Love of Reading Motivates Student to Create a Niche Book Club

Sidney Keys III holds up bookPace Academy Sidney Keys III is in his senior year and has been busy as co founder of Books N Bros book club in addition to authoring a book, ‘‘Books N Bros 44 Inspiring Books for Black Boys’ which is available on loan through Pace Academy library, available to purchase through Amazon and signed copies in the Alpharetta, GA Barnes and Noble bookstore. Keys says he’ll want to continue to evolve and mature the book club while attending college and beyond because books about the African American experience should be readily available to young readers as a way to identify with their culture. Photo by © Margaret Waage

By Margaret Waage

The idea of creating what you want to see in the world is one Sidney Keys III, of Marietta,
Georgia embraced early in life and he continues to nurture. Sidney, at 10 years of age, loved
reading but couldn’t find books to identify with. “I was interested in finding books I could see
myself in,” Sidney said.


Originally from St. Louis, Sidney with help from his mother, Winnie E. Thompson (Caldwell),
discovered the EyeSeeMe bookstore which carried a variety of children’s books about African
American culture and history. The EyeSeeMe, is the only children’s bookstore devoted
exclusively to promoting positive African American Images and African American History while
advocating for Academic Excellence.


“When my mom took me there, I felt like a whole new world opened up to me,” Sidney reflected.
The illustrated stories were so appealing and easily relatable for the young reader. Sidney was
excited to find books he could identify with and where in the stories he read, people looked like
him. “I wanted to share what I experienced and to talk about the books with my friends,” Sidney
reflected.

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Sidney thought joining a book club would keep the inspiration and learning going forward. He
asked the owners of EyeSeeMe where could he find a book club. When learning the EyeSeeMe
bookstore didn’t have a book club Sidney did what most youngsters would do, he asked his
mom if they could create their own book club.


The Books N Bros book club was formed in 2016 and became the ‘first and only youth-led book
club for boys to explore stories curated just for them from African American books’.
The founding of Books N Bros and a huge boost of interest in the club’s success can be
attributed to their initial first visit to the EyeSeeMe bookstore. Winnie worked as a blogger and
frequently used social media to speak about positive messages.

Winnie took to recording the bookstore’s ample book selections while Sidney happily read, “Not to blog about it but to document a wholesome moment and time we shared,” said Sidney. The Facebook Live video resulted in a viral viewing audience and contributed to their idea of forming the Books N Bros book club.


“We’ve been able to grow our platform on social media where we can reach boys all across the
United States and all across the world and reach different programs that have helped Books N
Bros grow as well,” said Sidney. The club first started out with seven boys and has now grown to
over 700 members internationally.


Books N Bros initially geared its intended audience for boys ages 7-13 and has now expanded
the age range from 7-17 years of age and perhaps older in time. The Books N Bros book club
was set up as a subscription-based model in order to reach boys where they live. Live monthly
meetings were first held at the Ferguson Youth Initiative and now that Sidney lives in Georgia,
the meetings are held at the Saltbox, located at 1314 Chattahoochee Ave NW Atlanta, GA.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, meetings were held online for about 2 years, and have now
resumed in person, thankfully, said Sidney. The meetings are free to attend but membership is
encouraged to sustain the learning and brotherhood experience.


Sidney, now 17, curates all the books that are delivered directly to members each month. Topics
range from sci-fi, graphic novels, fantasy, historical fiction, and biographies. The approach to
selecting banned books is to welcome them, Sidney explained. “We love books that can capture
the African American diaspora and teach that to our boys in a way that’s helpful. Banned books
don’t necessarily mean that it’s a harmful book. It just means the book may not be appropriate
for the school that it’s banned from. The information inside the book can still be beneficial to the
boy reading it, it just might be a more mature read,” said Sidney.


Book choices are specifically segmented toward each age group. The monthly meetings that
follow are a way for readers to discuss the book and what they think about it, with a mentor who
can provide a positive role model for club members.


To allow for more inclusion, Books N Bros created the nonprofit Chub Cares, named for
Sidney’s late uncle, Anthony ‘Chub’ Caldwell who passed at 19. Caldwell didn’t have the support
he needed as a young student which could have been a life changer for him. Chub Cares is a
way to sponsor a bro through ‘Adopt a Bro’ (provide books, customized curriculum, and youth
led workshops) for 3, 6 or 12 months.


Additional goodies are included in the monthly shipments such as a unique curriculum
developed specifically around the monthly content, snacks, and treats such as cookies made by
black-owned entrepreneurs.


Sidney authored his first book titled, ‘Books N Bros 44 Inspiring Books for Black Boys’ which
was published January 3, 2023, and is available on Amazon, or signed copies at the Alpharetta
Barnes and Noble bookstore. Topics in the book include financial literacy, black history, and
graphic novels. Sidney is interested in writing another!


Sidney has a full senior school year ahead of him at Pace Academy with college to follow, where
his sights are set on continuing his education at Howard University or an HBCU. Sidney wants
to pursue English, Business, Education and News Broadcasting as areas of study in addition to
continuing to evolve and mature the bookclub wherever he goes.


The book club and Sidney have both flourished and it’s likely their respective successes are
reciprocal factors. Sidney was selected to be included in the Marvel’s Hero Project, which
highlights young men across the country who make positive changes in their communities and
turns them into superheroes. Additionally Sidney was named a 2023 Prudential Emerging
Visionary and was awarded $5,000 to help take his innovation to the next level.


“There’s an extent a person shouldn’t be locked into their devices only. Books can provide a
different aspect to life, especially if you don’t have the opportunities to travel the world. You can
travel anywhere you want through the pages in a story. Some people who don’t realize that may
find that comfort in a phone. There are better ways to expand your horizons and perspective on
life through reading,” said Sidney.


To learn more about Books N Bros book club and Chub Cares Adopt a Bro sponsorships, visit:
https://www.booksnbros.com/.

To register for the next meet up scheduled for Sunday,
September 24 from 4-6PM at the Saltbox visit: https://www.booksnbros.com/new-events-1

To know more about the Discover Prudential Emerging Visionaries application process that
expands financial opportunity visit: https://www.prudential.com/links/about/emergingvisionaries

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