In many neighborhoods, the barbershop doubles as a place of healing, where people ― particularly men of color ― can find support, perspective, and maybe a boost for their mental health.
“Barbershops have always been safe places to meet, vent, share personal experiences, and get a respite from the issues in their lives,” said Gabriel Bryant, coordinator of the Engaging Males of Color Initiative, managed through the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Disability Services. “You have a captive audience in one space, and they help you figure out solutions to your problems.”
A Place of Wisdom and Caring
Bryant tells the story of a man whose teenage son was having issues with another teen. The father was worried the conflict would lead to violence, and he decided to take his son to the barbershop. The men in the chairs talked for an hour, encouraging the boy to find other ways to resolve the issue. The father trusted the men at the shop to provide guidance, and it worked.
Building connections at the barbershop is important. In many communities, the barbershop is also a place where values and life lessons are shared across generations.
“It’s a place where men can trust their barbers with things near and dear to them and trust them to hold it close and not share it on the street,” said Will “Latif” Little, a barber for 18 years at the Jazz-U-Up barbershop in South Philadelphia. “It’s a hub. It’s a safe place. It’s a familiar place where [boys and men] get education on personal development.”
Little served 10 years in prison before finding his purpose. Now, as a life coach, he hosts Monday night classes at the barbershop for men and women on topics like financial literacy, careers in the trades, the importance of going to college, and conflict resolution.
To his satisfaction, Little sees that a lot of the young men he once mentored now have their own children. And those fathers are using the same tools they learned in his barbershop to help their children make better life choices.
Where Everybody Knows Your Name
Bryant recalls watching a basketball game at a crowded barbershop a few years ago. When someone shouted, “The Sixers stink!”, an older gentleman started sharing his memories of watching players like Dr. J (Julius Erving) hold court at the Spectrum. The shop fell quiet. The men listened and showed respect, as this older man owned the moment.
Many seniors go to the barbershop to avoid loneliness, Bryant says. Barbershops are important community support systems. “Men of color are socialized not to ask for help or seek care. The barbershop is a place where they know they can find support from other men. It’s a healthy move,” he said.
“Barbers have served as community counselors, comedians, and faith leaders,” Bryant added. “A trusted barber is a strong force in the community.”
For more information about mental health, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.