Eastern Michigan University

Alumnus increasing literacy among Ypsilanti youth


Ryan Griffin, an '94 graduate, has developed a grassroots literacy program benefiting local youth from the seat of his barber ryanchair. Griffin, a Master Barber, owns Griff's Unlimited Cutz in Ypsilanti, and has been offering discounts to kids if they pick up a book and read aloud while getting a haircut. 

"Money doesn't make you rich. Richness comes from investing in people. So get involved," says Griffin. "Children are not required to read aloud, but if they do and can summarize the book, then they will receive a $2 incentive."

This initiative facilitates comprehension and builds confidence. He notes, that educators have stated that the program reinforces the best practice of "reading for at least 30 minutes (a day) outside the classroom."

The idea surfaced when Griffin stumbled across an article while doing some casual reading at home. It highlighted barbers in Harlem and Tampa who who encouraged children to read in their shops.

"It hit me like a ton of bricks! I kept thinking how responsible this was," he said. 

He collected 150 books from home to distribute to four Ypsilanti barbershops. The partnership was well received and followed with feedback and an eagerness to help.

"All it took was one kid at a time to make the program happen and to make a difference," says Griffin.

Griffin's next step is to encourage all area barbershops to take up the cause. But he says he wants to "stay in his lane" and keep the program small and community focused. Griffin said he wants people in the community to be the reason why it works eventually providing libraries in every barbershop. Ultimately, he wants to see improvement in the reading scores within the school district and views these efforts as a contribution.

Garnering national and international coverage on networks such as Fox News, CBS Evening News Person of the Week, BBC, NPR and Huffinton Post along with celebrity tweets, Griffin has also received endless amounts of unsolicited books and a few financial gifts. He has donated that money to elementary schools for class field trips to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the Michigan Science Center. 

Filmmaker Andrew Sacks heard an NPR interview with Griffin, visited him at his shop and presented an opportunity to tell his story through the "Grooming of a Generation" documentary, which was featured on PBS. The documentary chronicles the story of the reading program and the partnership with Ypsilanti area barbershops. 

 "As a result, my home was flooded with so many individual thank you cards from children who attended these trips. It literally moved me to tears. I didn't expect any of this. I just wanted to help," he says.

Documentary film highlights Ypsilanti barber's reading program