Broderick Johnson, head of the president’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, reads with children at a D.C. barbershop as Johnson’s own barber, Samal Israel, looks on. (Emma Brown/The Washington Post)

Head to almost any barbershop on a Saturday or Sunday, and you’re bound to see at least one kid waiting with an adult to get a haircut.

It’s down time that could easily become reading time, if only there were books around.

And so Obama administration officials partnered with nonprofit organizations to install a miniature library at Eddie’s Hair Design, a barbershop in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

“It’s something that we needed,” said Kofi Asante, who has owned Eddie’s for 24 years. “On a weekend a lot of kids come.”

Gene Pinkard is the former principal of Marie Reed Elementary, a school just a block from Eddie’s Hair Design. He used to get his haircut at Eddie’s, and he said kids often spend hours there with their parents. “It’s a nexus of community life,” said Pinkard, who now supervises principals for D.C. Public Schools. It makes sense, he said, to give them something age-appropriate to read instead of the Maxim magazines available for adult customers.

More than 20 barbers nationwide have been working with administration officials to come up with ways that they can help boost the skills and prospects of young people in their communities. Education Department officials are helping barbers figure out how they can tap into federal funds to support their efforts.

“It’s part of the idea of My Brother’s Keeper — to not only mobilize government resources, but to mobilize communities,” said John King, deputy secretary of education, referring to the Obama initiative to improve life outcomes for boys and young men of color. “Barbers and hair salon owners are very involved in their communities.”

On Wednesday, Eddie’s was crowded with a dozen second- and third-graders from Marie Reed Elementary. They had made the trek to the barbershop to celebrate the new library with a read-along with King and Broderick Johnson, who heads President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative.


As soon as they arrived at Eddie’s on Wednesday afternoon, Marie Reed Elementary School students picked up books from the new mini-library. (Emma Brown/The Washington Post)

As Eddie’s barbers looked on, the children helped their elders read aloud Dr. Seuss’s “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.” Afterward, Johnson and King gave each child a little pile of books (and a barbershop lollipop) to take home. The books were donated by the literacy nonprofits Reading Partners and First Book.

“You have the potential to do great things in your lives,” Johnson told the children, all boys, before they filed out the door.

The read-along was part of the White House’s “Read Where You Are” event, which encouraged adults nationwide to read with children and then post photos on Twitter and Instagram.

The day was meant to highlight the importance of reading anytime and anyplace, but especially during the summer, when children — particularly low-income children — often lose some of the academic ground they gained during the previous school year.