"I'm a giant cheerleader," Barbara Bush told 200 women Saturday during a luncheon sponsored by Links Inc. (sometimes described as "the black women's version of the Junior League") at the Washington Hilton. "I'm cheering for teachers who are underpaid, underpraised and overworked," she said to applause from an audience representing the 8 million women of the country's 15 largest black women's organizations. "I'm traveling around the country to encourage reading, the teaching of reading, the necessity of reading and the joys of reading."
Introduced as the wife of our "suave, debonair" vice president, Bush explained her interests in volunteerism and the promotion of literacy. "There is a direct correlation," she said, "between illiteracy and unemployment."
She said 8 1/2 million people are unemployed, but some jobs go unfilled because applicants lack basic reading skills. Quoting a 1978 Newsweek report, Bush said 23 million Americans are functionally illiterate.
"Forty percent of black youth are illiterate today," she said, "and it can go as high as 50 percent by 1990 if we don't do anything about it."
Bush said she is cheering for proven programs, such as Reading Is Fundamental, rather than trying to start new ones. She also urgedparents to read an hour a day to their children, encourage churches to "adopt" a school to promote reading, and participate in projects like the Reading Olympics.
Bush shared the head table with Walter E. Fauntroy (Del.-D.C.) and Mayor Marion Barry. In a brief speech preceding Bush's remarks, Barry expressed disagreement with the current administration's budget policies.
As Bush jovially acknowledged the disagreement, Barry said, "We mayors strongly believe that we have enough bombs, submarines and guns to kill us all 5,000 times."
He criticized government cutbacks in social programs and plugged Bush's call for volunteerism.
"We need to get back to the old-fashioned way of doing things," he said. "Now is the time for volunteerism as never before."