A Hero’s Journey: Reluctant Reader Turned Prolific Author

By Giving List Staff   |   April 4, 2024
Erika Lewis visits Clinton Elementary in Compton as part of J3 Foundation’s author collaborations, which aims to boost literacy by fostering a love of reading.

Her eyelids grew heavy. She was irritable. The number of words on the page was overwhelming. This is what it felt like for Erika Lewis to read. 

“Learning to read did not come easy,” said Erika, who is now an author collaborator

with J3’s Cozy Reading Club, a free reading intervention program for kids in California’s underserved schools.

“I know what it’s like to feel like everyone in the class can read better than you,” admits Ms. Lewis, who has captured the attention of a room full of J3’s fourth graders in Compton. 

With the help of Erika, students create their own stories by writing or drawing in order to express themselves to the fullest.

It’s surprising that the writer of the beloved Kelcie Murphy books went from a struggling student to a prolific author. Although Erika was diagnosed with dyslexia as a sophomore in high school, she eventually discovered her love of reading and storytelling. 

But the journey was not easy. 

“For children who feel like they’ve fallen behind, opening the cover of a book to the first chapter and seeing all those words can be intimidating. Their first instinct is to close it and say, ‘I don’t like to read,” said Erika. “But one thing that everyone has in common is that they love stories.”

J3 provides culturally-relevant, diverse and inclusive books to captivate striving readers from all backgrounds. 

Back in the classroom, J3’s students hang on every word of the book Erika is reading aloud. Then, they learn the elements of a story. A few kids draw their characters, while others write about conflicts and imagine their resolutions. The goal has been achieved. The room is buzzing with creativity and interest in reading. 

As the students’ reading improves, so does their confidence, engagement and self image. 

These are the same students who arrived at J3’s Cozy Reading Club with their arms crossed tightly across their chests and hoodies covering their eyes. 

In Los Angeles, 52 percent of fourth graders cannot read proficiently. 

Because reading has been a challenge, the kids come into the program with a fixed idea of who they are: “I can’t read,” “I’m dumb,” “I’ll never succeed.” But that changes when they are introduced to J3’s growth mindset principle, which means the brain can grow to enhance intelligence and social-emotional skills. 

The kids learn they can change. And they do. 

Erika explains to the group that the brain is a muscle that needs exercise. Although the hard work can be uncomfortable, one must push through to get stronger. 

J3 aims to encourage as many young readers as possible. The stakes are high. Two-thirds of students who cannot read by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Building these literacy muscles can change the trajectory of their lives. 

By bringing in authors like Erika Lewis, the students can meet accomplished people who faced similar struggles. They gain access to new ideas, thought patterns, and professions, allowing them to imagine a future they never dreamed possible.

By partnering with J3, Erika provides inspiration to the next generation of readers and writers. 

With the help of donors like you, J3 Foundation gives these kids the life-altering tools to express themselves and become the heroes of their own stories. 


J3 Foundation

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(310) 924-2422
Director of Operations: Bobbie Boggs-Miller

Matching Funds — $1,500 Funds a Young Reader

One of the reasons J3 Foundation has been so effective is that it’s stayed laser focused on what it does best: teaching kids to read. The Cozy Reading Club anticipates serving 700+ students this year and J3 hopes to double that number by attracting more private donations. Creating a new reader who will grow up to be a positive contributor to society costs the organization just $1,500 annually.
“I think it’s the best $1,500 we as a society could ever invest,” says Joe Blackstone, J3 Foundation co-founder. “And that number will go down as we get more students.”
Glaser Weil will match every dollar raised, up to $10,000.


To equip 4th grade scholars with the skills, habits, confidence, and book access they need for a lifetime of reading success

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I appreciate J3 for the organization’s commitment to doing everything possible when it comes to reading proficiency. It’s rewarding to see your dollars make an impact immediately. J3 Foundation is so well run that I don’t have to think twice about the actual support that’s being implemented. The rate they’re scaling is just amazing. J3 sees every child’s potential and never gives up on its mission.
– Carron Brown
J3 Advisory Board Member Vice President of Strategy,
Planning and Operations: Warner Bros. Discovery

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