For Brandon Carr, reading isn’t just fundamental. It’s his purpose.

Long before his football career earned him a spot in the 2008 NFL draft, the Flint, Michigan native tackled the importance of literacy. At the influence of his mother, Kathy, who worked as a schoolteacher for 33 years, Carr’s childhood was filled with acclaimed children’s books, including kid classics “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” “The Berenstain Bears,” and “Curious George.” 

“Those books intrigued me to a point where I signed up for “Scholastic” and read “National Geographic” in the mail every Saturday at the breakfast table,” Carr — who still prides himself on being a book nerd — said. “My dad had the newspaper, I got my mail with the books and my mom sat just watching it all. It got to a point where I was so thirsty for more that I would beg my parents for entire book sets.”

Years later, Carr’s unwavering thirst for reading at an early age set the tone for the Carr Cares Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to providing tools to help young students become proficient readers.

For the past eight years, the father of three has visited elementary and middle schools — from his hometown to Baltimore, Maryland, and his current residence of Dallas, Texas — reading to kids and establishing reading centers to help increase child literacy.

To further his mission, Carr Cares launched Lit Buddies, a literacy initiative that promotes reading by providing a bi-monthly subscription box. Subscriptions range from one single month to a full year and start at $23.99. Each curated box contains a bevy of items that incentivize kids to enjoy reading, including two books, educational workbooks, a water bottle, a wristband, and other toys. While any child can order the box, Carr wants “to grow and expand” reading centers and school visits nationwide.

AfroTech spoke to Carr about Lit Buddies, using tech to keep kids reading and why Black boys are being left behind.

AfroTech: Why was establishing a foundation geared toward youth literacy important to you?  

BC: At an early age and throughout my career, my parents spoke about the importance of using my platform. I remember my first NFL game being in the stadium warming up and I’m looking around the end zones at banners of the different players’ foundation names. This is before the NFL made a big initiative recognizing these guys’ efforts off the field. I thought [to myself], this is what I always hear when a guy is having a Thanksgiving turkey giveaway and the back-to-school rallies.

I talked to my mom a few times before she passed, and she was adamant about branding. She didn’t want me to make a foundation just having football camps and “doing the job,” as she called it. And it hit home—literacy is what she was preaching from day one. When I dug a little deeper and saw the correlation between adult literacy, reading is the foundation for everything — math, science, whatever — and that’s what motivated me to go in this direction.

AT: The statistics around literacy issues are staggering. Why do you feel Black boys, in particular, are being left behind in the area of literacy?

BC: It’s a number of reasons. Resources is the main one. I saw my mom make the commitment each and every day to get her young students to the next [reading] level by the end of the school year. But it’s really just the resources and they don’t add up. I’ve immersed myself in enough schools to know that a lot of them don’t have resources. 

Another thing is the perception of the Black community and of our Black boys is that they don’t care. A lot of negative things are portrayed in the media about the young Black man. But I go into many schools and walk away with a smile on my face because these young kids can really set the tone and raise the bar for what the perception of us is. 

AT: And it’s cool to be smart. Kids are often discouraged from being intellectual and enjoying reading, but subscription boxes and programs like Lit Buddies help change that narrative. To that point, you’re also doing virtual read-along sessions on Instagram. 

BC: Yeah, I neglected social media for a very long time, but it’s a great platform to connect to these kids and their parents. When I leave schools, I’m sad because maybe a kid is having a bad day or week and just me connecting with them makes a powerful difference. I’ve only got a couple of hours before they go back home to their life of poverty or whatever the case may be and I want to keep that interaction through virtual learning. It’s a real organic way to allow the people to be with me and my 6-year-old son as we read and make reading fun.  

AT: What can kids and their parents expect when they sign up for Lit Buddies?

BC: We feature a couple of books and highlight different authors, including some of my favorites as I grew up. We want Lit Buddies to help build personal libraries and encourage our readers about the possibility of a career as an author.

Also in the box, we have some educational activity books that go along with some of the reading—workbooks, crosswords, problem-solving exercises, just different materials from sponsors and trinkets.

The biggest thing is making sure these kids get books they can read at their level. I want to teach these kids how to pick their own books, not look at the covers but open it up, read the content. With Lit Buddies, we want to make the books more personable to each child. And I’m still figuring out new ways to be able to help as much as possible. 

Editor’s Note: The read-along series will resume in mid-July. Follow the Lit Buddies Instagram page for more information.