Man, 71, Reveals How He Overcame Secret Struggle and Learned How to Read

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The story of a Tennessee man who overcame a secret struggle has inspired legions of others to take their personal challenges head-on.

For most of his life, Joe Buford managed to conceal the fact that he was unable to read, living each day in Nashville fearful that his secret would catch up to him.

“I would never let you know that I couldn’t read. I would never. It’s something I would never talk about. I never wanted to be upfront for anything; I never wanted nobody to call my name for anything,” Buford, now 71, explains in a video as part of Kleenex’s Message of Care campaign.

Something as seemingly simple as reading a story to his children terrified Buford, who said he was always fearful that his kids would ask him to read at bedtime.

“I felt physically there was something wrong with me,” he said. “I married my wife and she didn’t know.”

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But one day, that all changed when she asked him to read something.

“That’s when I asked her if she wanted to divorce me, I would understand,” Buford tearfully recalled. “I felt that I had done an injustice to her when I married her and she said she never felt that way.”

With her support, the brave man sought help. 


Watch the story of a Nashville man who overcame his illiteracy with the help of programs supported by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. #shareKleenexcare

Posted by Kleenex on Wednesday, January 13, 2016

“The scary part of it all of it was, being at my age and not being able to read, and to have to walk in and ask for help,” Buford said.

With the help of programs supported by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, Buford began to make sense of the words on a page.

“I picked up something … and I was able to read. It scared me to death. I jumped up. I jumped up and ran through the house. I was actually able to read!” he said.

His progress and impact on others was paramount, said Denine Torr with Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

“There’s something that’s waiting to be unleashed in all of us. We just need that one person or that one organization that’s going to help us unleash that potential,” Torr said. “He’s just so humble, he doesn’t realize the true impact he’s having on the community and everybody who meets him. And so we’ve gotten letters and emails and responses from people (that say) ‘Wow, you know, I think I can make it now, too. I heard Joe speak; I think there’s hope for me.’” 

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The Foundation and Kleenex honored Buford’s accomplishments, surprising him with a larger-than-life sign to show how much they care.

“Your story inspires all of us,” the sign read, a sight that Buford was overcome by.

“Sometimes it takes having courage to show there’s things within us that maybe we thought were challenges, but the rest of the world sees you as a champion, and that’s what Joe has become,” Torr said.

“You just need some people who immediately will touch your heart and you know that you’re better for having met them, and he’s one of those people.”

To learn more about Kleenex’s Message of Care campaign, click here.   

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