Nonprofit brings love of reading to boys in the barbershop

Barbershop Reading
Posted at 12:41 PM, Sep 21, 2021

CHICAGO — One mother who is driven to motivate her son to read has come up with a plan to turn barbershops into mini-libraries. Her nonprofit aims to instill a love for reading in young Black boys while they stop in for a haircut.

Ask 7-year-old Donovan Bailey whether he likes visiting the barbershop for a haircut and you’ll get a straight answer.

“Not that much,” said the second-grader.

But to help distract him from the trim, he’s been given a book.

Children here at Urban Professional Grooming on Chicago’s South Side are directed to a sign at the front of the shop.

“We ask them first to go in front and read the sign, and they follow directions and they choose a book,” said shop owner and barber Steven Williams.

Williams engages his young clients in a discussion about the book they’re reading with the promise of a secret prize.

“Some kids will just skim through a book real quick and, ‘OK, I'm done. What's the prize?’” he said.

The program "Fades, Fros and Books" was created by Chez Smith, who founded a nonprofit called the Brilliant Boys Book Club to jumpstart an interest in reading to her 10-year-old son.

“With my own son, if I say, you know, ‘Go get that book’ it was like, ‘Oh man,’ type of thing. So, I wanted to create something cool to get boys reading,” said Smith.

On average, boys are much less likely to read for pleasure than girls. For her son, book selection was key.

“The characters didn't resonate with him, so I thought it was important that people see themselves in the books that they read. So, representation is important,” said Smith.

For Donald Bailey, an educator himself, the barbershop has now become another opportunity to instill in his sons a joy of reading.

“A lot of times, they are looking at they want your phone device. They're running around flipping, kicking. But some of them now come in and run straight to the bookshelf, because they are looking for the next LeBron James book or the next Spider Man book to see what's over there in the collection,” said Bailey.

For little Donovan, the prize at the end of his haircut comes with the reward of becoming a stronger reader.

“It’s fun. It’s exciting and you can learn!” he said.

It’s that excitement that "Fades, Fros and Books" wants each young reader to nurture and feel good about, says Smith.

“They know rapping is cool. Ball playing is cool, all these different things. But really, literacy is the foundation for every career, every endeavor, anything that they want to do," Smith said.

And now, Smith hopes these trips to the barbershop will make reading cool, too.