Literacy initiative aims to eliminate book deserts

Barbershops and beauty salons tapped for effort to expose more black children to books.

Barbershops and beauty salons on Springfield’s south side are new centers for putting books in the hands of young readers through the work of a new nonprofit called The Conscious Connect.

Karlos Marshall and his co-founders are intent on ending what are known as book deserts in primarily black urban neighborhoods. So far the group has placed 10-20 books in four barbershops and three beauty salons in Springfield and one barbershop in Columbus through a program they call The Root. Their goal is to end book deserts in every major Ohio city by 2021.

“It’s educating, giving the kids something to do other than video games and running the streets,” said Brian Arnold, owner of BFG Barber Shop at the corner of Euclid and Lowry. “It’s giving them an important tool about life, because if you can’t read, you can’t add or subtract, you’re not going to be able to function.”

Marshall, who graduated from Springfield High in 2009 and earned degrees at Wittenberg and Dayton, huddled with his older brother Keith Marshall and fellow Wittenberg graduate Moses Mbeseha to find a way to boost cultural education. When they came across the books in barbershops idea, they were sold. But they added beauty salons to reach young girls as well as boys. All of the books have black main characters or black authors.

“To our knowledge we’re the only organization in the country to take this concept beyond barbershops but also put them into the beauty salons,” Karlos Marshall said. “Barbershops and beauty salons have always been a staple in small-knit communities. So we’re turning them into cultural resource centers of urban education.”

The short-term goals are a first location in Dayton by late July and 20 to 30 more locations spread across Springfield, Dayton and Columbus by the end of September. The group relies on book and monetary donations. They are accepting donations at gofundme.com/pennycollections.

The organization operates two other programs. In May, they took eight Springfield youth on a free field trip to the National Underground Freedom Center in Cincinnati. Marshall wants to do more trips to other black history sites. The other is a 10-week summer reading program called Cutting Illiteracy Through Culture. Information can be found at any of the participating barbershops or beauty salons or at theconsciousconnect.org.

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