Blavity sat down with Alvin Irby, Chief Reading Inspirer at Barbershop Books, a nationally recognized program that creates child-friendly reading spaces in barbershops. Barbershop Books is a community-based literacy initiative that's working to close the reading achievement gap for young black boys. It leverages the cultural significance of barbershops in black communities to connect black men to black boys’ early reading experiences, to improve black boys’ access to engaging children’s books, and to increase the time black boys spend reading for fun.
Irby is a passionate educator committed to innovative curriculums, child-centered education, and transformative teaching and leadership. As a national speaker and award-winning entrepreneur, he has inspired thousands of educators, barbers, youth development professionals and public officials. Irby studied Sociology and Economics at Grinnell College, received his Masters of Science in General Childhood Education from Bank Street College of Education, and completed his Masters of Public Administration in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy from the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University. Irby has taught kindergarten and first grade in both charter and district public schools in New York City and served as Education
Blavity: Tell us more about your background, what made you dedicated to improving education for men and boys of color?
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B: When I take a look at the education system in the United States, it leaves me feeling defeated, what are ways you stay inspired to tackle the system in new and innovative ways?
AI: We know about the infamous #Oscarssowhite hashtag, but I believe there should be a similar hashtag for the children's book industry: #Childrensbookssowhite because, they are. A recent survey by Lee and Low books found that over 70% of children's publishing is white females, and not surprisingly, less than 5% of books feature black protagonists or are about black people. I've spent a lot of time thinking about the reading challenges that boys face, and I've reached the conclusion that a lot of their struggles stem from adults who ignore their interests. Boys generally like funny, silly, and gross books, but these types of titles are rarely used or highlighted in school. Boys with few reading experiences outside of school to affirm or cultivate his reading identity might conclude that he isn't a reader or that reading isn't for him. Thinking about how children identify and what interests them should be the basis for choosing books whether it's at home or in school.
B: Lets talk about why access matters. In your opinion, how does access to books and reading materials open up a world of opportunities for black children?
B: Additionally, lets talk about space. To what extent is learning in a safe space a vital aspect of increasing literacy among black boys?
Parents and educators should spend more time thinking about how to help black boys say three words: "I'm a reader."