Milwaukee barbershops inspire boys to read

Posted at 6:38 PM, Aug 31, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-31 21:28:03-04

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee barbershops are inspiring boys to read one haircut at a time.

The new program hopes to bridge the achievement gap for young black students in the classroom.

"In the African-American community, a barber shop is like a country club to us," said Chicago Cutz owner Ron Bell. "We exchange ideas, we exchange neighborhood gossip."

When Bell opened up his shop a few months ago he wanted to add value to the community.
Something clicked after he saw young boys file in week after week.

He reached out to city leaders and altogether they came up with the idea of sending kids home with a fresh look and a good book.

"When you read it will take you on a journey of imagination," said 5th grade student Michael Mathis. 

The focus is needed now more than ever. Wisconsin is home to the largest reading achievement gap in the nation between black and white students.

"The numbers are the numbers, so all we can do is figure out ways to change those numbers," said Bell.
When young students come in for a haircut it will be like stopping by a neighborhood library.

"You keep that book, you read it then when you come back for your next appointment you swap it out and get another book," Bell explained.

The barber’s focus is to ultimately make reading fun.

"I mostly read comics and I also mostly read fiction and gaming books," said Mathis.

"Just pick up a Batman comic book and exercise your mind the same way you exercise yourself on that football field," added Bell.

So far, two barber shops are involved in this reading campaign; however the city hopes many more will join soon. The books are provided by the Milwaukee Public Library. Dozens of books will be changed out monthly.