“A tree with strong roots laughs at storms” Malay Proverb
A good friend of mine has worked in the hairdressing industry for years. She worked hard at her craft and became an expert in her area. She had clients from all over who drove many miles to see her. I was one of those clients, I met her when I was 18 and as soon as I met her I knew our business relationship would be a long one. We are close in age and as Melissa grew her clientele and moved to different salons, I followed her on her journey. It wasn’t just her talent at cutting hair, it was her warmth and down to earth nature that made you feel like she knew you forever and that you mattered. You just weren’t another person in her chair, you were someone important.
A few years ago, Melissa decided to hone her craft and learn the art of being a barber. Once she learned the basic techniques in barber school, Melissa set out to get to the roots of what it is to be a barber. She volunteered for an organization called Street Thug Barbers. A non-profit organization that goes into areas in the city that is considered out-of-bounds to most people from stable areas. Street Thug Barbers set up barber chairs and offer their services for free for any soul who needs a haircut. Melissa joined this group and once a week cut hair for people from all walks of life. There were no fancy salons, no fancy chairs, no fancy cut or dyes, just a simple chair out in the open and simple-minded barbers cutting hair for anyone who needed a haircut giving these souls the gift of dignity and making them feel like they were part of humanity. They may be called Street Thug Barbers but these men and women also offer free hugs. Something people in these area don’t experience much. Everyone is treated with love and respect rather than being ignored and treated like they don’t matter. Melissa learned much from this experience and she told me that most of what she learned was about herself and that the experience of meeting and cutting hair for these souls opened her soul in ways that she could never have imagined.
Unknown to Melissa, she was about to have some serious dips in her life as she found herself unexpectedly unemployed and in litigation with her formal employer for wrongful dismissal. She eventually settled her situation but it was a good year of frightening change for her and her finances were seriously set back. She still continued to volunteer for Street Thug Barbers and she found that the work she did with this organization saved her in more ways than one. Melissa is a very artistic person and she wanted to get to the roots of being a barber and learn her craft. Through the contacts she made with Street Thug Barbers, she started working in a Chinatown barber shop that has been in existence since 1919. Melissa felt she would get to the root of the barber industry by working in a place that was clearly all about roots. She worked most days solo where no one spoke English. All demanded impeccable work and wanted it done in 12 minutes for $8.00. In Melissa’s words “until you can do a flawless skin fade in 12 minutes on someone who cannot speak English to tell you what they want, you haven’t stretched yourself. The knowledge, experience and connection to community I attained while being in the little shop grew me in places I thought I had peaked in my life. ” Melissa told me that she learned more from an 84-year-old Chinese barber who spoke no English than she had learned from anyone.
Melissa dove into the history and roots of a true original barbershop and let those lessons absorb deep down into her skin, hands, mind and soul and as she branches out on her own, those deep connections with a barbershop, dated back to 1919, root her in ways that she didn’t think was possible. Melissa’s story is one of truths proving that it doesn’t matter how much money you have, how much education you have or the status in your job. If you don’t have roots, you will never weather the storm. Deep roots is not established in our society. I constantly hear complaints of the young working class coming into the workforce not wanting to work, don’t want to get down to the nitty-gritty, they want everything, title, job and money with no knowledge or work. They disrespect their elders and don’t have strong work ethics. Respect and strong work ethic will take you further than qualifications or references.
There are two gifts we can give our children; one is roots and the other is wings. It is my hope that my boys can look at me when I’m ancient and understand that they are seeing roots, roots so deeply grounded that the trunk and branches born from those roots will be with them forever.