Recently I visited Schertz Elementary School near San Antonio to talk about Uncle Jed’s Barbershop. My main goal when visiting with students is to inspire them to dream big dreams for their lives. Students were excited to share their dreams. My heart is filled with joy because Uncle Jed’s story is just as relevant today as it was when it was first published.
Uncle Jed’s Barbershop tells the story of Uncle Jed who goes house to house cutting hair in the 1920’s and 1930’s. His dream is to open his own barbershop. However he meets with setback after setback. But he doesn’t give up on his dream. He finally opens his barbershop when he is 79 years old.
When I ask students to share their dreams of what they want to be when they grow up, I find that students fall into three categories: those who are eager to share, those who are shy and don’t want to voice their dreams, and those who have no dreams at all.
I try to draw out the shy, reticent ones to let them know that their dreams matter. And even if their friends laugh at them, it doesn’t matter. You see, my friends laughed at me too when I said I wanted to get my books published. But I didn’t listen to them and set about pursuing my dream.
When I encounter students who have no dreams I try to get them to think about what they like to do. As they think about the things they like soon the light comes on and there is a secret dream that they have but they don’t think they can accomplish it.
So I tell them my story, complete with the heartaches that made me want to quit and the successes that came because I didn’t give up on my dream.
Then we discuss Uncle Jed’s Barbershop and the setbacks Uncle Jed encountered on the way to achieving his dream.
By the end of the visit students realize that they can dream of accomplishing a goal. And they can achieve it, regardless of the challenges they encounter.
I know because of the many letters I receive from students. I also hear stories from people who met me at their schools years ago and are pursuing their dreams because of my encouragement.
I am overjoyed that a new generation of students is now hearing the Uncle Jed’s Barbershop story in a variety of ways: literature textbooks, required reading lists, social studies textbooks, financial planning lessons, entrepreneurship lessons, studying about relationships with older people, philanthropy education, lessons on the Great Depression, etc.
Because of the many lessons that have been developed from Uncle Jed’s Barbershop I am getting invitations to schools to tell students the story behind the story. If you would ask a student what they remember most about my visit, they will tell you that I encourage them to dream and to believe those dreams can come true, whether they are saving to buy a video game, or planning to go to college, or dreaming of becoming a scientist.
Students in other countries are also reading Uncle Jed’s Barbershop. The book has been translated into many languages. Students in China, South Korea, Israel, Japan, and other countries are hearing about Uncle Jed and his dream. I recently received an email from a father in Israel who told me how much the book impacted him and his daughter and the discussion that ensued because of it. Regardless of where they live, students are learning to dream big dreams for their lives. And in the process, they are learning something about the history of the American South.
The team of David Wohl, Kenneth Grimes, and Susan Einhorn has adapted Uncle Jed’s Barbershop into an award-winning musical featuring Broadway veterans. Students and their families can now see the story come to life on the stage when it comes to their cities.