If you’re like a lot of Barbershop Books supporters, you learned about us through my TED Talk, “How to Inspire Every Child to Be a Lifelong Reader.” Since then, Barbershop Books has grown significantly and greatly impacted Black boys and other vulnerable children, especially when it has mattered the most.
In 2021, during a pandemic year marked by tremendous change and adversity, Barbershop Books persevered. Together, the unwavering support of our donors, the generous assistance of corporate volunteers, and the inspiring work of our team and community partners enabled innovation and the development of groundbreaking early literacy content and programming.
A New Digital Resource
We launched the Barbershop Books E-Library , which features a variety of engaging children’s e-books donated by independent authors of color during the height of the pandemic. This free and ever-expanding digital resource on our website was visited 13,613 times during FY 2020-2021. It responds directly to the need for more diverse children’s literature and endeavors to highlight the full humanity and imagination of Black children and the communities that care for them.
Our Pandemic Pivot
With many barbershops in our national network shuttered or reeling from the fallout of COVID-19, our program team worked diligently to ensure the Barbershop Books program met the rapidly changing and varying state health and safety guidelines for barbershops. As barbershops reopened after weeks or months of being closed, our participating barbers distributed sealed book packets totaling more than 5,040 boy-approved books, which helped 1,680 children start or expand their home libraries. This adapted program model also introduced a program poster with a QR code that enables children and caregivers to access our E-Library using a smartphone, tablet, or other personal device.
Supporting Children’s Mental Health
Through a groundbreaking partnership with the NYC Mayor’s Office for Community Mental Health (OCMH) and the NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS), Barbershop Books designed an innovative social-emotional learning (SEL) and mental health themed adaptation of our Reading So Lit Summer program for 6 NYC family shelters, which reached 57 children ages 5-8. Using a curated set of culturally relevant picture books, hands-on early literacy activities, pre-recorded read aloud videos, and detailed lesson plans, we trained more than 15 shelter-based social workers (client care coordinators) to use picture books to help young children better understand and express their emotions.
I am ever-inspired by all who so generously give of their time, expertise, resources, and elbow grease to help the babies read! With your support, Barbershop Books will continue reimagining and fighting for content and reading experiences that inspire Black boys to read for fun.
This year, we are adding more than 100 new barbershop partners, providing virtual summer literacy programming, and expanding our E-Library to include more diverse children’s books. Collectively, these efforts will reach more than 10,000 Black boys.
Alvin Irby, Executive Director and Chief Reading Inspirer, Barbershop Books