The nonprofit, founded in 2013, targets African-American boys ages 4 to 8 by leveraging the cultural significance of barbershops in the black community to introduce them to books at an early age.
“[There are] young black boys who never see a black male reading,” he said. “The work that we’re doing is to provide young black boys with early positive reading experience in a culturally meaningful space.”
Using a “male-centered” space such as a barbershop helps create a “black male reading model” for the kids to “cultivate reading identities,” Irby explained.
The Harlem resident, who is originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, said the mission of the organization is not about tracking performance or improving proficiency rates, but to make reading fun and enjoyable for young black boys.
“Far too many children associate reading with school or homework or an assignment, and as soon as school gets out they don’t touch a book,” he said. “And Barbershop Books is working to change that.”
Currently, the nonprofit counts 50 barbershops across the country participating in the program, with 10 in Harlem, one in The Bronx, one in Brooklyn and 20 more across 20 other cities.