Earl Phalen (Courtesy PR for Early Phalen)

Who is Earl Phalen?

Raised by white middle-class adoptive parents who valued academic success, early on Earl Phalen recognized the importance of getting a good education. After a degree at Yale, followed by Harvard Law School, Phalen had a vision to give something back.

The Boston native has spent the past 20 years dedicated to developing opportunities for children through learning and academic engagement. He is currently the head of a nationwide literacy initiative called Reach Out and Read, a nonprofit which supports children, five and younger, with the gift a new book.

Prior to this role he was CEO of Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL), a nationwide nonprofit organization he co-founded in 1992. Under his leadership, BELL grew from a $12,000 organization that served 20 scholars to one with a budget of $27 million serving 15,000 scholars.

Phalen is also the co-founder and chair of Summer Advantage USA, a full-day, five-week program, which provides rigorous academics, afternoon enrichment and healthy meals for children from low-income families. Last summer, the program worked with children and families in Indiana, Chicago, Colorado, and Alabama.

Phalen’s work and expertise have been recognized by major media players, including MSNBC, NBC Nightly News, ABC World News, Time Magazine, and BET.

Why is he on theGrio’s 100?

In 2009, Phalen became the head of Reach Out and Read, which gives out free, age-appropriate books to young children in need. Last year it handed out books to four million children across the States, including 100,000 children on 62 military bases.

Working in partnership with 12,000 medical providers across the country, the books are given to parents at every wellness visit with their pediatrician. The idea is to motivate families, especially the poor, to read to their children to encourage reading skills.

What’s next for Phalen?

In 2013, Phalen is set to launch the George and Veronica Phalen Leadership Academies (PLA), a network of charter schools that will eventually serve 10,000 children in Indianapolis and throughout Indiana. The first Phalen Leadership Academy will open its doors to 300 Indianapolis scholars entering Kindergarten, First Grade and Second Grade in August 2013.

Follow Earl Phalen on Twitter at @reachoutandread