Stephen and Ayesha Curry Hope Their Youth Literacy Project Will Transform Oakland

The couple is opening their first free library through their Eat.Learn.Play Foundation. It is a meaningful step, especially, for Black children.

Stephen And Ayesha Curry pose for a portrait at Franklin Elementary School in Oakland, CA. The Curry's Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation unveiled an amazing new playground, multi-sport court, and garden .
Photo: Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images

Reading is an invaluable skill. But two-thirds of U.S. students aren't reading at grade level. The earliest stages of this issue are visible during the important transitions from third grade to fourth grade, when children make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn.

And while low reading proficiency is an area of concern for students everywhere, there have been particular concerns around what this means for Black youth.The Education Department's National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), an assessment that explores how students are doing across the United States in various subjects, found just 14 percent of Black students tested as proficient in reading and only 1 percent of Black students were advanced.

Systemic issues, like the continued underfunding and short-staffing in schools with majority Black students, and disparities in discipline that rob Black youth of valuable instruction time contribute to this. The pandemic only made this worse. Now, more than two years into it, parents and educators fear that literacy has been even further impacted by remote learning.

NBA star Stephen Curry and his wife, entrepreneur and author Ayesha Curry, have taken steps to promote reading in Black communities in Oakland with their newest literacy initiative through their Eat.Learn.Play. Foundation. They say that, in Oakland, reading disparities are equally concerning, with only 15.4 percent of Black and 12.5 percent of Latinx elementary school students reading at grade level. In response, they opened the first "Little Town Library" at Franklin Elementary School in Oakland. Eventually, the effort will open 150 Little Town Libraries and provide 30,000 books to children across Northern California.

Eat.Learn.Play. was established by the couple in 2019 and its mission is to unlock "the amazing potential of every child by fighting to end childhood hunger, ensuring students have access to a quality education, and providing safe places for all children to play and be active."

They plan to achieve this by focusing on what they consider the pillars of a healthy childhood—nutrition, education, and physical activity—and bring these resources to children's schools, homes, and neighborhoods. The Little Town Libraries literary initiative is an extension of their education or "learn" pillar.

"Reading is a crucial building block to academic success and unlocking lifelong opportunities, which is why we've made early literacy the focus of our LEARN pillar," the husband-and-wife co-founders said in a press release covering their efforts. "We want to encourage kids to read by making it accessible, fun and inspirational. We hope that these free, book-sharing libraries will help plant the seeds needed to continue growing a culture of literacy for the next generation in Oakland."

Little Town Libraries expand the impact that began with the Eat. Learn. Play. Bus, a mobile resource center, launched in 2021 as a way to bring books and meals to children and families across Oakland. The bus has a free bookstore on the driver's side and distributes meals on the passenger side, including fruit and veggies gathered from California farms and meals prepared by local restaurants. It also has a basketball hoop and other activities to engage the community in play.

The Little Town Libraries project was also developed in partnership with the book-sharing effort, LittleFreeLibraries.org, a network of almost 150,000 Little Free Libraries across the globe. Eat. Play. Learn. made a considerable effort to ensure the books speak to the children's lived realities, by stocking age- and are culturally-appropriate books. They prioritize "stories that mirror the students' daily lives, encouraging them to explore their identities with curiosity and kindness, and others that provide windows to new perspectives and possibilities."

Improving literacy in Black communities requires multi-level solutions that involve kids' homes, the larger community and, of course, their schools and local education systems. Steph and Ayesha understand that improving the lives of Black and other underserved youth goes beyond improving literacy.

Efforts like these remind us that improving literacy rates in Black communities also means making sure families have their needs filled. If we want things to improve, we all have a role to play.

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