During elementary school St. Louis native Sidney Keys III loved reading but rarely saw himself represented in books. His mother took him to a local Black-owned bookstore one day, and that seemingly simple dose of representation didn’t just make him feel seen. It motivated him—at just ten years old—to launch a book club for boys in his community to encourage a love of reading and sense of belonging.
His Books N Bros subscription service includes a featured book of the month, reading prompts and curriculum curated by Sidney’s mom Winnie Elizabeth Thompson. “We’ve served over 770 boys in total internationally,” Thompson explains. “The boys receive monthly boxes and after the pandemic, meetings shifted to virtual.” She also explains that Books N Bros has donated more than 1,000 books to youth focused organizations supporting underserved communities.
Just in time for Black History month, Sidney Keys III—now 17—has authored his first book inspired by his own book club.
His debut title Books N Bros: 44 Inspiring Books for Black Boys provides a recommended reading list of more than 40 books by notable authors including Jason Reynolds, Angie Thomas, Nic Stone, Ty Allan Jackson and more. “When I first started Books N Bros, it was because I didn’t see myself in books,” says Keys. “Now I can say I’m helping other boys who look like me see themselves represented in stories they can escape in, and I wrote a book that can be used as a literary resource from a Black male’s perspective.” The book organizes recommendations into six literary category chapters: history, biographies, novels, short stories and poems, comics, graphic novels and superheroes, family and community and money and careers.
In the money and careers chapter, the reader is introduced to Danny Dollar Millionaire Extraordinaire. Keys describes it as “the book that helped me see myself as a business owner before I started Books N Bros.”
The book features a young man with plans to become a millionaire. “On one hand the story takes you through an immersive journey that could be deemed as an overnight success. But what I love is the financial education included,” Keys explains. “Reading this at 10 years old, it opened my mind to experiencing so much more out of life thanks to understanding financial freedom after reading this book by Ty Allan Jackson.”
Another of Key’s recommendations profiled in his book is Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. “It’s one of the first books that helped me feel comfortable with topics such as grief and trauma,” Keys explains. “The main character Will loses his brother Shawn to crime. Their story is relatable to many of us who’ve lived in or near communities where violence is common.”
Another Keys favorite is Stewart Mitchell’s Liberation Summer that chronicles Jayden Young, a young man who secures a fast food job to fund college tuition, and the experience changes his life forever. “Liberation Summer opened my eyes to the unfortunate reality of animal cruelty and the existence of food deserts in low-income/underserved communities,” Keys explains. “I appreciate author Stewart Mitchell for bringing awareness to this issue throughout this novel.”
A self-described teen social entrepreneur, Sidney Keys III is just getting started. Clearly, having worked with his mother to launch a book club, navigate associated operations and distribution needs and author and promote a book, he’s acquired remarkable leadership and entrepreneurial experience….all before his 18th birthday.
“He’s well aware of how to secure brand partnerships (his first was with eyewear company Phonetic Eyewear when he was 11 years old as his clear glasses became a part of his image),” explains Keys’ mom. “And after various media opportunities, he’s open to trying his hand at broadcast journalism in college. He’d like to have the opportunity to share other stories around the globe and afford others with a life changing experience thanks to the trajectory he’s been on.”
In the short term, Keys is focused on revisiting in-person book club meetups and encouraging Books N Bros chapter expansion around the country. While his unique experiences have strengthened critical skills like public speaking, interviewing skills, workshop facilitation and virtual organizing, his biggest lesson may have been the importance of pursuing a passion. He felt a lack of representation and inclusion and decided to do something about it. He turned a passion into an entrepreneurial endeavor. As a high school junior, his longer-term career trajectory is yet to be defined, but with his demonstrated determination and focus, one can be certain that his future will be a bright one.