Pamela Good: Breaking the cycle of illiteracy

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Before Pamela Good walked into a Detroit school two decades ago, she had already started her own computer business with a CPA, taught ballet to struggling teens and volunteered across Metro Detroit.

"I would say I was a jack of all trades and master of none," Good said of her place in the world around 1999 before everything changed.

Michiganian of the Year Pamela Good, founder of Beyond Basics, a nonprofit organization that’s dedicated to fighting illiteracy, poses with program students at Mumford High School in Detroit on
Thursday, September 12, 2019.

That's when Good stepped into Herman Rogers Academy armed with coats from a coat drive and got an upfront look at poverty: many of the children were unable to read and the school had no library.

"All of a sudden, every job that I had and all of my history really helped me to do what was necessary, not just to be a volunteer in the city and run a volunteer-based organization, but to raise the money we needed to really impact kids lives through literacy," Good said.

More:Meet the 2019 Michiganians of the Year

Good, who was raising two children of her own at the time, got to work, admitting she had no idea what to do first. She started reading to children herself and recruited others to do the same. But with 500 students in the school, Good quickly realized she needed to think bigger.

By 2002, she co-founded Beyond Basics, a nonprofit that’s dedicated to fighting illiteracy among children. It partners with businesses and human service agencies to provide academic enrichment, mentoring and wrap-around social services to children in need.

"This takes all of us and then some," Good said. "We partnered with everyone who was willing to help us."

By 2008, Beyond Basics focused on its "Read to Rise" program, which provides one-on-one tutoring and small group “reading readiness” for students at several low-performing schools across Metro Detroit to help them learn to read at or above grade level in six weeks.

Earlier this year, Beyond Basics launched a $33 million fundraising campaign to send hundreds of literacy tutors to 10,000 students in Detroit high schools who are not reading at grade level.

Good estimates that 10,000 of the district's 12,000 high school students would benefit from tutoring, and that up to 50% of high school students are two or more grade levels behind.

Jacob Durrah, a software engineer at Ford Motor Co., was a student at Finney High School a decade ago when he met Good in the newspaper program she created for his school.

Good brought in speakers from across the business community, such as former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Detroit Pistons broadcaster George Blaha, to talk to teens about the future and career options. Good connected Durrah with a mentor who worked with him through his studies at the University of Michigan. 

"One of the reasons I decide to go into tech was an experience I had working at Detroit Venture Partners," said Durrah, now 25. "She connected me with that group and made the experience possible."

In 2018, Beyond Basics opened up a Family Literacy Center at the Durfee Innovation Society, a former DPSCD building near the Boston-Edison district that draws in children ages pre K-12 and adults for tutoring assistance.

Pamela Good, founder of Beyond Basics, a nonprofit organization that’s dedicated to fighting illiteracy among children, is surrounded by donated books at their Southfield offices on
Thursday, September 12, 2019.

Detroit native Eric Brown said Good and her work at Beyond Basics focused his attention on the challenges of literacy in Detroit and motivated him to create the first walk/run for Literacy Awareness held on Sept. 21 in Detroit.

Brown, a graduate of Detroit Public Schools, said far too often people talk about the problems in literacy but don't do anything about it.

"She is someone I have a great deal of respect for," Brown said. "When you dedicate yourself to a cause, you do it to make a change in other peoples lives. Not because you want attention. You do it because it's needed."


Name: Pamela Good

Age: 60 

Occupation: Executive director and co-founder of Beyond Basics, a nonprofit tutoring company serving school children in Metro Detroit

Education: Degree in psychology with an emphasis in business from the University of Michigan-Dearborn

Family: Single with two adult children

Why honored: For raising awareness of illiteracy among Detroit schoolchildren and creating a one-on-one tutoring program to address the need.