On the first Monday of each month, Curtis O’Neil opens the doors of his north Baton Rouge barbershop and makes a deal with elementary-aged boys: He’ll give them a free haircut as long as the boys’ read a book aloud for the barbers.
“Reading is connected to every other subject,” says O’Neil, owner of O’Neil’s Barber & Beauty Salon, which is festooned with photos of black leaders such as Barack Obama, Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. “If you’re scrubbing on reading, you can’t do nothing. Everything else is going to fall short.”
As Business Report details in its new Pay it Forward feature, through his Line 4 Line program, O’Neil and the barbers who volunteer help monitor the young boys’ reading skills, serve as mentors and encourage them to work hard at school.
The north Baton Rouge native started the program in 2014 with Lucy Perera, who was coordinator of the Neighborhood Arts Project with LSU and now serves as director of learning innovation at the Knock Knock Children’s Museum. The program has been so successful that it has evolved into a nonprofit organization, which has grown from serving about 10 kids a month to more than 30.
O’Neil is no stranger to lending a helping hand and trying to make a difference in the north Baton Rouge community, where he opened his business on North Acadian Thruway at age 23 in 2003. Aside from the barbershop, he also owns and operates a medical transportation business, Louisiana On Time Transportation, which brings elderly residents to and from medical appointments.