Essential. Therapist. Entrepreneurial hub. Masculinity.
All words to describe a sacred space in the Black community. Lively conversations about the happenings of the day, the light buzzing of the clippers, and an air of fellowship among other Black males always awaited me in one of my favorite spots growing up: Kenny’s Barbershop! The barbershop was a safe space for me to feel ask questions and challenge both conventional/non-conventional thinking while also receiving a service. The ‘shop was where I earned my first job as a sweeper (term for the kid that would sweep up the hair off the floor and tidy up) as well as ran my own business of sorts selling cologne on the corner. The barbershop is a pivotal space for many Black males from different backgrounds growing up as it is one of the earliest places they engage with other Black men, understand fellowship, and have a trusted advisor in your barber. Fast forward to today, the barbershop is still part of my life and I never thought that it would intersect with my professional life!
Now, you’re probably wondering: “why on earth would anyone have a program inside of a barbershop?” Well, dear reader, let me introduce you to culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP) by Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings. CRP focuses on three pillars-academic achievement, cultural competence, and critical consciousness. This framework addresses student achievement in addition to encouraging students to accept and affirm their cultural identities while simultaneously developing a perspective that challenges inequities exacerbated by the school system (Ladson-Billings, 1995). In essence, CRP utilizes a students’ cultural and personal experiences to connect to the academic materials. There are numerous teachers that use song lyrics from pop music, memes, and other markers to help students engage with material.
During Welcome Week this past September, I collaborated with my barber and developed an orientation for the incoming first-year and transfer Black males living on campus inside of his barbershop. The barbershop is an institution that plays a critical role in many Black males’ lives and I felt that it would be best to bring these young men in a space where honest conversation happens without reproach. This was a time for them to ask questions, share fears/concerns, and meet other Black males living on campus. After months of planning and brainstorming, we finally made the event happen! My barber offered to close his shop down for the day and dedicate the space for learning and development for these young men. Transportation and food were provided for each participant. The surprise? They each could get a free haircut and a copy of Coates’ Between the World and Me. The only caveat was that they had to stay the entire time and not once did any of the participants want to actually leave. Conversations about mental health, academic advising, healthy relationships, and accountability among other topics filled the air the entire time. The level of engagement and depth of conversation created a palpable sense of excitement and action that could carry on outside of the barbershop. By the time the program ended, a new bond of brothers was created that still continues to this day. Often, I see the guys that participated in the program hanging out with one another and they are still holding each other accountable to the goals discussed during the program. Utilizing CRP helped our Black male students receive the tools and resources needed to successfully transition into the campus culture while also providing newfound relationships to support their development as student leaders.
About the author:
Jamal Myrick is a scholar-practitioner on a journey of constant learning and growth. Currently, Jamal is serving as a Resident Director at the University of California, Riverside while completing his doctorate at Azusa Pacific University. Jamal is passionate about his community and this shows through his work in the Pan African Network (PAN) as well as on his campus. Jamal is excited to share his story with his colleagues and peers.