HOPE Week: ‘Barbershop Books’
Ronald Torreyes, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Alvin Irby and Dellin Betances read to children at Denny Moe’s Superstar Barbershop in Harlem.
Waiting for a haircut can be boring for a child, unless he or she happens to be at Denny Moe’s Superstar Barbershop on Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem. There in a corner of the 10-chair facility is a bookcase filled with reading material designed for children.
As part of the HOPE Week initiative Thursday, the Yankees paid a visit to Denny Moe’s where Alvin Irby, the founder of Barbershop Books, was reading “Precious and the Boo Hog” to a dozen first graders from nearby Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy.
Pretty soon, pitchers CC Sabathia and Dellin Betances, first baseman Mark Teixeira and infielder Ronald Torreyes got into the act and were joined by Bronx rapper Fat Joe. They took turns reading the pages of the popular children’s book, “No David,” to the youngsters while customers were getting their hair shorn.
“This is what it’s all about,” Betances said. “Education is a top priority. What better way to wait your turn than reading a book. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Neither had Irby, a former kindergarten and first grade teacher, until two years ago when he got the idea to create reading areas in barbershops to help children develop a healthy reading habit in hopes of it becoming an ingrained part of their lifestyle as they grow up. Barbershop Books is a community-based literacy program that creates child-friendly reading spaces for children ages 4-8 in barbershops.
“Everybody has a favorite barbershop, but this is a place where kids can get more than a haircut,” Sabathia said. “It was great to see their faces light up while we were reading. I have little ones at home, so I’m now reading a lot of Harry Potter books.”
“I read books to my kids,” Teixeira said. “It is one of life’s simple pleasures. It’s important to bring attention to this program so it can expand. Maybe our donation will help.”
The Yankees presented a $10,000 check to Irby when the players along with translator Marlon Abreu joined the children for lunch at their school on West 129th Street where principal KiKi Walton looked on joyfully. The kids also received an assortment of books in Yankees carry bags as part of a large donation of reading material to the school and Barbershop Books. The program currently is in place in 11 barbershops — 10 in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn. Irby hopes to expand throughout the city and even beyond its borders.
“The issue of low literacy among children of color is too serious of an issue to wait,” he said. “The children who are coming in here to read when they are waiting or reading while their family members are getting a haircut can’t wait, either. I’m doing anything and everything I can to continue the work and to build those strategic partnerships that are going to allow us to grow, both here in New York City and across the country.”