Image from BarberShop Books Facebook Home Page

Last Monday, Hoda and Jenna invited Alvin Irby, the infectiously optimistic founder and Chief Reading Inspirer of Barbershop Books, to be on the Today Show. I don’t want to say much about the interview because I don’t want to spoil it for you. If you’re looking for a moment of joy, take a 4-minute video journey into the hearts and minds of young black boys, their families, and neighborhood barbers. Listen to all of them talk about how their lives have been transformed (their word choice) by being trusted with the opportunity to say, “I am a reader.” That will get you smiling. 

Then listen to the 4-minute interview with Alvin. That will get you thinking. Deeply. It’s always a treat to hear a young entrepreneur explain the moment of their inspiration. 

Alvin’s was simple. As an elementary school teacher, coming from a family of teachers, he was in the barbershop one day when one of his students came in. He watched his student wriggle and squirm while waiting for a trim. He thought to himself, “This kid needs a book.” He got permission from the owner to bring books into the barbershop and the journey began. Barbershop Books is now a national nonprofit with over 200 partners. 

“Lots of children identify with video games or they identify with sports. Children can equally identify with reading. Books provide a safe spaces for children to dream.”

Image from BarberShop Books Website

Barbershop Books is one of a growing network of programs associated with the Campaign for Grade Level Reading. The Campaign is a collaborative effort by foundations, nonprofit partners, business leaders, government agencies, states and communities across the nation to ensure that more children in low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career, and active citizenship. The Campaign is based on the belief that many of us hold: Schools cannot succeed alone. The Campaign stands out, however, for its commitment to generating a hunger for improvement that comes from deep within the community, fueled by the confidence that the community members – parents, neighbors, business owners – can be mobilized to remove barriers, expand opportunities, and assist parents and caregivers in fulfilling their roles and responsibilities to serve as full partners in the success of their children. (The Campaign’s founder, Ralph Smith, called this “authentic demand” in a podcast interview I did with him last year.) 

At the end of the Today Show interview, Jenna notes that the interview is being done on Martin Luther King Day and asks Alvin if he sees a connection. Though this might be seen as a stretch – connecting local reading programs to civil rights and social justice – Alvin’s response is nothing short of wonderful. Be inspired. 

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