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How ‘Barbershop Talks’ Help a School Offer More Advice and Mentoring to Kids – The 74


How 'Barbershop Talks' Help a School Offer More Advice and Mentoring to Kids - The 74

At George Washington High School in Indianapolis, educators have partnered with activists and barbers to create new spaces for open talk and guidance.

Derrick Mcatee turns the “on” switch on his electric clippers as a student settles into the barber’s chair in the basement of George Washington High School in Indianapolis.

The clippers begin to hum as Mcatee looks at the dozen other students in the room.

“What’s the biggest peer pressure you think you’re facing right now?” Mcatee asks.


The students, all Black or Hispanic males, gather every Wednesday morning with Mcatee, local activist Antonio Patton, and sometimes other barbers or guest speakers for the school’s new “Barbershop Talks” program — an anti-violence, mentoring, and counseling effort which is based on the trusted relationship between black community hairdressers and their male and female clients.

The frank discussions that can be spontaneous as customers sit in the barber chair have become increasingly formalized as a hair clipper too connect customers to health services, I’m looking for signs of domestic violenceAND train to become mental health counselors.

Patton and Mcatee have been attending the school weekly since October at the request of Principal Stan Law. Mcatee and the visiting barbers cut hair while the students, two of whom report having been killed earlier, talk about the challenges they face. In return, Mcatee and Patton offer insights on how to manage stress and reduce tensions before they turn violent.

Mcatee’s question about peer pressure this April day draws a flood of responses: drugs, girls, people arguing on social media, and one response that clearly highlights what’s at stake:

“I feel like the biggest peer pressure for me is just how to make the right decisions, how to do the right thing,” said Xavieon Wilson, 15. “The other day I had a choice. I could have gone with a bunch of friends and done something not so good or I could have gone to training. I went to a workout and one of my friends ended up getting hit.

“Wow,” Patton said, asking if the person is dead. (He survived)

“This is a smart decision,” added Mcatee, who was killed as a teenager and wants to help others avoid that kind of danger. “You see the result, don’t you? That’s just being smart.

The program at the school grew out of community barber discussion sessions Patton and his non-profit group Men of Vision Empowering (MOVE) began programming in Indianapolis stores in 2022 in an effort to reduce violence, domestic abuse and other social problems.

Similar efforts are taking place in barbershops in cities like Atlanta, Philadelphia, CNY, New Orleans AND Washington DC

As Patton’s effort garnered attention, Principal Law urged Patton to tailor the talks to his school, which is 84 percent black or Hispanic and where two-thirds of students are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school is also located in Indianapolis’ Haughville neighborhood, long considered one of the most dangerous in a city that set a new homicide record in 2020, then he broke it again in 2021 before last year’s easing.

“There is a grave need for Black male scholars to engage with older, thoughtful, relevant Black males who have a history of perseverance and triumph over challenges. Scholars can relate their current experiences affecting their lives,” he stated Law.

“A Barbershop Pattern has provided the platform to help our young people make connections with real stories with real experiences with real solutions,” he added.

Guests have included former Indiana Pacers basketball player George Hill, who grew up in Indianapolis, and people from the school neighborhood who were in trouble as teenagers but found jobs and successful lives.

Antonio Patton talks to students at George Washington High School’s weekly “Barbershop Talks” as barber Derrick Mcatee cuts a student’s hair behind him. (Patrick O’Donnell)

The peer pressure question on this day continued to be answered. Dae’den Thompson, 16, said she feels pressured when two friends have a conflict and must choose sides.

“Do you know how much beef I’ve handled?” asks Mcatee, who has worked at several barbershops around town. “The best thing to do is stay out of it. She says “I have love for you” and “I have love for you”. The best thing you can do is try to bridge it if you can.

She tells students that sometimes having friends talk, with no others around to show off, can defuse a problem.

“Once they really get there and talk, man, a lot of that stuff is about nothing,” he said. “They really don’t want to do beef.”

“They do it when they get around a friend,” said one student.

“That’s it,” Mcatee said. “That’s the only reason they do it.”

For the next hour, the conversation bounces from cyberbullying to materialism, absentee fathers, letting go of slights, and not seeking conflicts over money or property damage that could lead to violence. At other times they joke about girls, embarrassing moments or going to the group dance.

Antonio Patton jokes with students as a weekly “barber talk” session at George Washington High School in Indianapolis comes to a close. (Patrick O’Donnell)

Thompson and other students say they enjoy the program for the chance to talk to students and adults who understand their lives.

“I come here and I can express my opinion,” he said.

Law says the talks appear to be having an impact. He didn’t have data, but he said the behavior problems with the participants decreased and participation improved. This is in line with the results of a study in Philadelphia that showed young adults had fewer fights for a few months after participating in barbershop discussions. Those results didn’t last, however, and George Washington’s program is too new to know the long-term effect.

The biggest impact Patton is hoping for, however, won’t be measurable. It is about preventing tragedy.

“I’m tired of meeting moms screaming for their babies who will never come home,” Patton tells students. “I don’t want to see one of you young people on the news other than being highlighted for something amazing.”

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