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.
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
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
Scenes similar to these played out in more than 80 cities
across the country on Feb. 2testament to an ambitious
literacy program a University of Memphis faculty member is
"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
"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
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
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.
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
"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
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 booksto
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 ShoesMichael 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 thata
"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 email@example.com.
For more information about the African American Read-In Chain,
contact Scott at 901/678-5490 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.