The other day on the news I saw a supreme example of what is making America great again.
The small town of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, with its roughly 5,000 people today, was founded when a gentlemen by the name of George (Coots) Kutz purchased 130 acres of land roughly 75 miles northwest of Philadelphia on June 16, 1755, 20 years before our Declaration of Independence was even proclaimed.
Kutztown is much like so many small towns around our country: full of great American pride, patriots and hard workers who built their lives and livelihoods upon small-town family values. You know, the type of people that Obama once accused of “clinging to their guns and religion.”
Kutztown is 18 miles southwest of Allentown and 17 miles northeast of Reading. The median household income in Kutztown is roughly $35,677 annually, with per capita income being about $18,803. The Kutztown Police Department consists of a dozen or so full-time officers, and the Kutztown Fire Department is made up of a 30-member volunteer fire department with six pieces of equipment.
What makes Kutztown a cut above the rest is its City Cuts Barbershop and its owner, Jonathan Escueta. In an area known for Pennsylvania German, folk festivals and funnel cakes, Jonathan and his haircut homies offer a place to get an urban-style do.
As his website explains, “The store specializes in what Escueta calls haircuts from center city, with features that include buzz cuts, close trims, fades and sharp-angled facial hair.”
The barbershop is anything but traditional. Again his website explains: “A couch and loveseat face a wall-mounted, flat-screen television, which is hooked to an Xbox. Copies of hip-hop-themed magazines XXL and Vibe share a table with the National Basketball Association-centered Slam. A Nerf basketball hoop hangs above the two barber chairs.”
But what really makes the barbershop unique is its personnel. Escueta himself is far from a cookie-cutter millennial who’s just trying to bring a little city to the country. He and his crew are investing in youth, and making a big difference.
As Fox News reported this past week: Escueta “launched an initiative aimed at building his young customers’ self-esteem by having them read out loud while getting their hair cut.”
Escueta and fellow barber Jerry Brown actually started the practice last year when they began offering children $3, a free book and a piece of candy if they read out loud while getting their haircut.
He explained to the Reading Eagle: “We had this one kid who used to come in here with his mom and wouldn’t say a word the whole time. The first time he read a sentence, and last time he was here I think he read three chapters.”
“We have kids who come in and want to read no problem, but it’s the shy kids that will make a little bit of a difference in their lives,” Escueta said to WFMZ-TV
Escueta got the idea while he was coaching youth basketball: “We had to pick one out of the group and made him speak to the team by themselves. It helped tremendously because they started communicating toward the end of the season.”
The reading program is also very personal for Escueta, who confessed he too once struggled to speak up until he started coaching: “I had to give the kids directions and tell them the game plan so I had to work on my confidence,” adding “We want [their] confidence to grow, so when [they] get to being an adult, they’re not as shy … as myself.”
Apparently, the program is becoming so popular that children’s book authors are even contacting him now “to collaborate and offer editions of their books to have in his shop,” Fox News reported.
If that weren’t enough giving, consider this: One of Escueta’s colleagues, Frankel Antoine, who has been a licensed barber at City Cuts Barbershop since 2012, even gives free haircuts to children with autism.
The Daily Local News reported, “A personal experience with autism motivates Antoine to help people diagnosed with autism. His little brother Amos, who is now 19, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).”
Frankel explained, “I remember giving haircuts to my little brother. I learned how something as simple as a haircut can change the lives of those diagnosed with ASD, by giving them confidence and a boost in their self-esteem.”
Is that awesome or what?
Escuetta’s barbershop mission reminds me so much of what our KICKStart KIDS foundation karate instructors do for middle school students all over Texas: they also instill character and self-esteem but through karate.
Like so many others, Escueta and his barber battalion could use their business solely for their own monetary gain, but they take it one big step further. They genuinely understand that being a blessing to others while they’re making a living is truly what life is all about. To collect and consume is easy, but to give (back) is an even greater blessing. And who greater for than the young adults of tomorrow?
There’s no glory and fortune in these reading or autistic outreaches for Escueta and his colleagues, but there is a whole lot of inner satisfaction knowing they are making a difference on our planet and in their community’s future.
While mainstream media news outlets parade, ridicule and destroy teens from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky who wear MAGA hats, a small barbershop in Pennsylvania shows us a far better way to build up and empower our young people to face tomorrow with optimism.
Corretta Scott King was absolutely right when she said: “The failure to invest in youth reflects a lack of compassion and a colossal failure of common sense.”
Escueta’s only wish is that other barbershops might follow suit, and start their own reading program: “A lot more people, especially the barbershops in the city, I hope they adopt the program. I think it can help tremendously,” he explained again to WFMZ-TV.
Let’s join City Cuts Barbershop by investing in the young people of America in our own communities before the solution goes down as the most overlooked key in truly making America great again.