Overcoming the Darkness
Not many people know, but 1960 marks the year that the world was blessed with a little boy named Oree Bradley. He was the fourth of six children, and they lived outside the city limits of Emerson, Arkansas. The Bradley family lived so far out of the city limits that when Oree started school in 1965, the school bus would not come down his country road because the condition of that road was so bad. To get to school, Oree and his siblings would walk almost a mile down a trail that intersected with a more bus-friendly road. There, the Bradley children would board the bus and go to school. Remembering back, Oree Bradley said their transportation plan was "all fine and good" until it rained. Every time it rained, the trail to the bus would flood, and there was no way to get to school. Having no car, living on a road that the school bus would not travel, and their backup plan of a frequently underwater trail, there was absolutely no way for Oree and his brothers and sisters to be in a learning environment consistently.
When Oree could attend school, he had a very difficult time. Reading never came easily for him and never really came to him at all. His school mistakenly assumed that the young Oree Bradley was not very intelligent. The teachers would pull him out of class and put him in special education. Special education for Oree consisted of putting him in an isolated corner of the room and telling him to "just do your work." Therein laid the problem. Oree could not do his work because he could not read. But why? No one took the time or knew to identify the problem. Oree assumed, like his teachers, that he was not smart enough, and he spent most of his school days in that dark corner staring at a wall because the words on the pages might as well have been written in Greek.
The school continued to pass Oree from grade school to twelfth grade. He graduated with a high school diploma that he could not read. After graduation, Oree made plans with his friends to leave their hometown and see the world by joining the Air Force. The major kink in that plan came in the form of a test. Oree's two friends passed the required aptitude test for the military, but Oree was unable to take the test because he was unable to read it. He congratulated his two friends on their enlistment but returned home and went to work.
Oree worked several jobs over the years, sometimes two or three at a time. "I had a family to provide for. I may not be able to read, but I could always work," Oree said. He stocked grocery store shelves. He worked factory jobs. He was in charge of the Holiday Inn breakfast buffet in Hope, Arkansas. His ability to memorize information is quite astounding, and he used those memorization skills to remember all the recipes required for the food on the buffet. Oree then got a job at a KFC in Hope. He loved that job, and his cooking skills and efficiency distinguished him among the restaurant's patrons. Over time, Oree became acquainted with Officer Green, an Arkansas State Trooper and regular patron. Over time, Oree admitted to Officer Green that he was illiterate. The officer asked him if he had ever considered getting his CDL license. Harkening back to the Air Force test, Oree explained that a CDL license would be a dream but that he could not read the test. Officer Green told Oree that he would read the test to Oree if he applied for his license. So, with the help Officer Green, Oree passed his CDL test and began driving a school bus. It was a dream come true.
Earning a CDL license gave Oree the chance to drive a school bus, which he loves. He has been driving for the Prescott, Arkansas, school district for fifteen years. He knows all of "his kids" by name. "They give me their report cards sometimes, Oree remarked. "I cannot read the names of the subjects they are not doing well in, but I know those numbers, and I know when they are failing a class." Because he received little encouragement during his school days, he tries to motivate the kids on his bus to do better in school. In other words, the students on Mr. Oree's bus get more than just a ride to and from home. They get somebody who genuinely wants to see them succeed in the academic areas that he did not.
At sixty-one years old, Oree decided that he was not getting any younger and had spent years compensating for his illiteracy. When he went to a restaurant, he could not read the menu, so he asked the waitress what the specials were or what she liked to eat. He would quietly ask a receptionist for help filling out forms at the doctor's office so that a whole lobby full of people would not know he was illiterate. He became an expert at taking detailed mental pictures of a new area because he could not read road signs. Tired of adjusting due to his illiteracy, Oree swallowed his pride, bridled his life-long embarrassment, and decided to ask for help. He desperately wanted to read his Bible in church. But how? Who was going to help him? Would anybody think that an illiterate 61-year-old man could learn to read? Little did anyone know, Oree had a divine appointment awaiting him.
Patti Huckabee is a retired teacher of thirty years. She has taught every grade from elementary to high school. In the last few years of her education career at McLeod ISD, she worked as a dyslexia therapist. She is trained to identify students with dyslexia and, in turn, have difficulty reading. In May of 2021, Patti retired and took time to find her new normal since leaving teaching behind. At the beginning of 2022, she decided to volunteer at the Literacy Council of Texarkana because, although she had retired, the love for teaching was still deep within her. One day while tutoring at the Literacy Council of Texarkana, Patti noticed a student at another table who was becoming extremely frustrated with the reading process. Patti asked the director if she could help because she knew that if enough frustration set in, the man would not continue his tutoring, much less meet his reading goals. After realizing the extent of the man's illiteracy and the characteristics of profound dyslexia, Patti decided to use her love for teaching and dyslexia therapy to help a man who showed a strong desire for learning. That man's name was Oree Bradley.
Since March, Patti Huckabee has worked tirelessly with Oree. Twice a week, he finishes his morning bus route and drives to the Literacy Council of Texarkana to learn to read and understand that intellectually, there was never anything wrong with him. Patti has taught him about his dyslexia and that it is a processing problem in the brain. She explains that people with dyslexia process written language in different parts of the brain and have difficulty decoding words. Therefore, reading is either delayed or, sometimes, non-existent, depending on the severity of dyslexia. "I want to be able to read," Oree expressed. "I want to see myself do this, and Mrs. Patti is the one that is helping me do that." A year ago, nobody would have thought that Patti Huckabee and Oree Bradley would have crossed paths or even had reason to, but with Oree's fervent desire to learn and Patti's undying love to educate, they are the true meaning of a dream team.
Oree Bradley is the epitome of humbleness. He knows life would have been a lot easier for him had he known how to read since childhood, but he is thankful for the work that he has been blessed with over the years and does not blame anybody for anything. "Those teachers at my school all those years ago did not realize my problem, and even if they had, they would not have known what to do about it." He says this as he alphabetizes red, plastic letters that Patti made for him and makes him do every time they meet. It will bring tears to your eyes knowing that Oree, now 62 years old, could not have alphabetized five of those letters, much less all 26, when he walked through the doors of the Literacy Council back in March. He is thankful for the situations in life that got him this far because those were the experiences that made the man, the man with a heart of gold, a 3,000- watt smile, and a fire in his soul.
Recently, Oree accomplished one of his goals by reading one of his favorite Bible verses, Joshua 1:9, in front of his church family. The verse reads, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." If ever a verse was so closely matched with the life of an amazing human being, this is it. Let it be known that Oree Bradley is no longer living his life in a dark corner. His love and desire for reading have brought him into the light, and it is written all over his face.
September is National Literacy Month. If you or someone you know would like to volunteer or become a student, you can contact The Literacy Council in your area. In Texarkana, contact The Literacy Council of Bowie and Miller Counties at www.literacytxk.org or call 903-255-7733. Executive Director-Jenny Walker.
Pictured: Oree Bradley with his Literacy Council tutor, Patti Huckabee.