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Books at the Barbershop

Dellin Betances reads to a group of children as part of Day 4 of Yankees HOPE Week. (New York Yankees)


This is the fourth of a five part series on the Yankees eighth annual Hope Week. Tomorrow: Blissful Bedrooms

While athletes earn their fame and riches for their performance on the field, it’s what they do off the field that sometimes has the biggest impact. Giving back to the community and helping others are some of the greatest responsibilities and privileges professional athletes have. Through their annual HOPE Week, the Yankees organization is always up to the task.

Last Thursday, the Yankees continued their eighth annual HOPE Week by visiting a Harlem barbershop. While a barbershop may seem like an uncommon place to visit for a charity event, Denny Moe’s Superstar Barbershop is a special one. It’s one of the eleven barbershops across Harlem and Brooklyn that is part of Alvin Irby’s Barbershop Books program, created in 2014.

Waiting for your turn at the barber, or waiting in general for that matter, can be a tedious task. I remember being dragged to my mom’s hair salon as a kid and spending my time playing baseball games on my PlayStation Portable. Irby’s program, however, gives kids an opportunity to spend their time more wisely. Through the Barbershop Books program, participating barbershops provide children with a reading-friendly space and various books to choose from.

There are several obstacles impeding young African American boys from becoming engaged readers. On Irby’s website, the reasons he lists are a limited number of interesting reading materials, a shortage of male black characters in children’s books, and a lack of effective reading instruction.

The goal of the program is “to close the reading achievement gap for young black boys by using child-centered, culturally responsive, and high-impact strategies.”

Irby knew his main objective was to get more African American children reading culturally relevant books; he just needed to figure out how. For Irby, barbershops make sense because they’re places children often go to, and they can be found in all communities.

Irby says, “The issue of low literacy among children of color is too serious of an issue to wait. 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.”

On Thursday, some of the participating children were visited by some very special guests. Yankee players Dellin Betances, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Ronald Torreyes and hip hop artist Fat Joe visited Denny Moe’s to read with a group of children before joining them for lunch. They sat with the players and read books such as the children’s classic “No, David.” It was a fun afternoon full of laughs.

The players had high praise for Irby’s program.

“It’s pretty impressive," Betances said. "To have just a station where kids can come read, I’ve never seen anything like it. I was glad to be a part of this today.”

“Alvin’s doing a great thing here, and the kids are excited," Sabathia added.

Days like this remind the players how important and impactful they can be in the community.

“What I do on the baseball field, I think pales in comparison to the impact I can make in kids’ lives off the field," Teixeira said. "So, whether it’s college scholarships or helping kids with jobs skills, or just playing baseball with them and having fun and just being a positive impact on their lives, it’s so important that I’m a part of the community.”

On this day, the focus was on the children learning to become active and engaged readers thanks to Alvin Irby’s program. The power of reading cannot be overstated.

Irby said it best, “I believe that when you can read, a whole world of possibilities are open to you. I have to do Barbershop books because I want the kids to be free.”

The Yankees organization also donated $10,000 to the Barbershop Books program.

To listen to the audio piece, click play below.

(Interviews courtesy of Yankees on Demand)

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