Award-winning author and professional barber J. Dillard stopped by Benteen Elementary School in Atlanta’s East Lake neighborhood to donate 60 copies of his first book, J.D. and the Great Barber Battle to the school’s third graders. Barber Battle is the first of three books starring an all-Black cast of characters including a mother, sister, grandparents and friends that all play a critical part in J.D.’s everyday life. The donation is a way to further foster summertime reading en route to fourth grade in the fall. 

“One of the main things for me is giving back,” Dillard, who was wearing a J.D. the Kid Barber hoodie, said. “I came from the inner city, so it’s important to me to give back.”

Award-winning author J. Dillard (above) speaks with Benteen Elementary School third graders Tuesday, May 16, 2023. Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

Benteen Elementary School Library Media Specialist Wilma Brightharp always tries to bring an author into school every year in order for the students to see the people behind the books they are reading. “When you expose them to authors they may not understand it now, but later on they will say, ‘Hey I met that man.'”

The library was full of students when Dillard began to speak. The faces looking up at him were of all colors and Dillard was moved. “It is absolutely overwhelming,” he said.

The catalyst of the J.D. the kid barber series is a third-grader who discovers his ability to cut hair after tiring of his mother giving him bad haircuts at home. Dillard, a Mississippi native, told The Atlanta Voice that the three-book series is based on his life growing up in Meridian.

“J.D. ‘s story is my story. It’s me. All three books are about my life,” Dillard explained.

Asked why Mississippi was the backdrop for the series, Dillard said, “It’s important to put Mississippi on the map.”

Dillard, who also travels the country as the personal barber for a celebrity comedian, came off tour for a moment to give back to kids that remind him of himself as a third grader. He walked into the library Tuesday afternoon with a box full of books. Placing them on top of a small bookshelf, Dillard said about the star of his books, “I wanted every Black boy and girl to see someone that looked like them on the cover.”

Dillard brings the box full of books into the library at Benteen Elementary School in East Lake. Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

During his presentation Dillard shared the story of how he began cutting hair and why he decided to write a book for kids that ended up becoming a top-selling series. “In order to make a change you have to impact the youth,” said Dillard, who attended Tuskegee University and played college football for a while before being injured. He started cutting hair on campus and eventually started a business.

After answering questions from the adults and children in the room, Dillard left the students with a word of advice about reading and writing.

“It’s extremely important to read and write for at least 20 minutes per day,” he said.

Dillard’s advice for kids looking to start writing and journaling was simple: pencil vs. pad.

“When you think of something, write it down,” he said.

Dillard revealed plans to begin writing a fourth and fifth part of the series, which is published by Penguin Random House through its young readers imprint Kokila.

Akeem S. Roberts has illustrated all three books in the J.D. the Kid Barber series.

This article is one of a series of articles produced by The Atlanta Voice through support provided by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to Word In Black, a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media outlets across the country.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Donnell began his career covering sports and news in Atlanta nearly two decades ago. Since then he has written for Atlanta Business Chronicle, The Southern Cross...