Gaithersburger Milton Whitley just published a memoir, which would be a noteworthy achievement for anyone, but his book is titled Learning to Read at Age 52. That’s right, up until a few years ago Whitley was like 81,000 other adults in Montgomery county: he lacked basic literacy skills. He relied on girlfriends to fill out job applications. At his job installing street signs in DC, he went 21 years without a raise because of all the mistakes he let slip by.

Whitley, a North Carolina native and one of 17 children, dropped out of school at age 14. Now, at 57 (after spending years devoting nine hours a week to learning to read), he addresses assemblies at high schools encouraging students not to give up on themselves. It’s an inspiring story, but one that shines a light on a chronic problem. Recent, non-English speaking immigrants account for a portion of adult illiteracy rates, but the rest are mostly people like Whitley; they just slipped through the cracks.

Montgomery County’s adult illiteracy rate is 11 percent, but eight Maryland counties (including Baltimore City) are even worse. Prince George’s County has an adult illiteracy rate of nearly 22 percent!

Whitley’s autobiography, Learning to Read at Age 52, was released by the group ProLiteracy in November.