Friday, October 23, 2020

Books With Barbers: A Fresh Cut For Readers

Books with Barbers – it’s easy to be drawn to this poetic alliteration and program title. Today you will discover that this is more than just a title, it is a literacy initiative that’s making an impact in our local community. In this blog post, Equity & Inclusion Team member, Debbie Taylor provides insights on the Books with Barbers initiative. Her interview with co-chairs, Dr. Ashelin Currie and Ms. Jerry Jones, Ed.S., explores the premise behind this program and its continued relevance.

~Angie Verges, E & I Corner Blog Co-host

Books With Barbers: A Fresh Cut For Readers

Two extraordinary women, Dr. Ashelin R. Currie and Ms. Jerry Jones Ed. S., coordinate Books With Barbers in Detroit through the Black Child Development Institute (BCDI) affiliate. Books are provided to a local barbershop on the eastside of Detroit so children and young men can have access to high interest books that feature characters of color. Research clearly indicates the value of books that reflect the readers’ experiences, culture and community.  Barbershops often serve as a community hub for boys, young adults, and elders. These books are fuel for the camaraderie enjoyed as patrons receive haircuts, shaves and trims.

Dr. Currie was inspired to act after learning about various literacy initiatives of the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI). She joined forces to coordinate the program with Ms. Jones, a former special education teacher with the Detroit Public Schools and a literacy activist and resource expert. Their goal is to share literature in which children can see themselves in texts, provide a strong foundation of their racial identity, and cultivate a love of books. BCDI-Detroit is intentional in sharing books that are counteracting society's narrative of African American males.

The first barbershop selected was The Final Kut, owned by Kevin Ingram. This shop on Detroit’s west side is near an elementary school and a church. The proximity to these establishments provided access to the target audience. When Mrs. Jones first approached the barbershop, the owner was not available. Undeterred, she left a compelling note with a two-dollar bill to make certain the message was noticed. It was—and Mr. Ingram was excited that his shop was selected for the first Books With Barbers initiative. The community has joined them in their effort. State representatives, Michigan Reading Association members, and other organizations joined them for a cutting ribbon ceremony held last year. The coordinators and supporters revisited the barbershop throughout the year to host African-American Read Ins and book giveaways during winter and spring breaks.

Although for a time the program was halted due to the pandemic, Books With Barbers continued to collaborate with other groups to support boys and their families. In the past, the books remained at the barbershop, now children can simply take books home. The next site for the program will be located on the east side at the community barbershop in the Ford Resource Engagement Center which is connected to a middle school. The program is seeking another site on the southwest side of Detroit. The expansion will allow even more readers to enjoy the newest haircut and a special book.

SCBWI-MI and your E & I Team will lead a book drive to help Books with Barbers stock their shelves. Look for our announcement with more information in early November! 

Ashelin R. Currie, Ph. D., is a literacy consultant with Oakland Schools. Ashelin served as the president of the Detroit Affiliate of the National Black Child Development Institute (2017-2019) and is currently the co-chair of the literacy committee.  She works extensively with children and families and other community organizations systems to improve the academic lives of students beyond the school.

Ms. Jerry Jones, Ed. S., is literacy resource expert and advocate who has led literacy initiatives, served on boards and volunteered in a variety of organizations including Kiwanis Detroit and the Detroit Public Library. She was a special education teacher for over 16 years in the Detroit Public Schools.

Debbie Taylor is a picture book author and a member of the SCBWI-MI Equity & Inclusion Team. Her work has been published in children's magazines including Spider, Cricket, and Pockets Magazine. Taylor is the author of Sweet Music in Harlem (Lee and Low 2004) and Over in Motown (Fifth Avenue Press 2020) She volunteers for local, regional and national literacy efforts.


Barbershop Writing/Illustrating Prompt

from Angie Verges

  • What has been your experience with a barbershop or salon visit? Below are some thoughts to ponder, story starter ideas, or merely a collection of words/images to use as you please. Share a peek at your ideas in the comments.
  • Write/Draw about a time you visited a barbershop or had a barbershop experience at home. What did you see inside (how did the shop look)? What were the ages of the people? Was there a unique smell? What sounds did you hear? Was your visit like a horror show, a mystery, a comedy? 
  • Where was the shop located - a busy street, secluded area, or somewhere else?

Here’s another approach for generating story ideas.

Create a story using items from the following categories:

Setting (choose 1)


Beauty Salon

Character (choose up to 2)






Object (choose up to 2)


Barber Chair



Broom & Dustpan


  1. So happy to see our chapter's involvement with Books for Barbers! This is a perfect example of leadership, partnership, and community. Thanks so much everyone!

  2. This is a great idea. Thanks for sharing about it!

  3. Thank you, Debbie, for a great blog post! Shout out to all our members: Information about the Books With Barbers book drive and book wish list posted on our website and on social media. Please consider a book donation during Nov.15-Dec.15. This is a great way to make a difference!