Arlington, VA

Longtime Lee Highway business Mr. Moore’s Barber Shop is piloting a new program pairing kids coming in for haircuts with free books.

“We specifically chose Moore’s Barbershop because it is an Arlington institution,” said Jennifer Sauter-Price, who founded the nonprofit behind the program, Read Early And Daily. “Everyone knows about it, and he has customers for years and others who drive from far away for his services.”

The nonprofit began dropping off books at the barbershop earlier this month and lets kids pick out their favorite to take home. Sauter-Price says she handpicks books that showcase diversity and partners with organizations like First Book and Scholastic Literacy Partnerships, which buy copies for them.

“The goal is to give away as many books as possible,” said James Moore, who was interested in the idea of bringing books to barbershop to spark conversations and help teach kids communication skills.

He told ARLnow that for him it started with Dorothy Hamm, the civil rights activist who integrated Stratford Junior High School and for whom the School Board voted to re-name the school after last year. Moore says he was in the school band, which used to practice at Hamm’s house.

“When I go to practice she would always say, ‘What did you learn at school today?’ and I would say some generic answer, and she wouldn’t let me go until I told her what I learned at school,” Moore said. “So I do the same thing now.”

Moore asks kids to take the books home with them, and to give a kind of “oral book report” about what they read the next time they’re sitting in his chair.

Moore said that so far his favorite book was “Happy to be Nappy” by Bell Hooks.

“I was kind of offended at first,” said the barber. “And then I read the book and understood what it was about.”

Sauter-Price dropped off 21 books earlier this month at Mr. Moore’s. As of a week ago, kids had taken all but 11.

The shop has been a community fixture for good conversations since Moore’s father James Moore founded it in 1960 as the first integrated barber shop in Arlington.

When asked what his 86-year-old father thought of the new book program, James Moore, Jr. said his dad though it was “great.”

As for the future? Sauter-Price is planning to add more community bookshelves around town at a laundromat, the Arlington Clothesline, Mount Olivet Methodist Church, and the Arlington Food Assistance Center.

“One thought is to include a postcard with future books so families can let us know what they think by mailing back the postcard, but we are still working out those details,” said Sauter-Price.

“What will have to happen is the program will have to mature,” said Moore, who hopes to expand to books for teenagers and adults. As an avid history reader, he says he’d like to introduce more adults to books by Malcolm X and the Green Book.

A copy of the Green Book was perched on an empty chair when this reporter visited, and it sparked a conversation with several of the men waiting for haircuts who hadn’t heard of it before.

“In order to be a successful barber you have to be able to communicate with people, learn about people,” said Moore afterward.

Moore also serves as a captain at Fire Station 8 on Lee Highway and says he plans to retire next year. But when that happens, he says he’ll keep the barbershop going, and hopefully will continue the communications flowing.

“If everyone does one little thing, it makes a big impact,” he said.

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