Comedian/Educator’s Barbershop Literacy Program Helps Unlock the Power of Books for Black Boys

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An educator and comedian has found a way to give power to Black boys by using the men in their communities to help them become readers.

Alvin Irby founded the award-winning literacy program Barbershop Books to improve access to “culturally relevant, age-appropriate and gender-responsive children’s books and to increase out-of-school reading among young Black boys,” according to the Harlem-developed project’s website.

“So many young Black boys really don’t identify as readers,” says Irby, who places the books in Harlem barbershops. “And, if you’re not reading, your power is limited.”

Irby said in the barbershops in 22 cities, men are reading to boys ages 4-8 in an effort to improve youth reading proficiency, as the U.S. Department of Education reports more than 85 percent of fourth-grade students are not proficient in reading.

“A majority of Black boys are raised by single mothers and there may not be relevant male reading models at home or at school,” Irby says. “But we’re changing the culture in a good way. …

“We believe if we provide fun books, children will read. Period.”

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