MBE Spotlight: Irene Smalls

Growing up in Harlem, New York in the 1950s, Irene Smalls experienced and lived through segregation, integration, racial violence, the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, and present-day racial conservatism. These experiences affected her at a young age and continue to influence the career she has made for herself. 

Irene Smalls is a Black Historian, Author, and Activist. She received an MBA in Behavioral Science and a Black Studies degree from Cornell University. She became the founder of the Cornell Black Alumni Association and Wari House—the first official Black women’s residence on an Ivy League college campus. She led the first Black student protests at Cornell University, protesting the mistreatment of Black women in Cornell’s Balch Dormitory. 

After college, Smalls found her passion as an advocate for equality in education and healthcare for children from communities of color. Through her research, she found that populations with low literacy rates also tended to have poorer health outcomes. 

As an award-winning children’s author and a health enthusiast, Smalls recognized the clear connections between health and academic achievement. To highlight the intersectionality between literacy, physical movement, and overall health, she created Literacise and developed the Literacise Read-y Fashions exhibits. Through these programs, she works to create a brain-body-book connection to help children succeed. 

As part of her continued scientific research, Smalls realized that learning and health are also vitally connected to sleep. It has been her lifelong mission to address these issues through her books and speaking engagements. Recently, Smalls launched her own bedtime book imprint, with the first title in the series being, “An Affirmation Nite Baby Nite.” 

Irene Smalls has published more than 17 books for children. In 2022, she became the winner of the ‘Mom’s Choice Award for Excellence in Children’s Publishing’. She has also written four Black History picture books for children from stories sourced from original enslaved narratives as a part of her 12 Months of Black History picture book series. 

The exceptional knowledge and work that Irene Smalls has made has earned her features in PBS’ Stories from the State, Newsweek, People Magazine, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Essence, Ebony, Jet, The Chicago Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, Black Enterprise, and Boston Magazine. Smalls has been invited twice to share her stories at the White House and has developed literacy-oriented corporate promotions with New England Telephone, The Gillette Company, and State Street Bank.

Watch Irene Smalls speak on PBS

For more information on Irene Smalls and Literacise, please visit: literacise.com