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Black Pearl Books and the Greater Austin Reading Coalition: Getting culturally-relevant books in the hands of young readers

The current reality in our community is that only three in 10 children from families with low income pass their 3rd grade reading STAAR test. 

Here at United Way for Greater Austin, we believe that reading is a crucial, foundational skill. That’s why we lead a local movement — the Greater Austin Reading Coalition — to ensure that ALL children are reading on grade level by the 4th grade, which is a pivotal point in a child’s reading development. 

Launched in 2021, the Greater Austin Reading Coalition is a diverse group of nonprofit and community leaders, librarians, teachers, and parents. The coalition is convened by United Way as part of our collective impact work to fight poverty.

In just our first year, together with our coalition members, we have gotten more than 50,000 books in the hands of young readers across our community! One member that has been instrumental in making this possible is Black Pearl Books.

African-American woman wearing black shirt and smiling in front of bookcases filled with books
Photo courtesy Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman

Owned and operated by Katrina Brooks, Black Pearl Books is an indie, Black-owned bookstore in Austin with a mission to promote diversity, inclusion, equality, cultural awareness, and community through literature. This mission is what drove Katrina to join the Greater Austin Reading Coalition, as one of the coalition’s goals is to increase access to culturally-relevant books for children.

Eight children's books on table
Photo courtesy of Black Pearl Books

“Having culturally-relevant books available to children is a necessity to get them to read on grade level.”  – Katrina Brooks 

Culturally-relevant books are titles that illustrate the beautiful diversity of our community. It’s important for children to see themselves, families, and culture depicted back to them in the books that they consume. Katrina says that these books give, “a child a sense of hope. It gives them a level of understanding of themselves and pride in themselves that they may not necessarily get out in the real world because of the color of their skin. It expands their mindset and lets them know that there are other opportunities out there and available to them.” 

While over the past few years more titles featuring Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) characters have become available on the shelves of retailers, many families are not financially able to build a library of these books at home for their children. And that’s where Black Pearl Books and the Greater Austin Reading Coalition come in — to help make sure that these books are accessible to everyone

One way that Black Pearl Books did that this summer was partnering with 100 Black Men of Austin, another Greater Austin Reading Coalition member, to source book bundles for 100 Kindergarten teachers across Greater Austin, getting 700 books in the hands of nearly 2,000 local students.

10 adults smiling holding children's books
Photo courtesy of Black Pearl Books

One teacher commented, “I’m a Kinder teacher in Pflugerville ISD and these books are so amazing for my library! I love that my kiddos will see themselves on my shelves, and we can all learn to love and accept everyone as they are.” 

When asked why this work is important to her, Katrina says her ancestors were not allowed to read and were punished if caught trying, so to pour into future generations is more meaningful than words can describe. “To the extent that I can partner with community organizations and nonprofits to get books into the hands of children, I’m here for it.” 

Thank you Katrina for helping get books into the hands of young readers and opening them up to a whole new world through reading! 

This is just one of many stories of the change we can make in our community when we Live United. And you can make more of them happen. 

When you make a donation to United Way for Greater Austin this holiday season, you are helping us continue to make culturally-relevant books accessible to ALL children. We believe you can make a difference. Believe with us. Donate today!

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