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Words that have a happy ending - PPA Today

Words that have a happy ending

©Woody Marshall/The Telegraph
Photographers tell stories every day with images. But let's not forget that behind every artist is their own story. And we'd probably be surprised how often our personal stories resonate in the hearts of others...just as a beautiful image inspires. Horace Holmes, Jr., Cr.Photog., CPP, ABI,API, is not surprised, though.

From growing up in a family of migrant workers to his introduction to photography, Horace shares the secret struggle to read that he faced and recently overcame. He made it through Bible college (where he met his wife, Yvonne), worked in a church, and even became the marketing director of Coca-Cola before opening his photography studio in 1982. But, as he says in the article, there was always a measure of shame and regret.

It was Horace's hope that his story (in author Ed Grisamore's article) would help encourage others in literacy programs. More than that, is a testament to human will and determination.

Below is the full article published Sept. 7, 2008, reprinted with permission from The Telegraph, out of Macon, Ga., and author Ed Grisamore:
If a picture paints a thousand words, Horace Holmes, Jr. should be considered a master storyteller.

He has trained his eye and pointed his camera at life. His shutter speeds have captured Kodak moments. He has photographed babies and brides, fire hydrants and firefighters. His lens has helped preserve mountains, athletes, sunsets and smiles for posterity.

These images have stood on their own - without consonants and vowels, adjectives and verbs to support them.

They have had no choice.

Horace earned his high school diploma more than 40 years ago. He spent two years at a Bible college and was called into the ministry. He preached sermons from the pulpit, pulling words from scriptures and the depths of his heart.

He is a professional photographer and a well-respected citizen in Macon. He is personable and articulate. He is a member of a local Rotary Club and a longtime ambassador for the chamber of commerce.

He also has been carrying around a secret disability.

©Woody Marshall/The Telegraph
That's why Horace Holmes is learning to read.

He is being taught the power of the written word. He is learning to construct sentences and to pronounce the words that shape them.

"The dictionary has become my best friend," he said.

He realizes what he has been missing. He is making up for lost time.

Horace is 58 years old, so he figures he's about a million books behind on his reading list. One day, he will no longer have to have someone read the morning newspaper to him. He won't have to rely on "sight words" and memory to quote Bible verses.
Monday is International Literacy Day. An estimated 774 million adults worldwide lack minimum reading skills. That's about one in five adults, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Even to those who know Horace, the revelation that he could not read may be somewhat of a surprise.

It's a story that, until two years ago, he could not read himself.

He fell through the cracks and slipped through the system. It never stopped him from being a terrific husband and father. It never stopped him from becoming a talented photographer. Or influencing those around him with his servant's heart.

He even had a library card. He managed to tiptoe almost unnoticed through the minefield of life's instruction manuals.

But he also carried around a measure of regret until he enrolled in the literacy program at the Adult Learning Center at Central Georgia Technical College, where he joins others every morning in a classroom with instructor Phyllis Dorn.

He grew up in a family of migrant workers. They would travel to upstate New York to pick cranberries, cherries, apples and pears. When the first snow covered the ground, they would head south to Florida to work in the orange groves.

Seems like every time he adjusted to a school, it was time to pack up and move on. He lagged in his academics, especially reading and phonetics. It was difficult academically and socially.

"I was always trying to impress people," he said. "It was hard to make friends."

When it came to words, the others left him in a trail of syllables, and he never was able to catch up. When his teachers would ask students to read something aloud in class, he would ask to be excused.

"I would start sweating if I thought they were going to call on me," he said.

He managed to dodge and weave his way through high school, reading on the equivalent of about a fifth-grade level. When his parents divorced, his mother was on welfare. She moved the family to Boston, where he once was interviewed as an academic case study by a group of medical doctors.

Two things ultimately changed his life. He became a Christian. And he became involved with Upward Bound, where he was introduced to photography through an art program.

"I picked up a Yashica 120 and it opened up a whole new world for me," he said.

Some of his teachers recognized his struggles. Others didn't. He managed to never fail a class. He earned his diploma. He even had a scholarship offer to run track in college, but opted to attend Miracle Valley Bible College in Arizona.

It was there he met his wife, Yvonne. Soon, his inability to read caught up with him in a big way.

"What's wrong, Horace?" one professor asked. "You are so bright and full of life in the classroom."

When Horace confessed, the professor began allowing him to take oral exams. He went from making all F's on his report card to making the dean's list.

Reading still eluded him, though.

He received an internship at a church starting up on the South Side of Chicago.

"It was in an old theater," Horace said. "There was no heat in there in the dead of winter."

There was no shortage of heat when he moved to Macon in 1970, where he worked on the staff with the Rev. Estelle Good at the Lighthouse of Deliverance (now Covenant Life Cathedral) on Bloomfield Road. At the time, it was the only integrated church in the city.

"I would preach about twice a month, but mostly on what I had memorized from the Bible," he said. "I know people could see I was struggling, but I was determined."

He also took a job at Coca-Cola, where he worked his way up to marketing director before opening his photography studio on Cotton Avenue in 1982.

People would recommend books to him, but he never read them. He couldn't. He loved comic books and books about photography because they were visual.

There was a measure of shame, but he managed to hide it publicly.

Regret, too.

"I couldn't read to my own children," he said. "I would pick up the 'Three Little Pigs' and make up my own version of the story."

His wife would help their children with their homework. (Yvette is now 31 years old and is getting married in March. Andre is 27.)

When he enrolled in the literacy program, he wasn't seeking pity. He wanted someone to pull him out of the hole.

"All my life, I've had to work four times harder," he said. "But I never gave up."
He could do the math. Now he can do the English, too. The words are coming into focus, much like the lens of his camera.

It is not his intention to become a poster child for literacy programs. Horace has several goals. He wants to write books, starting with his autobiography.

He also wants to volunteer to teach and encourage others in literacy programs. He knows their plight. He has walked in their moccasins.

"I'm a firm believer that we go through life not to benefit ourselves but to help others," he said.

Every picture tells a story.

This is one where the words are on their way to a happy ending.

Read the original article at

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This page contains a single entry by Professional Photographers of America (PPA) published on October 29, 2008 3:13 PM.

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