Boys who go to neighborhood barbershops in the Mobile and Pritchard, Ala. area are getting more than a haircut. They’re also discovering books they can relate to, with characters who look like them.
Freddie Stokes, a local attorney, started his literacy mission nearly one year ago. He graduated from the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University, but his own academic career got off to a rocky start.
Stokes grew up under challenging circumstances in a Mobile public housing community—in a section of the city he recalls as “the worst community in West Alabama.”
He said children there lacked positive role models in the neighborhood, and they certainly couldn’t find them in the books they read.
Consequently, it was difficult to “connect our identity to examples of academic successes from our community or from what we were exposed to in our school.” That had a negative impact on Stokes and his classmates’ self-esteem.
The future literacy advocate hated opening books and had trouble reading at his grade level. But when Stokes was in the third grade—the second time around—a teacher read a story to the class about a fictional slave girl named Addy Walker that inspired him.
His teacher, who is White, was so moved by the story that tears rolled down her face after she finished reading, Stokes recalls. She told her students that they have the power to dream and achieve that vision.
After graduating from law school, Stokes joined Teach for America, an organization that recruits college graduates and professionals to teach for two years in poor communities.
He encountered students at his assigned middle school in Huntsville, Ala. who were like him—having trouble reading and lacking a vision or hope for their future.
“I made sure that I introduced books into the classroom that my students could relate to,” he said. “I saw better results when I connected things we read about to real life stories and people my students could identify with.”
This motto guided him: “Kids can’t be what kids can’t see.”
Illiteracy among Black boys is at a crisis level, according to Matthew Lynch, dean of the Virginia Union University’s school of education, psychology, and interdisciplinary studies. In the Huffington Post, he points to a recent study by the Black Star Project that found just 10 percent of eighth grade Black boys are capable of reading at grade level.
Lynch writes that Black boys begin kindergarten “with inherent disadvantages” and move along through their schooling with a “behind the 8-ball” way of thinking.
After leaving the classroom and entering the courtroom to work as a criminal attorney, Stokes said he became “perplexed by violence.” With careful thought, he connected his clients’ violence to the low self-esteem that many Black boys develop when they find themselves devalued by society, uneducated, and having few positive life options.
He said, “I knew that if our boys read more, they would be less violent and more literate.” After reading about a barbershop books project, Stokes had “an epiphany.”
“We can’t wait on President Obama to give grants for books in barbershops,” he told himself. “We have to do the work, and we can’t always wait on government.”
That sparked what Stokes believes will become a larger movement. He was quickly able to raise hundreds of dollars from local business owners and parents who supported the idea of placing libraries in barbershops.
His goal is to place about 75 books in participating barbershops. Some of the most popular books so far include Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X; Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali; Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope, and various Dr. Seuss books.
Stokes, who’s an optimist, expects parents to find books their sons can identify with when they go to a neighborhood barbershop. Above all, he hopes to ignite a love for reading that encourages the boys to dream and achieve a successful future.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty
21 Of President Barack Obama's Best Photos Of 2015
1. JANUARY: President Obama delivers the State of the Union address with the support of vice president Joe Biden. Obama gained mass support after his joke about winning both terms.Source:Getty 1 of 21
2. JANUARY: President Barack Obama has an adorable moment with Akira Cooper at the Community Children's Center, one of the nation's oldest Head Start providers, in Lawrence, Kan.Source:Pete Souza 2 of 21
3. JANUARY: President Obama greets Prime Minister Narendra Modi upon arrival at Air Force Station Palam in New Delhi, India.Source:Pete Souza 3 of 21
4. JANUARY: President Barack Obama greets neighbors after visiting a model home at the Nueva Villas at Beverly, a single-family housing development owned by local nonprofit organization Chicanos Por La Causa Inc. in Phoenix, Ariz.Source:Pete Souza 4 of 21
5. FEBRUARY: President Barack Obama fakes a jump shot during an Affordable Care Act video taping for BuzzFeed in the White House Library. The video went viral thanks to jokes about his presidency and ultra-cool swag.Source:Pete Souza 5 of 21
6. FEBRUARY: Obama pals around with one of his biggest supporters, vice president Joe Biden. While he chose not to run in the 2016 presidential election, Obama said he would be in his corner.Source:Pete Souza 6 of 21
7. FEBRUARY: President Barack Obama talks with 13-year-old student Vidal Chastanet as "Humans of New York" founder Brandon Stanton photographs during a blog interview in the Oval Office. Obama was greatly inspired by Chastanet's comments on the popular "Humans of New York" Instagram page, where he shared his troubles finding courage in school and and life despite living in a dangerous area of Brooklyn, NY.Source:Pete Souza 7 of 21
8. MARCH: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama join hands with Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. as they lead the walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches, in Selma, Ala., March 7, 2015. Malia and Sasha Obama join hands with their grandmother, Marian Robinson.Source:Pete Souza 8 of 21
9. MARCH: Obama is a classic man as he puts on a green tie in observance of St. Patrick's Day.Source:Pete Souza 9 of 21
10. MARCH: President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the event to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.Source:Pete Souza 10 of 21
11. APRIL: During the Correspondents' Dinner, his anger translator - played by Key & Peele comedian Keegan-Michael Key - helped Obama get out his biggest frustrations.Source:Pete Souza 11 of 21
12. APRIL: President Obama arrives in Jamaica to meet with the 15-member Caribbean Community. His trip marked a first for the sitting president and second since the country's independence.Source:Getty 12 of 21
13. APRIL: Obama speaks with newly appointed Attorney General Loretta Lynch in the Oval Office.Source:Pete Souza 13 of 21
14. JUNE: President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are seen talking during the president's trip to the G7Summit in Bavaria, Germany.Source:Getty 14 of 21
15. JUNE: President Obama sings "Amazing Grace" during the eulogy for South Carolina state senator and Rev. Clementa Pinckney during Pinckney's funeral service. Clementa was one of the nine victims who died after suspected shooter Dylann Roof entered the AME church and opened fire.Source:Getty 15 of 21
16. SEPTEMBER: President Obama is featured on the popular show "Running Wild With Bear Grylls." Obama took the trip to highlight the importance of climate control.Source:Getty 16 of 21
17. SEPTEMBER: The First Couple serve as "love goals" at the White House's state dinner for Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Madame Peng Liyuan. Obama and Xi announced an agreement on controlling climate change and a mutual outlook on cyber security.Source:Getty 17 of 21
18. OCTOBER: President Obama meets with Ahmed Mohamed, the student who was detained by Texas police for his homemade clock. The president stood by the teen, who many believe was the victim of Islamophobia.Source:Getty 18 of 21
19. NOVEMBER: President Obama issues a warning to his critics who "pop off" at his policies towards Syrian refugees. Speaking at the OP 21 United Nations conference on climate change, Obama welcomed his Republican critics to the White House to lay down their own policies. No one has responded.Source:Getty 19 of 21
20. DECEMBER: President Obama addresses the public from the Oval Office regarding the San Bernardino shooting.Source:Getty 20 of 21
21. DECEMBER: All grown up! The First Family, including Obama's mother-in-law Marian Robinson, is seen at the White House's national Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 2.Source:Getty 21 of 21
Alabama Attorney Hopes To Ignite A Love For Reading Through Barbershop Books Project was originally published on newsone.com