A former educator is on a mission to promote literacy among Black youth. Through his program Barbershop Books, entrepreneur Alvin Irby is bringing literature to barbershops across the country to inspire young African American boys to read, the Tuscaloosa News reported.
The inspiration for the program came nearly 10 years ago when Irby saw one of his students at the barbershop, the news outlet writes. The student—who struggled with reading—was idle while waiting for his haircut and Irby thought that would have been the perfect time for him to work on his literacy skills. A few years later Irby—who taught in Harlem and the Bronx—moved forward with the launch of his organization.
Irby believes that representation is everything and it’s important for Black youth to see themselves reflected in the literature that they consume. Through the program—which was created for youngsters between the ages of 4 and 8—the young readers provide suggestions for the types of books that they want to see in barbershops. Irby then ships those books to barbershops throughout the country. The program also allows companies, nonprofits, and individuals to sponsor book stations at barbershops within their communities.
“I think many children think learning isn’t for them because they’re forced to choose between who they are and school. But you can be who you are and still be brilliant. You can like rap and be a great reader,” Irby told the news outlet. “Barbershops are like a cultural center for black males. For a lot of boys the barbers are a stable male role model and black boys go there regularly.”
Since its inception five years ago, Barbershop Books has expanded into nearly 40 cities and is included in 120 barbershops.
There has been a major effort to change the narrative surrounding Black youth and literacy. A group of fifth-graders at the Truesdell Education Campus in Washington, D.C. launched a book club after a Black student shared that he struggled with reading because he didn’t see himself reflected in the characters of the books that he was given.