Latisha Thompson, Chief Employee Experience Officer, co-chairs an Orange County MLK Initiative effort that’s focused on improving the literacy skills of preschoolers.

One book, one child at a time. That’s how Latisha Thompson is trying to keep alive Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of equality.

By exposing Orange County preschoolers to reading, Thompson, Chief Employee Experience Officer, hopes to help improve their prospects of scholastic achievement, the gateway to future success and inclusion. With that in mind, she co-chairs the Education and Literacy Subcommittee as a member of Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings’ Martin Luther King Jr. Initiative, a yearlong effort that offers programs tailored to promote the civil rights icon’s vision of unity. Mayor Demings asked Thompson to join the Initiative when he created it in 2019.

“The subcommittee’s focus is to raise the literacy of our youth, particularly among pre-K children. That is the period of time that’s critical to their development skills,” Thompson says.

The group partnered with the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County’s “Book Buddy” program, which pairs 3- and 4-year-olds in childcare with buddies who send children three books per quarter during a school year. The program follows the PenPal model, with participants only exchanging letters based on themes. There is no direct contact.

“My favorite things,” wrote 4-year-old Deborah to Thompson, are “shrimp and chocolate desserts.” And the giraffe is her “favorite animal,” another letter communicated through the child’s whimsical drawing of the African animal’s head.

Choosing from a reading list, Thompson has sent Deborah two books, “Avocado Asks” and “The Giraffe Who Found Its Spots.”

The Education and Literacy Subcommittee she co-leads also launched the Mayor’s MLK Initiative Book Club, which recommends books that promote Dr. King’s “fundamental values,” and Read Across the County Day. In late January, during Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida!, subcommittee members read to children in pre-K and kindergarten programs in Orange County.

“I know how important literacy is, and we need to focus on it at the earliest stages,” says Thompson, who is doing just that in her role on the Mayor’s MLK Initiative.

“I wanted to ensure the next generation of children have the same opportunities to be successful in life as I did,” she explains, “and I know that literacy is a big part of the journey to help them.”