LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - A barbershop is a place where men go for a fresh cut or maybe an edge up. A lot of the time there's a wait to get in the chair, which is what sparked an idea.
Sometimes a book is just a hobby, a fun way to consume a new story. According to State Representative Charles Blake, a book is a powerful tool to advance social change.
"What we're going to be doing is bringing books, bookshelves and reading programs to barbershops across the country," said Blake.
Blake along with former classmate Alvin Irby hope to get the next generation of black men reading with Irby's Barbershop Books program. Their target, African American boys 4 to 8-years-old.
"We're not just dropping off books and bookshelves at the barbershop, we're actually going and having the training to train the barbers to be reading ambassadors. Train them how to engage the kids with reading."
U.S. Department of Education Statistics shows only 14 percent of 4th grade African American boys read proficiently compared to 42 percent of Caucasian boys.
“If we can get them on a Saturday morning or a Wednesday afternoon then we're expanding their reading program from the schools into a place where we know they're going to be with adults," said Irby.
Irby is a former elementary school teacher and Little Rock native who started the program in New York City. Both Irby and Blake hope Barbershop Books can promote change in their hometown.
"Alvin's from here, I'm from here. He went to Hall and I went to Central and we know it's something our city needs right now," said Blake.
Blake contributes another problem to a lack of black male role models. Fewer than 2 percent of male teachers in the classroom are black, according to the U.S. Department of Education. That's why barbershops can be part of the solution.
"Education, literacy expands people's goals, expands their expectations. Meet the boys where they are," said Blake.
Later this month more than a dozen barbers will gather at the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children's Library to learn the ins and outs of how to start Barbershop Books in Central Arkansas.