If you’ve been waiting to crack open that new book you recently bought, you won’t find a better day to do it than September 6, National Read a Book Day. This particular date was set aside as a day to remind us all that sometimes the best thing to do is set aside screens and other distractions and just crack open a book to enjoy.
Unfortunately, not everyone is able to enjoy this day easily. Many people across the world and in the U.S., young and old alike, face personal and institutional barriers that hinder their ability to read. In America alone, nearly 21% of adults can be classified as illiterate or functionally illiterate, and nearly two-thirds of fourth graders read below grade level.
Good samaritans throughout the U.S. have identified the need to foster literacy across all age groups and have answered the call. People like DeJaneira Bailey, Manning Bailey, and Kelvin-Edward Moore, founders of Bailey’s Bookworms.
This Texas-based initiative aims to promote literacy by providing physical books to adults and kids alike. Their hope is that by helping promote a love, desire, and ability to read, people will gain self-efficacy and gain a lifelong skill that’s beneficial for generations.
We chatted with DeJaneira Bailey about the story behind Bailey’s Bookworms and how they’re hoping to do their part to increase literacy among all ages.
How did Bailey’s Bookworms start, and why did you choose this cause?
We started in April of 2021. Before then, I had come up with the idea to start a business selling new and gently used books while I was finishing up my last semester of college. I was working towards a degree in Psychology and feeling overwhelmed at the thought of finishing school. I took some time off because I wanted to focus on helping others.
My husband and I talked, and we took my initial idea of a book-selling business and transformed it into Bailey’s Bookworms. We saw it as a great opportunity to help others by promoting literacy and giving books to children and adults in low-income areas. That’s why we provide our books at no cost and include everything from textbooks and SAT and ACT prep materials to fiction, nonfiction, self-help books, and more.
Knowledge should not have a price.
You started Bailey’s Bookworms before finishing college. Why continue after getting your degree instead of going into a more traditional career path?
I chose to study clinical psychology for the same reason I chose to start Bailey’s Bookworms — I want to help others. My work with Bailey’s Bookworms helped me use my skills and personal touch to aid others on an immediate and material level. I’m happy and proud to have gone back to college and completed my degree, but I knew that given the choice between continuing to provide help to communities who need it and having to take time away from that to gather further credentials, I would always choose the former.
The world is always changing, and so many people need help now. I didn’t, and don’t, want to wait to make even a small difference in someone’s life.
And obviously for you, literacy helps make that difference.
Of course! We chose to focus on literacy, both in children and adults, because it’s important not only for education but for self-efficacy, or the way that individuals exert control over their own motivations, environment, and behavior. People in low-income areas tend to deal with hardships that make them feel as if they’ll never become anything more than what they see, hear, or feel inside.
Books offer entire new worlds and ways of thinking by exposing people to diversity, love, adventure, and even skills. They’re an invaluable resource people can use to help form a better mental state. Providing these resources for free helps push everyone to an equal starting line, instead of having one community standing above others because they happen to have the funds to pay for certain programs.
Does anyone in your life play a role in supporting your involvement with Bailey’s Bookworms?
My husband is one of the founders alongside myself, and both our sets of parents have been greatly involved as inspiration for our pursuits. Personally, my parents instilled in me a strong belief that better opportunities were always there for the taking and that I could unlock those possibilities through education.
My dad used to tell me again and again that education would get me to more places than any trade or sport could. He was a high school football star, but he always regretted not studying harder or applying himself by reading and expanding his mind and possibilities. His words stuck with me my entire life and were part of the inspiration for me to expose kids and adults to the possibilities in their own lives and to the tools they need to grasp them.
More immediately, my younger brother Kelvin is a huge help. Even at 11 years old, he saw the importance of reading and wanted to join my husband and myself in the joy of helping others gain that knowledge. That’s why he’s also considered a founder of Bailey’s Bookworms.
It's amazing that he wanted to be part of this at such a young age. What exactly is his place in your organization and how does he help?
Besides being one of the founders, Kelvin serves as an example of the power of physical books by speaking from personal experience about how books have expanded his mind and helped him see the importance of improving his education.
Was there a specific moment where things clicked for you and you realized this is what you wanted to devote your time to?
My desire for helping others and even my realization of the importance of literacy really goes back to childhood. I talked about the inspiration I received from my parents, but I was also affected by my environment. I grew up in a low-income area and then moved to a middle-class area with better funding for literacy programs. The differences were significant and obvious even for a young person.
I realized quickly the role that funding played in higher income areas that could afford to promote programs with a focus on education. To say nothing of the decrease in environmental stressors that are often part of everyday life in lower income areas. Many good programs exist there too, of course, but sports are often seen as the only escape from the environment.
I took the lessons from those moments with me, and when I had the opportunity to do so, I chose to help people see that literacy is a great road to independence and inner peace.
What has surprised you most about working to improve literacy in children and adults?
The most surprising thing has been seeing firsthand just how connected literacy is in the world and especially the economy. For those of us that had the opportunity, learning to read and developing a love for books and research is almost an automatic process. Even just in the first few months of Bailey’s Bookworms’ existence, however, I realized how many children and adults around us locally can’t say the same.
The resulting struggle with education and work, with some people unable to get a well-paying job due to a lack of literacy, has been eye-opening to see. It can be especially challenging because while many individuals know how important reading is, it can be difficult to show how and why literacy affects personal and societal factors to success.
What motivates you to stay involved despite these challenges?
I try to remember that everything worth having doesn’t come easy, and that there’s a process to building a great organization that helps others. It also helps to think back to some great moments that we’ve already had.
For example, our first set of donations came from the student body of Tarrant County College. Sending out those emails asking for donations and seeing the kindness and support of the students is my first major memory of Bailey’s Bookworms and one I’ll treasure for years to come.
Taking these experiences into account, do you have any advice for others looking to create their own nonprofit organization?
Make sure that the goal you’re trying to achieve is genuine. Recognize that the process of building up an organization is slow and takes patience and endurance. However, don’t let that discourage you from starting. I wish we could have started this organization sooner so that we could reach more people more quickly, but I know that as we continue growing, we’ll touch many lives.
How can readers help?
We currently accept new and gently used books by mail. We do ask that donors contact us by email at [email protected] before sending a shipment.
We also accept monetary donations at https://donorbox.org/help-us-make-a-bigger-impact-in-our-community.
Do you have a final message to share with readers?
Never judge a book by its cover!