MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We turn from a job that's all about the past, to one that's all about the future. A local barbering school is trying to get D.C. kids on the right path before they end up behind bars. It's called 54th and Cuts and it's in Northeast D.C.'s Richardson's Dwellings, a public housing community in one of the city's most violence-plagued neighborhoods. Kavitha Cardoza takes us inside 54th and Cuts and introduces us to some of the students who are learning much more than just a trade.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA
Seventeen-year-old Andre Watson clenches his jaw and concentrates. In one hand, he has a shaver, which he handles carefully as he trims his clients sideburns.
MR. ANDRE WATSON
And you don't want to cut no one with the clippers.
Watson is one of five students learning how to become a barber. It's part of an effort to help young ex-offenders learn job skills. His friend, Russell Gaskin, is also learning the trade. Gaskin says he began getting into trouble in Pre-K.
MR. RUSSELL GASKINS
Bringing knives to school, stabbing kids, just was a troubled child because I had a messed up family background.
From there, it escalated. Gaskin carried guns, robbed cars, assaulted police officers. The last time he was locked up it was for 18 months as an adult. But such a history of violence doesn't bother Troy Dorsey, one of the barbering instructors at the school. He understands young men like this because he was one. Dorsey says he turned his life around only after joining the Army. He says one of the biggest challenges is these students don’t have enough positive male role models.
MR. TROY DORSEY
A lot of these guys, including myself, we didn't come up in a home where there was a male or if there was a male, he wasn't a productive male. So when you actually move out and you get an opportunity to see a male who's getting up, coming to work every day, it gives you something to model yourself behind. Because I think deep down inside, all of these guys, they want that, but they don't know how.
Dorsey says he doesn't take it personally that four of the original nine students have dropped out. Nor does he take offense when one of his students shouts, you're not my father, don't tell me what to do. Dorsey says he just concentrates on encouraging them and being consistent.
Don't promise things that I know I can't do. Be honest because, definitely, within male relationships, if you say it, then you have to do it.
The non-profit Sasha Bruce Youthwork coordinates the $65,000 city financed effort in which students get paid $8.15 an hour to learn how to barber. These students offer free haircuts to residents in the area as well as in a District homeless shelter and nursing home. This helps them complete 700 hours of training, approximately half of what they need before they can get their barbers license.
And it seems to be paying off. Gaskin follows the news so he can talk to customers about current events. He listens, but doesn't repeat what one client says to the other and he's mastering cutting techniques including fades, shape ups and temple tapers. But Gaskin says he's also learning much more.
How to come to school every day. I learn about following directions, learn about messing up, what to do when you mess up, don't panic. I learned a lot of things about life.
Professor Maurice Jackson is an associate professor of history and African-American studies at Georgetown University. He's been getting his haircut for 12 years at All For One Barbershop in Northeast D.C. Lorenzo Lolin is his barber.
MR. LORENZO LOLIN
What are we getting done today?
MR. MAURICE JACKSON
Well, I want about -- a little over half of it off. I'm going to go away so just cut a little bit more than usual.
Then the usual, all right.
Jackson says it's a ritual in the African-American community.
Most guys had their set time because you want to look good, especially during the days of the segregation. You didn't want white people talking about you for nothing. So you always did your folks proud.
On the wall, there are posters of different hairstyles you can choose from and a pricing chart. In the room, there's lots of talk.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1
It's a place that people come just as a relief for them away from home. Everything goes on in a barber shop. If you don't want to discuss it, don't come into a barber shop because we will talk about it.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2
There you go.
The guys trade advice on many different things. You know, I've been married so long, I can't give you advice about how to get a girlfriend, but I can give you advice about how to keep them. That's right.
Marcus Turner has been coming here since he was 12. He's now 26. He says it's like being among a community of uncles.
MR. MARCUS TURNER
Usually, you get your first haircut when you're about two or three years old and so you're not going to know what they're talking about. All you can sense is spirit. It's always been positive. It's a sense of togetherness.
Turner says the most important lesson he's learned in a barber shop is how to disagree without fighting.
Because it's usually followed by laughter. When you argue in a barber shop, you know, hey, these are still my friends. You're not arguing with the point of dominating attitude. You're arguing with the point of, at the end, gaining some understanding of what the other person is saying.
Back at 54th and Cutz, Gaskin packs up his kit back with combs, clippers and coveralls. His arms are covered with tattoos he designed, his mother's name, a boxing glove and the letters F-A-M-E, forgive all my enemies. Gaskin says he sees barbering as a form of art work.
And when you spend time and effort into making their hair look good and then you look at it and then you see their expression on their face, how they like it, you be like, I did a good job.
And he must do a good job. Gaskin smiles widely as he says his last customer gave him a $20 tip on a free haircut. I'm Kavitha Cardoza.
If you'd like to check out the work of the student barbers at 54th and Cutz, head over to our website, metroconnection.org.
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