In an effort to expand access to books and promote literacy throughout Pennsylvania communities, State Rep. Rosita Youngblood recently launched Books to Barbers.
A campaign to provide donated books to barbershops to encourage young boys and girls to develop a love for reading, the initiative intends to spread throughout the city and surrounding suburbs.
“Reading is the key to everything. If you can’t read, you can’t do anything,” said Youngblood during the program’s launch held at The Proper Image in Northwest Philadelphia.
“Barbershops are definitely community centers where people talk about issues. They’ve always served as social hubs and through this program we showcase that reading can can along with barbershops,” stated Bill Thomas, Youngblood’s Executive Director. “It’s a pretty simple concept. We receive donated books and send them directly to the barbershops where they are displayed for kids to read during their time at the barbershop. We have received phone calls from various literacy campaigns and look forward to making our program a more comprehensive campaign.”
Youngblood was inspired to create such a program after learning about a Bronx, New York, based initiative similar in scope.
According to 2013 data from KIDS COUNT, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation that provides data on child and family well-being, just 10 percent of African-American boys from low-income families are reading proficiently in fourth grade, compared to 25 percent of their white peers.
Darryl Thomas, who owns Philly Cuts Barbershop in West Philly and collaborates with barbershops across Philadelphia to promote community events and social change, was on hand to show support of Books to Barbers.
“It’s ingenious what Representative Youngblood has done in terms of utilizing the barbershop to attack the issue of literacy,” he said.
Attacking illiteracy and empowering his customers in the same vein as Representative Youngblood is Delaware County barber Kyle Brown.
The West Catholic High School graduate and Yeadon borough native will host the 2nd Annual Cut Down Illiteracy event, providing free haircuts to kids that present their library card. The event will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 1 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“We just want to give back to our community and encourage kids to read in the process,” said Brown, who is known for hosting toy and clothing drives for the less fortunate.
Elected officials, education institutions and faith-based groups are recognizing the power that barbershops have throughout urban areas.
Capitalizing on the influence and long-term stability of neighborhood barbers, University of Pennsylvania professor Dr. Howard Stevenson is currently working on the innovative Barbershop Project with fellow Penn professors John Jemmott and Loretta Sweet Jemmott.
The Barbershop Project has trained over 150 Philadelphia barbers to educate their young male customers on violence prevention and HIV/AIDS reduction strategies during haircut appointments.
To donate to Books to Barbers call Representative Rosita Youngblood’s office at (215) 849-6426. For more information on the 2nd Annual Cut Down Illiteracy call (610) 623-4090.
“This program (Books to Barbers) creates the perfect opportunity for our members, and the communities that they serve, to positively impact public policy in a way that does not necessitate the act of legislating. We look forward to its replication in all of our commonwealth’s urban localities and beyond,” Youngblood said. “Literacy is an important part of educating our children.”