In the capital city of Iowa where reading literacy rates are low among black kids, a Des Moines barbershop is doing its part to turn things around.
Lance Williams Sr. of Supreme Cuts, a Des Moines barbershop, is giving $5 to every elementary and middle school student who reads a book out loud while getting a haircut in his shop. The program is called Storybook Sundays which runs on the first day of every week from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The aim is to get kids excited about reading.
“As I’ve seen it, kids love it. They don’t even want to get out of my chair when they are done reading,” Williams said in a recent report from the NBC-affiliated WHO TV. “I see they are so involved in the books.”
The barber believes this reading initiative can even help develop both the reading and writing in kids. “The magic of reading [is] I can receive it, I can retain it, I can articulate it and eventually you’ll see they can also write things,” he said.
In the same city, another man is doing similar work to help increase reading rates among black kids in Des Moines. Akil Clark is a father who decided to take a stand after learning the literacy rates among black kids in the city.
“We need to figure out what is acceptable,” he said in another WHO TV report. “If we are looking at the reading standards in the Des Moines Public Schools we have to have to as a community say, that is unacceptable for 17 % of African-American boys at the end of 3rd grade to be reading at level.”
In 2018, Clark began The Spark Foundation to help low income students build their own personal libraries. The husband father of two recognized the lack of diversity in childrens’ books and revealed how that could negatively impact them.
“For students who don`t have the opportunity to see themselves reflected in books, it starts to create an idea in their mind, ‘Am I not worthy?’ Is there a reason I`m not seeing myself reflected in the book?'” he said.
The mission statement from the nonprofit organization explains its dedication to provide free books to children.
“At Spark, we believe that a child’s opportunity to develop a personal library is something that should not be determined by their family’s economic status. As one of our core beliefs, Spark is dedicated to ensuring that every student in our community is able to obtain books that they are personally interested in, free of cost,” the organization states on its website. “Studies show that students with their own personal libraries are more likely to achieve educational success. The benefits of helping students acquire their own library far outweighs the cost.”
Leslie Christensen, a community coordinator at the local Monroe Elementary School in Des Moines, revealed why the work of Spark is so important in motivating kids in the community to read.
“For them to have a community partner that`s bringing in books full of people who look like them and for volunteers to come and read to the classroom who look and sound like them really makes a difference in the conversations they are having in their classes. Instead of talking about their differences they start talking about the things they have in common,” Christensen said.