As an African-American boy growing up, there are certain events and unique cultural rites of passage that many of us are expected to experience at some point as we grow into young men. For my generation, making sure your “kicks” (that means shoes for my ebonics challenged friends out there) were always fresh and clean. Avoid getting them dirty or scuffed by any means, and heaven forbid if another brother steps on them!
On a more serious note, almost every young African-American boy over the last few generations have been given “the talk.” No, not the one you may be thinking about. The talk I’m referencing highlights that moment when a relative or someone close to you explains the struggles and hardships you’ll face growing up as a black man in America. However, one of the most important and impactful of these rites of passage (where it wasn’t uncommon to experience the first two points I mentioned) is the barbershop. Our sanctuary.
The barbershop is sacred ground
The barbershop among the black community and especially black men is essentially sacred ground. It’s the place where our moms or dads can drop us off for a little while without fear of anything bad happening to us. There’s a trust that the community will make sure our kids are safe and protected. It’s more than just about getting a haircut, although I can’t neglect to mention that getting that fresh fade or that razor-sharp edge up was, is, and will always be important. It’s one of our forms of expression. That’s just the way it is. The barbershop is a place where debates and trash talk are all too common (Jordan vs. Lebron or Jay Z vs. Nas anyone?), advice is given, lessons are learned, and boys are taught what it means to be about your hustle. Men from all walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds gather at the barbershop. That’s why it’s great that the American Heart Association recognized this powerful connection—an effective avenue where our community can be reached and given advice and support that can lead to healthier living and a better quality of life.
American Heart Association: Hair, Heart & Health
On Monday, February 24, the American Heart Association kicked off a series of unique initiatives to improve the heart health of North Carolina’s most at-risk populations. Hair, Heart & Health is a Blue Cross NC-sponsored program, which gives ambassadors – like barbers and hairstylists – the tools they need to share health resources with their communities. Barbershops and beauty salons have always been important social pillars in African American communities. And the relationship between a barber and their regular customers is one of mutual trust and respect, which are key when it comes to discussing personal health issues and receiving medical recommendations. The American Heart Association is training participating stylists on how to begin important conversations with their customers. The goal is to reach people where they’re comfortable, so they can learn about the importance of managing blood pressure, increasing physical activity, developing healthy eating habits, and identifying risk factors for heart disease.
Numerous articles and similar health programs, specifically the TRIM project which was funded by a grant from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention back in 2007, point to the barbershop as a setting where large numbers of men can be reached. There were 2518 licensed barbershops in North Carolina alone at that time. That particular study concluded that barbershops represent a promising setting for sharing health information with black men and serve as a safe space for them.
Black Men are hesitant to talk about their health issues
“Black men are hesitant to talk about our health issues until our condition gets too bad or we become hospitalized,” said Charlz Henry, a hairstylist at the Hot Seat Salon in downtown Greensboro. “Oftentimes, when people open up to us, we don’t know what to say. I tell my students all of the time—we do more than just style hair—we connect and change lives. Discussions with our clients about their health, weight loss, and what they’re eating and drinking will eventually lead to a much healthier community.”
Creative solutions bring health conversations to black men
It’s encouraging to see creative solutions enacted that help bypass the barriers so many in the minority community face as it relates to health care access and treatment.
I don’t go to the barbershop as regularly as I used to, but I have a son now who’s almost two years old with a head full of hair that would make Quest Love blush. Soon, my visits to the barbershop will become more frequent as it’ll be time to take him to the place where he can begin the process of learning about his heritage, soaking in his culture and all of the life lessons that will not only prepare him for the journey of growing into a man but how to thrive and succeed in whatever he decides to do. Achieving better health will aid him tremendously on that journey as it’ll be one less thing he has to stress over. Of course, the debates and trash talking will continue to be apart of the barbershop experience, and I love it. But now instead of just talking about life, we’ll be educated and equipped on how to better live it, which in the end will ultimately save countless lives.