Our friends at 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.

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Tell us more about your background, what made you dedicated to improving education for men and boys of color?

Alvin Irby: I have a masters in childhood education and have taught kindergarten and first grade for several years. I also served as Education Director for the Boys Club of New York, where I managed a variety of after school and summer education programs for boys ages 6 to 21.

The combination of being a black male and being an early childhood educator created a perfect storm one day in a barbershop. One of my students happened to walk into a barbershop while I was getting a haircut. Watching him sit for a long time with nothing to do inspired me to create barbershop books.

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: Every time I walk into a barbershop and I see a father, mother, or grandparent reading with a small child I'm encouraged and inspired. When I see programs popping up across the country that have been inspired by our work, I know we're making a difference and more children develop a love for reading as a result of our work. I now have the opportunity to give keynote talks and facilitate trainings at early childhood conferences across the country.

I often speak about cultural competency and how it creates transformative learning experiences for children. The reception and feedback from educators at these speaking engagements has been tremendously positive and definitely motivates me to keep pressing forward.


To read more of the conversation with Alvin Irby, you can do so here at blavity.com