Located at the intersection of community and identity, the barbershop provides an important, if perhaps unexpected, venue for dialogue and civic engagement. Last Fall, Frederick Douglass in Newburgh Project joined forces with several barbers to conduct a series of talks on citizenship called Barbershop Conversations, all of which were well attended. Inspired by the barbershop’s position as cultural and social hub and encouraged by the success of these talks, we aim now to use the energy generated by a citywide movement centered around increasing civic engagement to embark on a project that will have a lasting impact on the youth of our community, and we believe barbershops will be the perfect strategic locations for a constellation of small libraries, making good books more accessible to our youth.
Spearheaded by Gabrielle Hill, we plan to put libraries in 5 barbershops across Newburgh (Krispy Fresh Cuts, Razorsharp, Faded, Cross Cutters, and The Lion Den), meeting the community where they already are and helping facilitate education outside the classroom to foster a sense of civic engagement through literacy.
In short, here’s how it will work: we’ll supply punch cards and books (with age-appropriate themes of citizenship, bullying, responsibility, and acceptance); our partnering barbers will hand out the cards, punching them for every book read in the barbershop; when the reader fills up their card, they’ll get a free haircut!
Frederick Douglass’s first significant step toward freedom was learning how to read, which he did not from a textbook in a classroom, but on the street, from neighborhood children, when no one was looking. Our goal is simple, but, we believe, fundamental: put more books into the hands of our community’s youth, for in learning how to read, we learn how to be free.
Funded by Newburgh, NY (September 2019)