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The Passing of Washington Literacy Center founding Advisory Council member Karen Lee Williams

I was extremely saddened to hear about the passing of founding Washington Literacy Center Advisory Council member Karen Lee Williams on Christmas morning.

Karen served two terms as a DC State Board of Education member representing Ward 7, where the illiteracy rate is one of the highest in the District of Columbia. Karen strongly advocated educational policies, learning, and opportunities for the marginalized. She also strongly supported adult education and literacy – especially for those struggling at the lowest levels. Karen was a friend of WLC, a believer in change, with a strategic and realistic plan for addressing and removing obstacles that hindered learning success.

When I was offered the executive director position, I told Karen I would probably do it for a few years and then move on to something else. Karen bluntly said to me that it’s going to take much longer than a few years to tackle the adult literacy challenges facing DC residents. She hoped that someday our educational system would successfully address the many issues and barriers that harmed our residents. Karen was patient and resourceful, and she connected me with community and city leaders by helping to call attention to the need for adults struggling with low reading and math skills. Karen knew their problems often became their children’s problems. She often said that we must address the learning issues impacting the youth and adults in our communities.

As a leader, Karen was passionate, persistent, and committed. She and her husband, Earl, would frequently host leaders at their home. They believed in building strong relationships and cultivating leaders to establish a future for the marginalized, especially those living East of the River in Washington, DC. Karen believed in the Washington Literacy Center, and even during her illness, she asked me in detail about the Washington Literacy Center’s future. Karen would say, “when I get better, I am going to do more at the WLC. Karen gave me so much advice that will always guide me: be strategic; change can be painfully slow, but don’t give up on a community needing help.

We need more people like Karen, who are committed to helping those with community challenges and dedicated to making changes to improve the future and education of youth, adults, and families.

Karen was a friend of the WLC. She was a treasured friend to my family, and we will truly miss her. My commitment is to continue working to make a difference, and my condolences to her husband, Earl, family, and friends. Please join me in honoring the legacy of Karen Lee Williams.


Jimmie L. Williams

President and CEO


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