Danny Dollar Inspires Marvel’s Newest Superhero
by Ty Allan Jackson
It’s June 2019 and I’m sitting in the basement of a St. Louis community center during the filming of a Marvel Hero Project episode. I’m waiting to meet Sidney Keys, the founder of Books N Bros and a real-life superhero. The gravity of the situation does not escape me – this moment has been three years in the making after all. Finally I get the nod from the Disney/Marvel team that it’s time for me to walk up the stairs to meet the young phenom who has inspired so many, including me.
Let me back up a little…
The Origin Story
One day in August 2016, Winnie Caldwell brought her 10-year-old son Sidney to EyeSeeMee, an African American children’s bookstore in St. Louis. Before visiting this store, Sidney didn’t often see himself represented in children’s books. That’s why he was so excited when he came across Danny Dollar Millionaire Extraordinaire: The Lemonade Escapade and saw that the main character looked just like him! Eagerly, he sat right down on the bookstore floor and started to read it. Winnie captured this moment during a Facebook live video that subsequently went viral with 65,000 views. This is how I first learned about Sidney. And I soon discovered that Sidney was just as enthusiastic and driven as Danny Dollar himself. Danny’s entrepreneurial and philanthropic spirit gave Sidney an idea…
Sidney wanted to share his love of reading with other boys like him, so he did what Danny would do: he started his own business!
With the help of his loving mother Winnie, Sidney founded the Books N Bros book club, which aims to empower boys, promote literacy, and bring awareness to African American literature. We donated copies of Danny Dollar for Sidney and his fellow Bros to read at their first ever meeting in the EyeSeeMe bookstore. Every month, Sidney sends each book club member a special box containing a new book, and then they all gather to discuss what they read. Books N Bros now has a whopping 250 members around the country, many of whom Skype into the monthly meet-ups. In just three years, Sidney has created a business that empowers hundreds of young boys.
And believe it or not, that’s just the beginning of his story.
Sidney Makes the News
Books N Bros grew because of Sidney and Winnie’s hard work and passion. But then they got a little outside help. In April 2017, NBC News did a segment about Sidney and the book club, which boosted membership enough that they needed to find a bigger space to hold their meet-ups. Later that year, he received a CNN Young Wonders Award for making such a big impact on his community. And then in December of that same year, Sidney was invited onto the Steve Harvey Show! As if that wasn’t enough, while he was on the show Sidney received a special video message from the woman herself…Oprah Winfrey!
I mean, can it get any better than that?! Turns out, it can.
A Real-Life Superhero
In April of 2019, I got a call from Marvel Entertainment. Yes, that Marvel. They told me that Sidney was going to be featured on the Marvel Hero Project, a series of short films on the Disney+ streaming service about real kids making a real difference. The segment would be called “The Spectacular Sidney.”
I was so thrilled for Sidney when I found out that his greatness would be seen on such a large scale. And I was unbelievably humbled and honored when Marvel asked me to present “Spectacular Sidney” with his new superhero gear. I knew this would be a special moment because while Sidney and I had developed a relationship over the years, we had never actually met in person.
Back to June 2019. I am walking across the room in the community center toward the amazing young man who has dedicated his young life to encouraging boys of color to embrace the power and joy of reading. When we finally hug, I notice that he is much taller than I expected. He certainly isn’t the 10 year old little boy who read Danny Dollar in the bookstore three years ago. He is larger than life. He is a superhero.
What We Can Learn from Spectacular Sidney
There are two things that help bring out the superhero in all our children. One is unconditional love, and the other is reading. Winnie introduced Sidney to books that inspired him, and she supported him when his inspiration led to a beautiful idea. The powers of imagination, hope, and wonder are enhanced with every book that a child reads. When we stop discounting the power of young people, and provide them with the tools, love and support necessary, we get to see the unique superhero in all of them.
To join the amazing Books N Bros book club, click here.
To order Danny Dollar, the book that inspired a superhero, click here.
To witness Marvel’s “The Spectacular Sidney” segment, subscribe to Disney+ and tune into the Marvel Hero Project. There you will see Sidney and other amazing young heroes who are making the world a better place.