Support Birmingham literacy. Drink good beer. Here’s how

Bridge to Hope beer with Back Forty Beer Company Birmingham and I See Me, Inc.
Doug Brown, Back Forty Beer Company Birmingham, Devon Frazier, Founder, I See Me, Inc., Kamonte Kelly, Board Chair, I See Me, Inc. Photo via Beth Cunningham for Bham Now

Beer and a good cause. Yesterday, Back Forty Birmingham teamed up with I See Me, Inc. to label, bottle and cap “Bridge to Hope,” a new small-batch beer that’s supporting a big mission in our community. I See Me, Inc. is a nonprofit that aims to stop the school-to-prison pipeline through literacy. Keep reading for all the details.

Here’s a glimpse of the Bridge to Hope action

Curious about Bridge to Hope?

Here’s how Back Forty Birmingham brewer Jake Doggett described Bridge to Hope: 

“It’s an Imperial Brown Ale, 8.5% ABV. Most brown ales are somewhere between the 5-6.5% mark, so the higher alcohol can be perceived as sweetness. We had to balance it out with a little more hop profile.

The astringencies come from darker malts including chocolate malts and other heavily roasted malts—some people perceive these as chocolate and some perceive them as coffee.

The ale is definitely a little on the sweet side but with enough bitterness so you don’t feel like you’re drinking dessert.

We’re really happy with this and how it turned out. We’re excited to be able to do this partnership—it’s something that affects our community here in Birmingham so positively.”

Eager to try Bridge to Hope? It’s available starting at 11AM on Wednesday, June 17, at Back Forty Birmingham next to Sloss Furnaces

Doug Brown, owner of Back Forty Brewing Company Birmingham, on the partnership with I See Me, Inc.

Doug Brown of Back Forty working on Bridge to Hope
Doug Brown helping to get bottles ready. Photo via Beth Cunningham for Bham Now

“With all that’s going on, I think everybody’s feeling the pain, and we’ve been trying to think of what’s a meaningful way to actually have an impact. 

We actually read in Bham Now an article about local organizations that were making an impact, specifically with minorities. My wife’s a teacher, and when we read about the mission of I See Me, it really resonated. She teaches high school chemistry, and one of the things she said to me was ‘Science and math is one thing, but kids don’t make it to my AP Chemistry class unless they have really great reading skills.’ She connected with how important the development of literacy is at a very young age. 

So we reached out to Devon Frazier who founded the organization. There’s a Kofi Annan [former Secretary-General of the United Nations] quote on their website that said ‘Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope’ and the whole name ‘bridge to hope’ felt right about what we all need and what we’re trying to accomplish in a small way here. 

We’re gonna donate all profits from this beer back to this organization. Part of today’s meeting is to have a little fun and bottle and label the beer. We also want to talk about how we can work together in the longer term in terms of helping to support their organization and make it a true partnership and not just a one-off activity.”

Devon Frazier, founder of I See Me, Inc., on literacy, the school-to-prison pipeline + Bridge to Hope

Devon Frazier, founder of I See Me, Inc.
Devon Frazier of I See Me, Inc. helping to cap Bridge to Hope. Photo via Beth Cunningham for Bham Now

Devon Frazier is one of those incredible humans who knew she wanted to be a teacher since first grade. For nineteen years, she’s been teaching in the Birmingham area, first in Fairfield and now in Jefferson County.

Once she learned about the connection between literacy and the “school-to-prison pipeline,” she made it her mission to help increase literacy as a way to make an impact on her own community. 

Children learning to love reading at I See Me, Inc.
Helping children learn to love reading. Photo via I See Me, Inc.’s Facebook page

Two years ago, she founded I See Me, Inc., a nonprofit whose “mission is to ensure that literacy is not a stumbling block for children of color in their quest for success.”

The origin of I See Me, Inc.

“I See Me started a couple of years ago out of a need that I saw in the classroom. One of the things I noticed is that my children weren’t very interested in reading, even though I was trying to bring things I thought they’d be interested in. 

I have a very diverse classroom library and one day I noticed that my books that were written by authors of color or featured characters of color were really worn and the pages were turned down. I remember being upset, thinking ‘oh my gosh, y’all are not respecting these books,’ but something kind of pulled me back and I looked at everything and noticed that these are the only ones that are being worn like that because they’re using them. 

I had this ‘aha’ moment that we’re all visual people—we’re drawn to those things that we connect to. That’s exactly what they were doing. They enjoyed reading that type of literature. 

So I began to use that as a hook in my classroom to get them engaged with reading and build their proficiency and their comprehension.”

The book drive that went viral

At one point, Devon decided to do a book drive. Instead of the 300 books she was hoping to get, she ended up with 1400 from all over the world, including Ireland. Instead of each child going home with one book, they were able to take home 3-4 books. 

“My heart was just filled with joy because I knew they would have books at home and I understood the connection between this and the success of a child long-term in school.”

Although I See Me, Inc. started two years ago, Devon realized she’d been working to connect children with people who look like them so they can understand the connection between literacy and success for many years before that.

Real Men Read

I See Me, Inc.'s Jason Eppenger
Jason Eppenger was one of the I See Me, Inc. board members at Back Forty, helping to bottle Bridge to Hope. Here he is working directly with young children. Photo via I See Me, Inc.’s Facebook page

One of the programs is called Real Men Read, where successful men from all walks of life come in and read to the children. Not only does this expose children to new possibilities for their futures—it also gives them real men they can connect with and look up to, and shows them how reading connects directly with their career success. 

Collaboration between Back Forty Birmingham and I See Me, Inc.
People from Back Forty Birmingham and I See Me, Inc. working together to label, bottle and cap Bridge to Hope. Photo via Beth Cunningham for Bham Now

About the collaboration, Devon said:

“I was so excited and honored to be chosen by Doug to want to help us continue to educate our children. One thing you’ll hear me say a lot is ‘it takes a village’ and this is him and Back Forty becoming part of our village. 

The money we receive for the sale of this beer will go to support the programs we have in schools. Right now we are in Fairfield, Midfield and Birmingham City Schools. This will help us continue to fund those programs and help us to grow and reach more children.”

Books Not Bars

Books Not Bars. Graphic via I See Me, Inc’s Facebook page

If you’d like to learn more about the mission of I See Me, Inc., you are invited to an annual event called “Books Not Bars.”

Topic: How literacy impacts the workforce
When: Thursday, June 25, 2020, 6PM
Where: Livestreamed on I See Me, Inc.’s Facebook page and YouTube channel


I See Me, Inc.: Website | Facebook | Instagram | Email
Back Forty Brewing Company: Website | Facebook | Instagram

Now tell us, Birmingham, what do you think of this new collaboration? Tag us on social @bhamnow and let us know!