Bookworm-turned-baller Brandon Carr is known throughout the NFL for his discipline, but his imagination is what landed him on the gridiron. It’s also inspired him to help other young people foster their love of reading through a service that comes right to their classrooms.
Before he was suiting up for the Baltimore Ravens, Carr was losing himself at local Scholastic book fairs. Growing up in Flint, Michigan each colorful character he encountered represented a step outside of his surroundings.
“Early on books were just an outlet for me,” Carr told ESSENCE. “Back in my early days I was a Bernstein Bears guy, I loved me some Clifford.”
“I was able to indulge and to kind of dive into the fantasy world, with fiction books and just different characters and have an outlet from the daily rigors and stresses,” he continued.
The tales of lives that were so different from his own were not only a temporary escape for Carr, they were an invitation. “It also inspired me to imagine and dream,” he explained.
Today, the cornerback for the Baltimore Ravens spends more time with Malcolm Gladwell and Tony Robbins than Goosebumps, but he has never forgotten the impact young adult fiction has had on his young life.
That’s why Carr created a literacy subscription box program called Lit Buddies. Distributed to classrooms in Baltimore and Dallas through his Carr Cares Foundation, each box is designed to elevate children’s reading skills and encourage them to enjoy reading. The brightly colored boxes include two books each in addition to trinkets the whole family can enjoy like wristlets, water bottles and tote bags.
Carr knows from experience that children require support and encouragement to connect with reading material.
“My world was education. My mom was a teacher. My two aunts from Flint Michigan [were teachers] as well. The daily jargon was education,” he said.
Lit Buddies provides children with the opportunity to not only transcend their surroundings, but to use the skills they’re developing to change them. Notebooks and pencils accompany the other items in the box. Once they finish the books, children can use their voices to reflect on what they’ve read.
“It’s so much information out there and I think it’s important that we can for one, comprehend what we’re reading so we can kind of digest and make our own informed decisions about our life,” said Carr.
Reading impacts “what we perceive life to be and what we want it to be,” he continued, adding that he wants the program to “lay the foundation” for a generation of informed young people because he has seen where a proper education can take you.
During visits to schools Carr uses his time in the classroom to explain how reading comprehension is an important asset in every career from the boardroom to the locker room. He dedicates so much time to giving back that he was nominated for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2019.
“Before I go into schools, I just step back in time and just try to put myself in that moment, and just reflect back to my days as a child,” he said, adding that his goal is to “keep it simple for kids.”
“Everybody wants to be an athlete. I’m like ‘OK. You want to be an athlete? Can you understand the information presented before you when you get this big contract or [if] you’re going for this big endorsement? When you got all these people coming at you for services and money?’ So I think that that makes [reading] important to you,” Carr explained. “If that’s your big dream, your big goal, then that’s why it’s important. So you won’t get taken advantage of and you can control your own destiny.”