Rome Floyd County Commission on Children and Youth Brings Books to the Barbershop

Rome Floyd County Commission on Children and Youth (RFCCCY), a Georgia Family Connection Collaborative, never misses a chance to get creative with its initiatives and, of course, involve as much of the community as possible.

The Collaborative kicked off National Reading Month with an inaugural event in Rome Floyd County. Books, Barbers, and Beauticians was introduced at two locations to celebrate Read Across America Day on March 2 with the aim of promoting literacy in a fun, functional, incentivizing way.

This was not just a one-day event. RFCCCY Executive Director LaDonna Collins explained how Books, Barbers, and Beauticians works. “When kids come to get their hair done, they choose a book to read to their barber or beautician and then they receive a snack or another incentive,” said Collins. “They’ll receive a gift card for every fifth book they read, and free barber or beautician services for every 20th book.”

“I think this is wonderful, especially during this age of COVID-19 when kids are struggling,” said RFCCCY Board member Vondell Ringer. “This is a good incentive to encourage the kids to read and get parents involved. What better place to incorporate reading while they’re sitting in the chair, under the dryer, or waiting to get their hair done. It’s a good use of their time to read instead of being on electronic devices.”

The Collaborative, along with sponsors Amerigroup and the Rome Noon Optimist Club, provided both locations with books as well as snacks and incentives for the kids. Collins said they also collaborated with Ferst Readers of Floyd County and Barnes and Noble for books handpicked for the event.

Wraps Styling Salon was the first stop on Sunday, and owner Sherica Bailey was excited to witness her shop full of happy little voices, choosing their books and practicing reading the pages before their turn to sit with her and take photos in the styling chair.

In her 10 years of business in Rome, Bailey said this event is unlike any she’s seen before. “This is a really neat experience,” she smiled. “It’s different than anything I’ve done before. There are some books about hair so the kids can gain some confidence about their hair and be happy with who they are. This is something I enjoy and can bring to the community.”

Bailey utilized the event to showcase her tribute to Black History Month throughout the shop. She displayed tools and products of the trade, as well as facts about the African Americans who invented and manufactured them. There were also cards covering various topics such as voting rights, the Freedom Riders, and school integration conflicts.

Collins said the idea for Books, Barbers, and Beauticians was inspired by a program developed in New York City called Barbershop Books. Collins explained why the Collaborative felt it was important to engage the Rome-Floyd community in such an initiative.

“One of our strategies for Georgia Family Connection is improved school success, and we decided to focus on literacy,” she said, noting that Rome-Floyd is a Get Georgia Reading Campaign community. “We have an area called Community of Hope, and at one point that one-mile radius between east and south Rome had one of the highest substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect.”

Collins added that the lack of care when it comes to a child’s hair exists as a nonacademic barrier—the type of thing the Collaborative strives to impact through strengthening families. “This event is about more than just books, it’s also about language nutrition,” Collins explained. “Just sitting in the chair with their barber or beautician and having a conversation is such a simple moment that can have a profound effect on the children.”

Jennifer Navichoque, northwest regional marketing and outreach coordinator for Amerigroup, brought her daughter to the shop. “Literacy is one of the big initiatives we love to support. We strive to help the community encourage literacy in our children—that’s why we’re here.”

Signature, the second Books, Barbers, and Beauticians location, is owned by Wartanna “Beedie” Haywood, who’s had a shop in downtown Rome for 27 years. “I love the fact that we can encourage children,” Haywood said. “Reading is fundamental, and so many kids have gotten away from it because of videos and games on electronic devices. I feel like they are losing some of the potency that has created us and made us who we are. When you read, you learn, you comprehend, and then you’re able to build on that.”

Haywood made and sported a neon green T-shirt that read “Potency” across the front, with the “o” replaced by a round apothecary bottle to represent the fundamental strength and capability found in the encouragement of literacy. “I’m excited about what we’re doing for young minds,” she added. “If they can just capture the moment and savor it, it’s going to make a big difference.”

Collins said the Collaborative is accepting donations in the form of kid-friendly magazine subscriptions such as National Geographic or Sports Illustrated Kids to add to the reading collection for Books, Barbers, and Beauticians.

“We have generations of families coming to get their hair done by Miss Beedie and Miss Sherica—people who have a good relationship and camaraderie with children,” Collins explained. “We’re going to expand. Beauticians in west Rome have already reached out to us. We are hoping that next year on Read Across America Day we’re going to include more barbers and beauticians across the community.”