EAST HARTFORD — - Town Councilman Jason Rojas was waiting to get a haircut a while back at 4 Our Brothers Barbershop and saw a bunch of young parents with kids waiting, too.
He said it occurred to him "why not have books for the kids to read while they wait for haircuts?" He figured it was a pretty good idea, especially in a town like East Hartford where many children are poor and may not have books at home.
"We have a great need in East Hartford to improve literacy, and I was trying to think about how to do it outside of the school day," he said.
He took the idea to Superintendent of Schools Marion H. Martinez this summer, and the Books for Barbers program was born.
The school system agreed to buy a book rack and some books and donate them to barbershops, starting Wednesday with 4 Our Brothers at 1084 Burnside Ave. If the idea catches on, they want to expand it to beauty salons in town and call that piece of it Books for Beauties.
Wednesday, Martinez and Rojas delivered the first 35 books to the shop owned by Kamarr Dullivan and three friends, Leslie Gardner, Devrin Booker and Anthony Henry. Martinez could not place an exact cost on the program, she said, until she knows whether the idea will catch on.
"This is another way to get high-quality books into the hands of children," Martinez said.
Cameron Hall, a freshman at East Hartford High School, picked out "Strong to the Hoop" by John Coy and read it while Dullivan gave him a trim.
"This makes getting your haircut more comfortable," Cameron, 14, said.
Brandon Cooke, 8, grabbed one book about animals with fangs and another about Jackie Robinson and pored over the pictures while he waited for the barber. Carl Alexis of West Hartford brings Brandon, his girlfriend's son, and his son Thaddeus Alexis, 8, to 4 Our Brothers all the time.
"This is a great idea," Carl Alexis said when he saw the books. "We read all the time, but a lot of kids don't have that opportunity."
Dullivan, of East Hartford, said barbers are important people in the community, not just because of the service they provide.
"We don't just cut hair. We listen to people's problems. We give them a voice to give their opinions," he said. "We try to live righteously and lead by example."
The shop has a lot of magazines but nothing geared to children, so the books should be popular, he said.
"The books are a start, but we'd like to do more for the community, like maybe starting a basketball league," Dullivan said.
Parents can also take home a pamphlet that details local literacy programs.
Rojas, a Democratic candidate in the 9th House District who remembers growing up in town without many books at his home, says the customers can read the books while they're waiting or take them home, too.
"We figured if the kids want to take a book home, let's let them," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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