It wasn't all bad
His early life wasn't easy — as a child, Ralph Burns, now 64, was abandoned, and he had to drop out of school in the third grade — but he found his calling in music, playing the guitar at parties and bars and becoming a pastor.
Burns never learned how to read during his youth, and while it "embarrassed me sometimes, I got over that," he told Local 8 News in Knoxville. He wanted to learn and people tried to teach him over the years, but things didn't click until Burns met Sydney Osborne, a volunteer with the Friends of Literacy group. The pair have spent the last 18 months working together for two hours a week, with Osborne teaching Burns the letters and sounds of the alphabet. Burns can now read at a first grade level, and is looking forward to improving his skills. "This opens up a whole world," he said. "I can go into a restaurant and almost read the menu."