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Milwaukee Public Library Teams Up With Barbershops To Provide Kids With Books

LaToya Dennis
Chicago Cutz also gave out free haircuts to kids headed back to school

Books in barbershops are rolling-out in Milwaukee. It’s an effort to help close the city’s black white student achievement gap – one of the highest in the country. Organizers say it’s not what you read, only that you read.

There are a lot of things you might expect to find at a barbershop. The buzz of clippers, conversations about politics or community happenings, but not a library, that is, until now.

Ronald Bell owns Chicago Cutz in Milwaukee on 62nd and Capitol. “Our goal is to decrease the reading gap between students who are scoring very high reading scores versus lower reading scores," he says.. So we’re just trying to make reading fun in the barbershop by bringing comic books or just different fun magazines that kids can read besides reading geography books or big novels."

Credit LaToya Dennis
The Milwaukee Public Library will swap out the books monthly

The program is the brainchild of Alderman Cavalier Johnson.

“I’ve been getting my hair cut for a number of years, and what I’ve noticed is that it doesn’t matter whether you’re the common council president, it doesn’t matter if you’re Jimmy from the block, we all go to the barbershop, especially young African American males. And so this is a way for us to reach into the community where they are, to put books in the hands of young people where they are, to help them increase opportunities for reading, to improve literacy and to improve education,” Johnson says.

In order to keep the options fresh, the Milwaukee Public Library will swap out the books every month. Right now, the custom built shelves are holding the likes of Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, Super Hair-O and the Barber of Doom and one of the alderman’s favorites… “I made sure that the Batman book was dead front and center because I’ve loved Batman since I was five. I got a barber who loves Batman too, so I’ve got to make sure I give a shot out to Batman,” Johnson says.

Now when it comes to the actual kids here for haircuts, Batman was not their favorite…

Dairyon Brown, a fifth grader at Carver Academy, selected Goosebumps and Diary of the Wimpy Kid. He says though he's read them before, they are very interesting - scary and funny.

And as for third grader Darrion Nelson, he was more attracted to the title of the book he chose - Captain Awesome.

But there was one book the two kids have in common… “I want to be Diary of a Wimpy Kid because he goes in the fifth grade,” Darrion says.

The Barbershop and Books program is now available at two locations, Chicago Cutz at 6228 W. Capitol Dr. and Classic Kutz at 2919 W. Villard Ave., and city leaders say they hope to model it at more.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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