by Melissa Fales
Having established 51 children’s libraries inside metro Atlanta barbershops through its Real Dads Read program, Fathers Incorporated is now joining forces with Little Free Library to get even more books into the hands of low-income children. This joint venture will result in an additional 50 Little Free Libraries installed at various Atlanta elementary schools, making books available to children even after school hours and on weekends.
“With this partnership, we’ll not only be increasing access to books for low-income children, we’ll also be increasing the engagement and involvement of fathers in their children’s education,” says Kenneth Braswell, executive director of Fathers Incorporated.
In 2004, Braswell founded the non-profit organization to encourage men to be more involved in their children’s lives. He says the move was in response to his experience growing up and his initial experience as a father himself. “I know personally what it means to not have a father in your life,” says Braswell, who regrets not being a more active participant in his eldest child’s life. “I was young and dumb,” he says. “I didn’t recognize the role I needed to play. When my second daughter was born, it crystallized for me the importance of my presence in my children’s lives.”
The Real Dads Read initiative that places children’s books in barbershops has been an overwhelming success for Fathers Incorporated. “Research shows that literacy in high-poverty areas isn’t due to a lack of interest in reading, it’s the lack of access to books,” says Braswell. Since children are allowed to take the books from the barbershop home and keep them, Real
Dads Read is constantly replenishing its stock, to the tune of roughly 250 books each month. “That’s exactly what we want,” says Braswell. “We want these kids to have books. We’re trying to reduce the number of book deserts, particularly in low-income communities where the majority of children do not have any books to read in their homes.”
The barbershop library project earned Real Dads Read a reputation for making a difference. Schools started calling Braswell for advice on how to get more fathers engaged in their classrooms. Last September, Braswell was at a school in Decatur when he had a big idea. “I thought that a Little Free Library would fit in perfectly with the outside of the school,” he
Little Free Library is a non-profit organization that facilitates free book exchanges and sells
simple, attractive wooden boxes to house the books, or shares the blueprints to build one. Typically hung on a post, a Little Free Library often resembles a bird house and operates much like the “need a penny, take a penny” dish next to a cash register. “The idea is to let the library become part of the streetscape and part of the neighborhood,” says Braswell.
Braswell installed Little Free Libraries at three elementary schools in Decatur, posting photos of
the events on social media. When Little Free Library CEO Todd Bol happened to see them, he decided he wanted to learn more about Real Dads Read and contacted Braswell. “The rest is history,” Braswell says. “We’ve been pretty much joined at the hip ever since. Real Dads Read will be establishing reading clubs in each of the 50 schools that will receive a Little Free Library. “We want to engage fathers with some literary activities,” says Braswell. “We’re a father agency, not a literacy agency, but one thing we do know is that when fathers read with their children, good things happen.”
Little Free Library will also be partnering with Real Dads Read on a mobile unit project that places crates of children’s books in the back of specially-marked police cruisers. “The police car becomes a mobile library,” says Braswell. “The kids know that these officers have books. It helps to create a conversation between law enforcement and the children in their community. It builds connections.”
The project is set to start in Atlanta soon. In addition to its Real Dads Read efforts, Fathers Incorporated is launching a new campaign in June called Drive to Five. “With this program, we’re narrowing our focus to fathers who are raising children ages infant to 5 years old,” says Braswell. “We believe that this cohort is where we can make the largest impact on children.” According to Braswell, non-resident dads are far more likely to totally disconnect from their children by the time the children are age five than resident dads. “Forming lasting bonds during those first five years is absolutely crucial,” says Braswell. “I’ve seen the impact that
fatherlessness has on communities, especially low-income communities. It’s devastating. This work we do is to ensure that the dads we work with are as intimately connected as early as possible.”
One aspect of Drive to Five will be to provide educational materials about responsible parenting to new fathers and fathers-to-be. The branding for Drive to Five features a superhero cartoon character named Adam, and Braswell says he wants regular, everyday dads to learn to see themselves this way. “He’s not Super Dad,” says Braswell. “Yes, he’s standing there with a cape, but he can’t stop bullets in his teeth. He doesn’t have x-ray vision. What he does have is Daddy
power. When a father reads with his child, that’s a power. When he has a positive interaction with the mother of his child, that’s another power. I want every father to understand how much daddy power he has. Each father has to activate his own powers, but he has to be aware of them first. That’s where we come in.” •
Check out more great articles like this in the June issue of Story Monsters Ink!