The Chattanooga City Council’s 3 p.m. meetings are often variety exemplified. In the same meeting where the council discussed the status of legal and illegal vacation homes, Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod took time to give a presentation about an organization doing great work in the community.
Barbershop Books, the brainchild of Alvin Irby, is centered around a simple premise—create an interest in reading in young black males by putting books in barbershops around Chattanooga. Of course, the details of this organization is much more complex than this.
“Boys identify themselves as reader by connecting fun books to male-centered space and by involving black men in boys’ early reading experience,” said Jaleesa Brumfield, who is trying to combat a huge problem in the black community. “Eighty percent of black boys are not on reading level in the fourth grade, and are 3000 and 5,000 words behind their peers when they start kindergarten. This illustrates black boys are not starting at the start line, they’re starting in the back.”
She identified multiple reasons for this issue. These included limited access to engaging reading material, a lack of black men in black boys’ early reading experiences, having few culturally competent educators, and how educational systems are unresponsive to black boys’ individual learning needs.
“We all know there is a lack of black men in educational systems. Yeah, we can say everyone has a unique learning need, but in this place, we’re focusing on black boys,” said Ms. Brumfield. "Barbershop Books is a community-based program that creates child friendly spaces in barbershops and provides literacy training to barbers.”
Ms. Brumfield then gave a succinct description of the organization, describing how it “leverages the cultural significance of barbershops in black communities to increase boys’ access to culturally relevant, age appropriate, and gender responsive children’s books and to increase out of school time reading among young black males.”
Twelve different barbershops are involved in this program, including Barber Kings. Durand Wiley, who runs the barbershop, briefly took to the podium to speak about the program which has given his youngest “customers” an interest in reading.
“Considering we have a lot of black boys come through, I thought it was a great idea,” said Mr. Wiley. “Any opportunity I can have to help out our generation of kids, I’ll do it any time. We’re escalating ours, we’re putting up a shelf for older kids. It’s not just inspiring younger kids, but also older kids to start reading too, and do homework, and stuff like that.”
“Thank you. I think this is a wonderful program. I’d like to salute you and thank you for all that you do,” said Councilman Anthony Byrd.