Celebrating Black History

Beyond Haircuts: How Barbershops Act as Hubs in Black Communities

For almost 30 years, people from all walks of life have sat in Michael Stephens' chair for a cut.

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Barbershops have shown themselves to be more than just a place to get a haircut in Black communities.

Michael Stephens has seen how the barbering industry has changed through the years since his start in grooming in 1993.

"Gratefully, I’ve cut some of my clients from children, until being very productive adults,” said Stephens, who owns Topcuttaz in South Florida. “I have to say, that I poured into them positivity and try to make them upright adults."

For almost 30 years, people from all walks of life have sat in his chair for a cut.

He says he got into barbering because of the human connections they make with clients while they groom them.

He added anyone can walk into his Black-owned shop in Miami Gardens and expect great service.

"But at the same time this is a place of respect, so if you can't respect the ladies, the children, etc., then we basically don't want you here," he said.

People walk in his shop for a cut, but he says the ability to make connections at a barbershop is what makes this styling business a staple in Black communities.

"I would like to think that we're like a watering hole,” he explained. “As it was, this is where information is disseminated, if somebody is looking for a job,  if you're promoting your business, I always allow people to come in."

Decades upon decades of a client-barber relationship has shaped the role of the person behind the chair as the clippers trim locks of hair from clients.

"Also I think it’s our responsibility as barber we're part-time therapists, we're looked to for advice, whether it's relationships, money, business, etc.,” he said.

At Topcuttaz, Stephens offers classes on crypto-currency, financial literacy, and other topics that people might want to know about. He also offers resources for men’s mental health. His focus on youth is seen through a library placed feet from the door of the shop, encouraging children to pick up a book.

"Being the hook up for good information,” Stephens said is his goal. “And also encouragement, especially for the youth. There's some children that when they get in trouble, their parents tell them, 'Hey, I’m going to tell your barber.'”

He explained that although barbering is a competitive industry, the one thing that takes center-stage always is the trust between the barber and client.

"Everyone in society, no matter, the president, a movie star, a rapper, they need a personal groomer,” said Stephens. “They have to look good, so we're an integral part of society.”

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