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Boys reading at a barbershop affiliated with Barbershop Books
By The Skanner News | The Skanner News
Published: 03 August 2020

 The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy has partnered with Barbershop Books and Penguin Young Readers to provide child-friendly reading spaces and early literacy training to help expand reading opportunities for Black boys in Baltimore and Detroit.

Developed in Harlem, Barbershop Books is a community-based program that leverages the cultural significance of barbershops in Black communities. The initiative, which targets Black boys who are four to eight years old, increases boys' access to high-quality children's books, and works to increase out-of-school time reading among young Black boys. The program also provides literacy training to participating barbers. Barbershop Books is currently active in 21 states including California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Texas and Virginia.

"The news-making events of 2020 have highlighted the systemic injustices and disadvantages faced by Black Americans.

barbara bush foundation ceoPresident & CEO, Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, British A. Robinson"We believe that literacy is the great equalizer and it is imperative that we give every family the knowledge and resources they need to live with opportunity and dignity," said British A. Robinson, Barbara Bush Foundation President and CEO. "We are thrilled to partner with Barbershop Books to support its vital work to empower Black families and communities through literacy."

Through this partnership, the Barbara Bush Foundation will help Barbershop Books launch new reading spaces and provide early literacy training to barbers in 10 barbershops in Baltimore, and will support 20 existing reading spaces in Detroit. The Foundation will also provide family literacy resources, including access to a free adult literacy app for parents and caregivers who wish to improve their own literacy skills without attending classes.

According to the United States Department of Education, more than 85% of America's Black male fourth-grade students are not proficient in reading. In an increasingly global and knowledge-based economy, poor reading skills among young Black boys today will produce Black men who are unprepared to compete in the workforce of tomorrow.

Four key factors contribute to low reading proficiency among Black boys: 

  1. limited access to engaging reading material,
  2. lack of Black men in Black boys' early reading experiences,
  3. few culturally competent educators, and
  4. educational systems that are unresponsive to Black boys' individual learning needs.

Barbershop Books was founded in 2013 by Alvin Irby to increase out of school reading time among young Black boys. Irby is a nationally recognized speaker and award-winning social entrepreneur, as well as a cultural competency specialist and a thought leader in the field of early childhood education.

barbara bush fdn alvin irbyFounder, Barbershops Books, Alvin Irby"With libraries limited in the services they can provide and some form of distance learning becoming the new norm for young learners, we must think creatively and act courageously to ensure vulnerable children have the reading support they need outside of school," said Irby. "By increasing access to fun books and Black male reading role models, Barbershop Books endeavors to help create the type of early positive reading experiences that help Black boys to identify as readers – and thus inspire them to read for fun."

In support of this initiative, Penguin Young Readers has donated culturally relevant, age-appropriate books to help participating children – who have reduced access to community and school libraries during the COVID-19 crisis – build their own home libraries. Among the titles provided by Penguin are selections from #1 New York Times bestselling author Brad Meltzer's Ordinary People Change the World series and other kid-friendly titles.

"We admire the important work Barbershop Books is doing to support childhood literacy within Black communities and we are honored to partner with them and the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy on this important initiative," said Jen Loja, president, Penguin Young Readers.

"We're so grateful to Penguin for their generous support of our commitment to Black communities," said Robinson. "Together, we are making an impact on the lives of Black children and their families – one that is needed now more than ever – that will last for years to come."

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