In a winter 2020 seminar on educational inequality, Jacob Jordan (SESP ’20, School of Professional Studies MA ’21) learned access to books for young children in underserved communities was a strong determinant of whether they would graduate college.
Jordan returned to his hometown in Maine in March 2020 as the pandemic sent most Northwestern students home. Spending countless hours in his childhood bedroom, Jordan realized his old children’s books were not diverse and either had white people or animals as main characters. This realization, as well as his coursework from him at the School of Education and Social Policy, inspired him to create The Equal Opportunity Book Box.
The EOBB is a monthly, subscription-based service that provides three picture books to children ages 0 to 7. The books feature diverse characters and are centered around monthly themes like justice, respect and love.
“It was really important that we show a realistic image of America because right now, the majority of elementary school students are people of color,” Jordan said.
The EOBB partnered with Bernie’s Book Bank, a nonprofit organization and leading provider of books to underserved children in the Chicago area. The EOBB donates one book to Bernie’s Book Bank for every book sold, which then distributes the books to underserved children attending Title 1 schools around Chicago.
Jordan, who had experience selling books in high school, dove head first into creating The EOBB through The Garage, which helped him secure funding and, through various mentorship programs, held him accountable and enabled his team and business to grow.
“The Garage proved to be an invaluable resource,” Jordan said. “I felt encouraged and challenged.”
Communication junior Adala Makhulo, a student mentor at The Garage, said The Garage nurtures young entrepreneurs through various funding opportunities and mentorship programs. The Garage is a valuable resource for students who have no prior experience with startups and entrepreneurship, she said.
“It’s great to be able to have a community where people are willing to help you build your ideas,” Makhulo said.
Medill sophomore Aaron Boorstein, an intern at The Garage, said The Book Box inspired him.
Boorstein said The EOBB’s work is important because it is expanding the worldview of children by exposing them to different and meaningful stories.
“Storytelling is such a fundamental part to how we grow up and how we view the world,” Boorstein said. “The EOBB is targeting such an important issue in such a unique way.”
Jordan said in the future, he hopes The EOBB will be able to distribute books for children ages 8 to 12 and eventually publish their own books by nontraditional authors, including teenage and refugee authors. The Book Box currently sources its books from third-party publishers and wholesalers.
Jordan said he has always been passionate about educational policy. He said he believes there can be different approaches to addressing educational inequality and that The EOBB is one such approach.
“Something as simple as accessing books can really make a big difference and it can teach your kid to love reading,” Jordan said. “That is an underrated aspect of educational success down the line.”
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