick off the program.”