Brandon Carr has made a name for himself playing for the Dallas Cowboys, the Baltimore Ravens and the Kansas City Chiefs, but now the NFL cornerback is tackling a new challenge: youth literacy.
The 34-year-old free agent has curated a virtual weekly reading series, alongside his son, Ace, that helps motivate children to continue to read amid the coronavirus pandemic. As a child of a elementary school teacher and basketball coach, the initiative is near and dear to Carr’s heart.
“Growing up, my world consisted of sports and school. The reason why I got involved with literacy, my parents always stressed the importance of just utilizing my platform in a positive way,” he tells theGrio. “As I’ve grown, you know, my platform has changed in different ways, until I got to the NFL and I realized what they were grooming me for, and it was a life of serving.”
He continues, “My mom, her big message was ‘Don’t be [just] an athlete, don’t be just a football player.’ I took that to heart at a very young age, and as I started to just try to figure out, you know, what would be something I can do off the field.”
After consistently giving back during the holidays at Thanksgiving turkey drives and Christmas gift giveaways, Carr decided he wanted to do more.
“I was motivated by a lot of my teammates, not just their philanthropy, you know, outreach and things they were doing. I grew up seeing my parents give away all types of stuff. So it was in me. But at the same time, you know, I felt like it was a bigger purpose than just those, you know, holiday giveaways,” he explains.
The NFL player, who wanted to be a pediatrician growing up, decided to focus on literacy through his non-profit organization, Carr Cares Foundation. He references the stark statistics regarding literacy amongst Black boys, with only 10 percent of eighth-grade Black boys in the U.S. proficient in reading, according to DoSomething.org.
In October 2019, Carr launched Lit Buddies, a bi-monthly literacy subscription box curated for elementary-age children that works to ensure that they are reading on grade level by the third grade. His weekly virtual reading series, Lit Buddies Read-Along, followed shortly afterwards. Carr’s son, Ace, has selected nearly all of the books that have been read during the series, a father-son experience that Carr describes as “really cool.”
“I kind of go over with him, but I tell him who the audience was and he goes and picks his books,” he dishes. “Then sometimes we may change on the fly the day of. So that’s that’s been a really cool experience, to not only be side-by-side with him, but to see him grow as well. It’s bigger than myself and bigger than the Carr Cares.”
He goes on to explain that Ace does give him some grief when he’s uninterested in reading and rather do other things, like play.
“I get the same thing as [other] parents. I’ll get the roll of their eyes and sometimes they’re not motivated to do it right. So I’m no different, right? I wanted to put that on camera, let everybody see it, but I was just excited to see him grow each and every week,” he says. “Some of the books I thought would be challenging, as far as the words, and he’d knock it out. So I just want the parents to see us work in progress over here, and I hope they’re doing the same.”
The athlete, who says he would like to write a children’s book one day with Ace, hopes to motivate other Black fathers, and give parents a much-needed break as they homeschool and work from home amid the pandemic.
“It is just really just stepping out there and still trying to stay connected with our Black community, but to also motivate other dads, other parents, you know. We know we’re going through a tough time in having to wear a lot of different hats right now. I’m no different. We just want to just display that and just to kind of encourage parents to continue to read with the kids, continue to try to make it a fun environment.”
He adds, “Sometimes we serve as just a 30-minute or one-hour break for some of the kids. I tell the parents to set the kids down, you can go clean house, take a nap, whatever, we’ll entertain them for a couple minutes and send them back to you. It’s a way to try and stay creative, still trying to motivate the kids and the parents, and still continue to stress the importance of literacy and have fun with it.”
Interested parents can find out more information about Lit Buddies on the official website: www.litbuddies.com.