Ameer Baraka understands firsthand how undiagnosed dyslexia can dangerously alter the course of a person’s life.
“I knew something was wrong in the third grade,” he recalls.
“I couldn’t spell simple words, like ‘bat’ or ‘sit.’ Every Friday we had a spelling test and I could never pass that test.”
It wasn’t until he was 23 years old and in prison that Ameer finally learned he had dyslexia.
“Once I knew what I had and I accepted it, I woke up,” Ameer says, “It changed my life.”
Now a successful actor, producer, and writer, Ameer shares his personal story to spread awareness of dyslexia and highlight the importance of early childhood screening.
From the Classroom to the Streets
Ameer can vividly recall the moment that prompted him to abandon the classroom after years of struggling in school.
“I was in the seventh grade. I was dating a beautiful girl and we happened to be in the same English class,” Ameer says.
“I was called on to read and I was stumbling over every word, sweating profusely. The teacher should have known something was wrong. She should have stopped me. Instead, I was left standing up there shaking and embarrassed.”
At just 12 years old, Ameer was introduced to the drug game by a local dealer and started ditching school and selling drugs. At 19, Ameer was introduced to actual drug use and cocaine trafficking by his own father, himself a lifelong criminal, who berated Ameer for being unable to read.
The streets became his classroom—a place where he didn’t have to feel ashamed of his inability to read—but the lessons he learned were violent.
“In the eighth grade, I shot another drug dealer,” Ameer says. “I was tried as a juvenile and did a year in ‘juvey jail’ at a boys’ home.”