Barbershop Books Founder Says Student Inspired Him to Mix Reading and Haircuts

Alvin Irby, founder of Barbershop Books
October 31, 2019

When Alvin Irby stopped in to get a haircut at a barbershop across the street from the Bronx elementary school where he taught, he noticed something: "One of my first graders walked into the shop and was just sitting there doing nothing, and the whole time I was looking at this, I kept thinking he should be practicing his reading right now, and I wish I had a children's book to give him," Irby told Cheddar.

That’s when the idea for Barbershop Books was formed.

The non-profit’s mission is to help black boys ages 4-8 identify as readers by creating positive early reading experiences in male-centered spaces like the barbershop. According to the United States Department of Education, over 85 percent of America’s black male fourth grade students are not proficient in reading, and Barbershop Books is on a mission to change that.

The community-based program has provided books in 185 barbershops in 44 cities in 20 states across the U.S., helping to create kid-friendly reading spaces. "People reach out to us and they say we want children's books in our local barbershop, so we ship a curated list of books recommended by boys and a colorful bookshelf directly to barbershops across the country," Irby said.

Barbershop Books also provide early literacy training to barbers, equipping them with strategies on how to create positive reading environments for children while they’re in their shop and how they can get them excited about reading.

"If you can read on grade level by the end of the third grade you're much more likely to graduate from high school and thus have a better life," Irby said.