Taking literacy one line at a time

By Brandi Simmons (Photos by Simone Schimdt)

You've probably heard about barber shop literacy programs across the country, like this one on NPR, but did you know it's also happening right here in Baton Rouge?

Line 4 Line began in December 2015 as a community partnership between the museum and local barber O'Neil Curtis of O'Neil's Barber and Beauty Salon. In the 10 months since its inception, the program has served more than 160 boys, fostering and strengthening literacy and providing positive role models who show how reading is cool. Ages range from 2 to 13, with repeat visitors each time that eagerly read to the barbers and mentors. Healthy snacks are provided for these young readers, as well as opportunities to express themselves through art with our Neighborhood Arts Project.

“There is a lot of potential with this program, it just takes new minds coming together from different backgrounds and perspectives. It’s all about the kids, making them feel special and letting them know we care. If we can show some of these kids that we care about them, I think we can change their lives,” explained O’Neil.

During and after each haircut, photographer Simone Schmidt documents the project for an exhibition illustrating the process and outcomes. Kids are eager to have their photos taken, with their books and the barbers, happily showing off their accomplishments and fresh new style.

So why an exhibition? School and Community Programs Coordinator Lucy Perera explains. “It became obvious that we needed to continue documenting the program so we had the evidence to show its simple success—the exhibition is just a way to continue to get the word out and to recognize the many people involved. These photographs provide a peek into Line 4 Line and honors barber and co-founder O’Neil Curtis and his four barbers, Cedric Dent, Lloyd Oliver, Ramon Johnson and Todd Edwards, all of whom volunteer to come to the shop on their day off to cut hair and be true role models for the kids.”

Originally on view inside the museum, the exhibition is now traveling and is currently on display at Family Youth Service Center.

Line 4 Line is an amazing program that touches so much that the Family and Youth Service Center is about. We try to build the students up so they can see the best in themselves and we stress the importance of education and the value of it for each child to reach their highest and greatest potential. Line 4 Line has the same goals. They help the young men and boys feel good about themselves with a wonderful haircut and they do it while the young person reads.

The pictures of the program in action provided by LSU MOA have become a “go-to exhibit” at our center. People make a special effort to visit the building that have the pictures on display. They leave with a smile on their faces because the pictures reflect the joy in the kids that were the beneficiaries of this wonderful program, Line 4 Line. I’m a great fan.
— Roxson Welch, Family Youth Service Center

Even though the program is less than a year old, the museum is already planning to expand Line 4 Line. The traveling exhibition is in the process of changing as the program continues and will be on display at various locations around the city, with new photos of our rapidly growing participants. In November, we'll be starting a book club where kids select the books to read and bring home, returning the following month for a discussion—and a free haircut.

Want to learn more about Line 4 Line? We'll be profiling some of the program participants in the next few weeks, so stay tuned! 

Brandi Simmons is LSU MOA's communications coordinator.