Des Moines Barbershop Making Reading Relevant Again

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- A Des Moines barbershop is doing more than just keeping customers well groomed. The barbers have a unique approach to get kids to read more.

When the need to look sharp is necessary, Lance Williams Sr. has been lining up his barbershop customers with haircuts for years at Supreme Cuts on E. 14th Street.  On Sundays, his customers like Amaru Johnson sharpen more than their look.

"I just want to get that culture of reading back. I want to make reading relevant again," said Williams.  He does this through a program called Storybook Sundays.

"That's important because it shows consistency. It shows I'm not forced to. At school I'm forced to read.  At home or at the shop, it's my decision. As people, when we choose to do things ourselves, we are more passionate about it," Williams said.

Kickstarted three months ago, for each grade school or middle school student that reads a book out loud during a haircut, Williams gives them $5.  Williams said, "The magic of reading.  I can receive it, I can retain it, I can articulate it and eventually you'll see they can also write things."   It is also money Amaru has a plan for.  "The gum packs don't really cost that much at QuikTrip, so I can buy my own Takis," Amaru said.

That excitement is also working for Williams' plan to get kids excited about books.  "As I've seen it, kids love it. They don't even want to get out of my chair when they are done reading.  I see they are so involved in the books," said Williams.

Supreme Cuts partnered with Marshall and Sons Coalition to promote reading through literacy programs.   "I want to learn more fiction so I can tell it to my friends and more to my family," Amaru said.

It is all something Amaru's mother, Toya Johnson, is thrilled about.  "Young black men have some of the lowest reading rates and it's great to see black men encouraging our young black youth," Johnson said.

Parents that bring their kids in for a haircut say one barber's plan can turn into a community's prosperity.  Johnson said, "When these young people grow up, they'll have a foundation established with members of our community and maybe come here and get their first job or maybe they come here and get inspiration for what they want to do next."

It is a future that's hopefully a cut above the rest.

"Whoever has an interest in literacy in our community, in our state, this is your program," Williams said.

Williams founded the program after seeing similar barbershops from other states organize them.  Storybook Sundays goes from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Sunday at Supreme Cuts located at 1230 E. 14th Street #1.

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