Black Barbers Work to Register One Million Black Men and Youth for Summer Reading in 2023

May 22, 2023
Dexter Legette, Jermaine Thompson, and Corey James, proprietor of Corey’s Barbershop of Florence, SC Dexter Legette, Jermaine Thompson, and Corey James, proprietor of Corey’s Barbershop of Florence, SC

Indeed, the black barbershop is a widely recognized cultural beacon for the African American community. But beyond providing the traditional atmosphere of comradery and even entrepreneurial opportunities, barbershops are beginning to tackle social issues that disproportionately affect black men. For example, Fatherhood, and the importance of fostering relationships between fathers and sons or children in general, as well as establishing and maintaining relationships. More recently, barbershops have begun tackling a different issue: literacy rates among young black boys.

The potential of barbershops to impact cultural change certainly isn’t lost, barbers and hairstylists as well serve as the world’s largest network of unsung social workers. They hear it all and see most. Here they see that although coined many years ago by now the late Phillip Jackson of Chicago, who echoed that no future exists in America for Black children who cannot read. Jackson was also noted for saying “Those who control the education of the children, control the future of the race.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar once said; Reading is like having a super power that just keeps getting more powerful. You can learn how to do pretty much anything through reading. Today I don't know how to catch a fish, but I read a book and by tomorrow I can. Or build a house.

In an essay written by Kareem on reading; A Call and Response; "For me, the books I read were the call—the call to adventure, to thinking, to acknowledging other points of view. But to complete the ritual, I needed to respond." My dad was a voracious but indiscriminate reader. He didn’t go to the bookstore and spend all afternoon painstakingly picking through the shelves in search of the perfect tome. He just marched down to the local used bookstore and bought books by the pound. Like hamburger. That meant that we had a large variety of books on every conceivable subject laying around the house.

Whenever I would ask my dad a question about anything, be it personal or about the world, instead of sitting me down for a Hallmark moment of father-son bonding, he would point at a book on the shelf and then go back to his own reading. Not so great for building our relationship, but awesome for making me read a vast spectrum of diverse voices about subjects I might never have otherwise even noticed.

Because of his Silent Librarian routine, I grew up with a keen interest in history, science, journalism, and fiction. I saw reading as a way to be part of this large community of people wanting to share their knowledge and their perspectives. As if the authors were all sitting in a circle talking to each other and I was overhearing the conversation. But reading didn’t allow me to fully engage with this community of voices because I was only listening.

“Call and response” is a tradition in African culture that goes back to tribal religious and civic ceremonies. It followed Africans to America and became embedded in slave songs in America and even in the black version of Christian services. For me, the books I read were the call—the call to adventure, to thinking, to acknowledging other points of view. But to complete the ritual, I needed to respond. The response would mean others would hear my voice and that would make me part of the community.

My response became my writing. In high school, I participated in a journalism program that led to me interviewing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. What I wrote about didn’t shake the world, but it shook my world. My voice had joined the social choir that sang from those books: songs of love, hope, knowledge, kindness, and compassion. I felt forever bound to the voices in those books as part of their circle and have hoped with each new work, I am calling others to join us and add their voices.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a huge Holmesian—7”2”, NBA’s all-time leading scorer, six-time MVP, Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom as well as a New York Times bestselling author, and a regular contributor to The Guardian and The Hollywood Reporter. He has written fifteen books, including children’s stories, three autobiographies, several historical works, and essays.National tests show that two-thirds of U.S. fourth graders, and four-fifths of those from low-income families, are not reading proficiently. Reading proficiency by the end of third grade is a milestone on a child’s path to high school graduation and later success because it marks the transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Students who have not mastered reading by that time are more likely to drop out of school and struggle throughout their lives.

This is has sparked barbers like Dexter Legette, Jermaine Thompson, and Corey James, proprietor of Corey’s Barbershop of Florence, SC and Shaheed’s Styles By Melinda Barbershop of Columbia, SC. (Located inside Dutch Square Mall), Jo Jo’s Barber Shop of Marion, SC. Business Leaders like James Woods of Woods Bail Bonding Company of Dillon, SC, Fred DeBerry of DeBerry Bail Bonding Company, Marion, SC, Ron Washington Tutors R Us, Columbia, SC, Marion School Board Vice Chair and owner of Precise Care Transport, Marion, SC –Nadine Harris-Foxworth, Shawn Troy, Troy’s Funeral Home of Mullins, SC, Donovan Eaddy, Marion Funeral Home, Marion, SC (formerly Davis Funeral Services and Liberty Chapel) Randy Mack, Mack’s Casket Sales, Deacon Isaac Black, Blessed Image Photography, Florence, SC, Artist Rodgers Boykin of Columbia, SC. Individuals like Attorney Linward Edwards, Florence, SC and Jermaine Tart of Columbia, SC. These individuals and business leaders have decided to sponsor registration drives, books for conversations, or to be participants in the various panel discussions that will take place in significance to the books being read.

A registration drive was held on May 6, 2023 during the annual May Day Festival held at Reid Chapel AME Church, where the pastor is Rev. Carey Grady. Registration drives are being held across the nation through June 19, 2023. A registration drive will be held on June 3, 2023 from Shaheed’s Styles By Melinda Barbershop located inside Dutch Square Mall, Columbia, SC, June 9, 2023 Jo Jo’s Barber Shop Fairlee Street, Marion, SC. Contact us to see when book fairs will be held in Charleston, Manning, Sumter, Dillon, Kingstree, Moncks Corner, or St. Stephens. A Book Fair will take place during these registration drives, accompanied by a few adult and children’s authors curated by Christopher Davis of The Reading Depot of Columbia, SC for questions, to register now, or set up a registration drive at your local community center, church school convention, or vacation bible school, contact Christopher Davis (980) 210-9448