Several businesses and education leaders came together to do something for disadvantaged youth.
This was the simple notion for action that came from a conversation during a haircut. The result was a daylong stream of happy and hopeful children, from many cultural backgrounds, with happy and thankful parents in tow.
Fades of Gray barbershop, 1901 Nicollet Ave., owner Julian Gray, together with his longtime client Kevin Bennett, principal of The F.A.I.R. School – Downtown, devised a simple event to give away free haircuts to youth headed back to school. In order to challenge his group of barbers, and have the greatest impact, Gray set a difficult goal of 100 haircuts during the one-day event.
Free backpacks donated by Ameriprise Financial, filled with wooden hair brushes, snacks and coupons were given to each child after their haircut. Fresh from their haircut, children glowed as they took their tickets to claim a free backpack with additional goods and gift cards donated by Fades of Gray, F.A.I.R. School – Downtown, Target, Osseo Public Schools director of Educational Equity, Tony Hudson and Will Walker of Walker Law Offices. Excitedly, some children immediately put on their backpack as they made their way back to mom, dad, or guardian, with new wooden brushes in hand.
“We all know how good it feels to get a haircut. For the kids it’s something simple to set them up so they can learn better. It’s just a way to support them and help them be successful,” said Gray.
Event sponsor Hudson commented on his appreciation taking part in the initiative, saying, “My kids go to F.A.I.R., so I’ve got a good relationship with Kevin. We’re two brothers that try to support each other with our work. And it’s powerful that everybody else here is like that too. Once you have that, it’s just about showing up. Sometimes you just have to keep it simple.”
“We want to let the kids know that we’re Black men who care about you and understand your experience. Just to give the kids a simple pat on the back and say thank you to them, for adding value to the community by showing up and doing their best in school,” said Bennett.
Reflecting, and pointing around the room, Bennett continued, “Most of us can say we grew up in the church and the barbershop. But a couple of boys who came in early this morning were getting their first haircut in a barbershop. It makes an impact on them just by bringing them in to take part in a positive male experience. And it allows us to pay it forward.”
The event provided a warm barbershop experience, with several corporate, community, education, and even high school volunteers. Monique Stevenson of Medtronic, who distributed the backpacks, was enlightened by the experience.
“This is my first time in a barbershop,” said Stevens. “It’s interesting seeing all of the process and work that goes into it. The whole environment is a little different from what I expected. This is a really good thing.”
A surprising result from the event was the multicultural and gender representation from the families attending. From rosy cheeked Asian girls getting their first bangs cut, to Mexican, Somalia and Caucasian boys, hosts and attendees drew a great sense of purpose from the diversity represented in the event aptly named “Unity in the Community.”
“We’re going to keep it going. It was good that we got about halfway to our goal this first time,” said Gray, a bit disappointed to fall short of 100 haircuts – though the nine hour day was steady with activity. “I promoted a lot, but it goes to show that there are plenty of people from all races that will take advantage of opportunities like this. It really was a blessing to see all of the kids from all races, but I definitely want to get more African-American families to participate and take advantage of the resources available to them. I really want to reach the goal of 100 haircuts.”
“I’m always looking at how we can collaborate to help kids. (Julian and I) were just saying ‘let’s do something simple.’ It doesn’t have to be that grand. I don’t care if only one kid leaves with a different outlook and feeling about their self, then it was a success,” said Bennett.
Malik Harris of River Bend Middle School made the boldest statement of the day, cutting his foot-long dreadlocks down to a crisp, even styled fade. Looking scholarly, with his rectangular black eyeglasses, Harris looked forward to heading back to school.
“Science is my favorite subject, because you can do experiments,” said Harris.
“My baby got his hair cut,” exclaimed Harris’ mother, Lesley Harris of north Minneapolis.
“I really think we’re on to something that can be big to help these kids be prepared for school. This is going to grow,” said lead volunteer Mark Webster.
Future collaborators are encouraged to contact Fades of Gray @ (612) 879-6369, www.fadesofgray.com, or the Fades of Gray facebook page.