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magazine home > archives > spring 2004 > features

What do books, barbershops and boys have in common? They are all key components of a new nationwide reading initiative created by professors in the U of M's College of Education.

On the Cutting Edge
by Blair Dedrick

The 4-year-old boy is enveloped in the blue styling cape as the clippers buzz over his head at Highland Park Progressive Barber and Style Shop in Memphis. An older boy, while waiting his turn in the barber chair, is reading Bugs for Lunch by Margery Facklam to a man sitting beside him.

Muhammad and Kareem
4-year-old Khamar Kareem can hardly wait for barber Salahuddin Muhammad to finish cutting his hair so he can check out the books at Highland Park Progressive Barber and Style Shop.

Across town, a little boy climbs into the barber's chair, impatient to get his hair cut so he can finish listening to a book reading.

And at a third shop, Napoleon's Barbershop in North Memphis, Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton reads to young and old patrons and proclaims the day as "Boys Booked on Barbershops Day."

Scenes similar to these played out in more than 80 cities across the country on Feb. 2—testament to an ambitious literacy program a University of Memphis faculty member is taking nationwide.

"The launch was absolutely amazing," says Dr. Sabrina A. Brinson. "The Memphis community demonstrated amazing support for B-BOB."

Brinson, a U of M assistant professor of instruction and curriculum leadership, developed Boys Booked on Barbershops (B-BOB) as a way to promote reading among boys.

Brinson says that the objective of B-BOB is to motivate boys to read by providing them with a wide variety of books on many topics, and by letting them see others in their community reading.

"If a child knows how to read and isn't, then the problem is motivation," Brinson says. "Children learn through people who are meaningful to them. This is an opportunity to expose them to reading in the community and for them to see adults reading."

Brinson's idea came from a friend in Florida who noticed that she always had to pack books when she took her son to the barbershop. The friend began providing the barbershop with children's books, and her son noted that other children were reading them. Brinson sees the program as a natural opportunity for children to read and be read to as they wait for their turn in the barber's chair.

B-BOB's launching complements efforts of another national literacy program with U of M roots, the African American Read-In Chain. Created 15 years ago by Dr. Jerrie C. Scott, a U of M professor of instruction and curriculum leadership, the chain promotes literacy among African Americans. A chain of readers across the country holds reading sessions that might include a grandmother reading to her grandchildren or an event that encompasses the entire community.

The Read-In Chain "is a once a year celebration of what you've been doing all the time," Scott says. "It is not in any way an indication of only doing it once a year."

The program has spread to 48 states and Germany and has allowed some books by African-Americans to stay in print longer.

"We want to show children that reading doesn't just happen in school, it happens in the community," Scott says.

B-BOB is following in the footsteps of the Read-In Chain by going national, with the help of the humanitarian organization Top Ladies of Distinction Inc. TLOD adopted Brinson's brainchild as its signature literacy program. Barbershops in such cities as Dallas, Houston, St. Louis and Tampa signed on and made their shops available for the launching. Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. has joined the effort as well.

"Our motto is achievement," says Billy Brown, president of the Germantown, Tenn., alumni chapter of the national fraternity. "Our founders were schoolteachers so it is important we are a part of anything that will help boys to read."

The fraternity members are volunteering their time to read to boys at the barbershops and members who own shops are providing locations.

Brown, who was urged to read as a child through his church and school, says it is important to encourage young boys to read out loud and silently.

"As men in general, we are trying to touch the lives of other young men and help them to be better men," he says. "This is an important program in getting boys and young men into the joys of reading."

Melvin Woods, the owner of Highland Park Barbershop, says he will put his clippers aside for a few moments each day to help with the effort.

"It's for the children," he says. "For them to gain more knowledge and awareness and to help them with their reading skills."

Woods plans on reading with or to his young patrons to help them gain a better understanding of what they are reading.

Ibrahim and Priest

12-year-old Jabriel Ibrahim reads to University of Memphis professor Ronnie Priest while he waits for his turn in the chair.

Salahuddin Muhammad, a barber who works at Highland Park, likes that the program promotes friendships between men and children.

"The program helps foster bonding time with men working with children," he says. "B-BOB tries to engage men to mentor the children and at the same time foster reading."

Muhammad, who is also a teacher's aide at Hadley Elementary School in Memphis, sees the program as another way to help keep children out of trouble by providing them with good role models.

First Book, a national program that provides books for children, has given B-BOB a grant to provide reading materials to the barbershops. The books selected for the program are carefully chosen to address topics ranging from self-image and character-building to mystery and just plain fun, Brinson says.

"The books are tailored to draw boys to the books—to pull them into the practice of reading," Brinson says. Included are books that generate strong interest and other titles by various ethnic and beginning authors. Titles include The Best Way to Play by Bill Cosby, A Color of His Own by Eric Carle, Salt in His Shoes—Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream by Deloris Jordan with Roslyn M. Jordan and The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. The books are chosen based on demographics research done by Brinson that shows what cultures and communities the barbershop serves.

"The goal is to advance literacy in all children," Brinson says, noting that many books can be provided in Spanish.

First Book has also begun providing free books to barbershop patrons. Each child who attended the launch was given a copy of Uncle Jed's Barbershop by Margaree King Mitchell.

Brinson emphasizes that the February startup was just that—a launch.

"This is an ongoing, viable program," she says. "And it is steadily growing."

Brinson is working on a connected project, Girls Booked on Beauty Shops, which she plans to launch soon. It too will emphasize the joys and benefits of reading.

For more information on B-BOB, contact Brinsonat 901/678-2945 or at

For more information about the African American Read-In Chain, contact Scott at 901/678-5490 or at


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