On Feb. 11, Sankofa and La Mesa Presented “Shop Talk,” a discussion focused on masculinity, manhood, and the role of barbershops as community beacons and places of solitude. “So Fresh, So Clean” by OutKast played over the video conference while waiting for attendees to enter the Zoom.
Sankofa is a student retention initiative that aims to support minority male students at Stockton. It allows students to successfully transition into a college environment, provide opportunities for professional and personal development, encourages engaged citizenship, and provides mentoring through Stockton faculty, staff and peer mentors. Members, students and faculty were able to engage in a conversation about the development, challenge, and affirmation of manhood in communities of color through barber shops.
Author and photographer, Antonio Johnson, explored his book “You Next: Reflections in Black Barber shops.” As a child, barber shops played a large role in Johnson’s life.
“My mother would always take me to barbershops,” said Johnson. “I would spend most of my time in my uncle’s or my father’s shop. It was a third space for me.” Johnson’s project began in 2015 through Kickstarter where many people supported his work with enthusiasm–the rest is history. Throughout the next few years, Johnson spent his time photographing the extraordinary and ritualistic moments between a barber and his patron.
“I’ve been going to the same barber since my 8th grade graduation. He’s been there through major life events. He cut my hair for my college graduation and for my first post-college job interview,” expressed Johnson. In his photographs, intimate moments are shared. One photo depicts the hand of a barber firmly grasping his client’s head.
“They are there to make sure you present your best self to the world. It is a sense of connection, a site that can be a cultivation of identity,” stated Johnson
Johnson also discussed the partnership between barbers and medical health professionals in communities of color. “Barbers team up with doctors who send out teams of professionals to teach them how to read blood pressure machines and look for signs of a stroke, the leading cause of death for black men.” explained Johnson.
Programs such as the Confession Project link barbers with mental health professionals to provide for the mental health needs of the community. This is especially crucial since communities of color lack health care and relationships with medical professionals.
Dr. Donnetriace Allison, coordinator of the Africana Studies Program and Professor of Communication Studies, shared that in ancient Africa, hair was a status symbol. For example, the direction of one’s braids is a symbol. This process of braiding is time-worthy. “You’re going to be with that person for a long time, connecting with them, building a trust and bond. It is a part of our self-care and they give you all this energy to inspire you to do better,” emphasizes Dr. Allison.
Toward the end of the conference, attendees were able to ask questions and share their favorite haircut experiences. Students who attended were also eligible to win a vibrant poster of “You Next” designed by Johnson, and even a copy of his book. To learn more about Sankofa, students can contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any inquiries.