Phyllis Wheatley Rise to Read Campaign


ST. PETERSBURG – The Phyllis Wheatley Rise to Read Campaign (PWRTRC) is named after Phillis Wheatley, also spelled Phyllis Wheatley. Phillis Wheatley was a slave. She was also the first African American and one of the first women to publish a book of poems. Her writings helped create the genre of African American literature.

“If a slave can learn how to read and become world renowned. Why can’t we do that and help our children?” asked Maria Scruggs, President of the NAACP St. Petersburg Branch.

The Phyllis Wheatley Rise to Read Campaign (PWRTRC) originated from a call to action by the St. Petersburg NAACP in 2018, due to the amount African American youth in Pinellas County reading below grade level, based on the English Language Arts (ELA) Florida Standards Assessment (FSA).

“NAACP took this on because we have been silent and have to take the lead if we want changes,” informed Scruggs. This call to action was for the community to take a more active role in teaching children how to read. The campaign will be used to address the literacy rate of African American children which, is one of many social issues affecting our community.

In 2010, research by the Annie E. Casey Foundation summarized grade level reading proficiency being important for increasing the number of children who do well in school, graduate and do well in their career and life. School readiness, school attendance, summer learning, family support, and high-quality teaching in home, community and school settings were listed as contributing factors to literacy. (

The partnerships between various organizations will help support the goal of ensuring African American children are reading this generation and beyond. Emphasizing that wherever children go in the community, whether it’s church, football practice, barbershops or recreation centers, those organizations will be increasing literacy skills.

 A literacy assessment, mental health and vision screening are the three assessments that will be provided by organizations partnering with the campaign. Once those assessments are completed the child will have a reading success plan. Interventions and progress of the child will be monitored electronically and available to any partner that works with the child.

The Phyllis Wheatley Rise to Read Campaign Board has met several times to discuss the campaign. The board consists of educators, district officials, parents, aftercare program directors and other education stakeholders.

The board met November 2nd to discuss the Core Capacity Assessment Tool offered by the Nonprofit Leadership Center. The assessment will help create recommendations for building the capacity of the PWRTRC. November 23rd a meeting will be held to discuss the results of the assessment and next steps.

“We are going to move the needle by focusing on children learning how to read proficiently. If they can read proficiently they are going to perform well academically,” affirmed Scruggs.

For more information about the Phyllis Wheatley Rise to Read Campaign contact Maria Scruggs at 727-798-5361 or

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