O’Neil Curtis always knew he wanted to help shape the story of our future generations while serving as an example to his 11-year-old daughter. A graduate of Glen Oaks High School, he started working at a barbershop when he was 17 years old before attending barber school — becoming both a licensed barber and instructor.
Today, he’s the proud owner O’Neil’s Barber & Beauty Salon. Tucked into a strip mall at the corner of Florida Blvd. and Acadian Thruway is his barber shop-turned-present-day-educational experience dubbed Line4Line. Starting out in 2014 as a collaboration between O’Neil and Lucy Perera, Line4Line was born out of the recognition that students in underserved Baton Rouge communities were performing below average in reading.
Each student (ages 2-13) who visits O’Neil’s on the first Monday of each month is treated to a free haircut, but there’s one caveat: the students must first grab a book and read during their time in the barber’s chair. Accompanied by each of the shop’s barbers who helps these young students by reading along with them — taking on unfamiliar words together and relieving some of the pressure of out-loud reading some children experience in often-larger classrooms. In addition to serving as reading buddies, these barbers are examples of what mentorship looks like.
Once these students’ haircuts wrap up and the stylist aprons removed from their shoulders, they’re each offered a age-appropriate book to take home — encouraging the learning experience to continue outside of the walls of O’Neil’s shop.
And it’s not just the shop where Line4Line affects the lives of young minds, it’s also in local schools where O’Neil and his staff of barbers take the mission of the program to the community — mobilizing the initiative to expand to students and families who are may not always be able to coordinate a visit to his North Baton Rouge shop.
Already improving literacy outcomes for thousands of students in Baton Rouge, Line4Line’s impact recently received a level-up in the form of Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation’s esteemed Angel Award — a $10,000 grant which O’Neil will use to rebuild the Line4Line Library and create a safe space for children to read and receive tutoring.
Looking to the future, O’Neil has no desire to slow down or limit Line4Line’s reach; hoping to expand the program into other parts of Louisiana in the next 10 years.