In 2008, a trip to a barbershop across the street from the elementary school where he was teaching sparked an idea for Alvin Irby. While observing one of his first grade students become antsy while waiting for a haircut, Irby thought to himself, “He really should be practicing his reading right now. I wish I had a book to give him.” That night Irby wrote down an idea to bring literacy opportunities to barbershops. In 2013, he founded the nonprofit Reading Holiday Project, Inc. and created Barbershop Books (www.barbershopbooks.org), a community-based literacy program that places child-friendly reading spaces in barbershops for boys ages 4-8. The program uses a curated list of 15 culturally relevant, age appropriate, and gender responsive children’s books. This innovative program aims to give boys greater access to engaging books and to encourage boys to read for fun. Unlike school or library- based literacy programs, Barbershop Books brings books and reading into a male- centered environment. It connects barbers and parents to the early reading experiences of young boys in a positive and culturally meaningful way.
Irby’s Barbershop Books program recently received an opening grant of $7,500 directed towards the purchase of new books and bookshelves for additional barbershop participation from The Good People Fund (https://www.goodpeoplefund.org). The Fund is an organization rooted in the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and offers financial support and mentorship to small, effective initiatives in Israel and the U.S.
“Our mission from the start was to close the reading achievement gap for young black boys by using child-centered and high-impact strategies,” explains Irby. “We are grateful to our supporters, like the Good People Fund, who allow us to continue and grow this work.”
Alvin Irby studied Sociology and Economics at Grinnell College and received his M.S. degree in General Childhood Education from Bank Street College of Education and his MPA degree in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy from New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service. He has taught kindergarten and first grade in both charter and traditional public schools in Harlem and the Bronx. Prior to creating Barbershop Books, he served as Education Director at the Boys’ Club of New York in East Harlem.
“Alvin Irby is a passionate educator who is guided by his love of teaching and determination to make positive change in his community. He is committed to the vision he has set forth.” says Naomi Eisenberger, Founder and Executive Director of The Good People Fund. “Alvin is a great example that one person can make a significant difference and we support all of his organization’s efforts.”
Currently, there are reading spaces in 11 New York City barbershops, reaching more than 440 boys annually. Just recently, NY1 News selected Barbershop Books founder Alvin Irby as the New Yorker of the Week. The immediate goal of the program is to change the way young boys and their families think about and interact with books. Barbershop Books uses barbershops and a curated list of books to help young boys of color identify as readers.
This ‘good person’- led non-profit joins nearly 80 other non-profits financially supported and professionally guided by The Good People Fund (www.goodpeoplefund.org) in the U.S. and Israel. Founded in 2008, The Good People Fund, inspired by the Jewish concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world), responds to significant problems such as poverty, disability, trauma and social isolation, primarily in the United States and Israel. The GPF provides financial support and management guidance for small to medium grassroots efforts whose grant recipients are leading their non-profits with annual budgets under $500,000 and no professional development staff, but are driven and determined to make a difference in their communities. With its guiding philosophy that small actions can have huge impacts and its emphasis on the personal connection, the GPF has raised and granted more than $7 million dollars. Further information can be found at www.goodpeoplefund.org.
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