GERMANTOWN, Md. — In a Walmart parking lot on a summer afternoon, a little boy named Joseph was overjoyed to receive a free book from a young man. It’s moments like that, between a black man, a black boy and a good book that a program like Brothers with Books exists.
“It’s not that people don’t like books or they don’t like to read," Isaac Cudjoe explained. "Young black men don’t see themselves in the literature given to them in the classrooms."
Cudjoe and his friend Kevin Isabelle Peete started Brothers with Books just a couple of months ago and have already donated more than 3,000 books. Some have been shipped to places like Baltimore, Chicago even Ghana. Sometimes they distribute free books at book fairs and in parking lots. The men also visit classrooms in their native Montgomery County.
“Representation matters,” Cudjoe said. "When I was growing up, I had one black educator from K through 12 and he wasn’t specifically my teacher. I think for a lot of black men growing up, when we have an absence in those fields, we don’t see ourselves in that field. Being two young black men going to these schools and saying, ‘I like to read, I enjoy it and it’s edifying for me’ benefits young black men as well.”
But it’s not just black boys they hope to instill a love of reading, these men are reaching out to lower income or so-called at-risk children to help put that one book in their hands that will speak to them and hopefully change the course of their lives.
“We talk about the school to prison pipeline, we talk about African American vernacular English - all these things that white female teachers who dominate this field may not necessarily understand,” said Isabelle Peete, who’s studying to become a teacher, “The Department of Education said that 48% of African American preschoolers will be suspended and there has to be some kind of miscommunication because all those things form your identity and what you believe about yourself. So, if you can change the narrative of your identity inside the classroom who’s to say you can become anything outside of it?!”
If you’d like to donate book to the men or learn more about their program and where they will be distributing free books next, contact them on Instagram: @brotherswithbooks.