UGA students find connection … and a fresh look 

James Stinson IV saw a disconnect between well-being resources and black male students on campus. Even though UGA has many well-being programs, Stinson, a fourth-year majoring in social work from Ellenwood, Georgia, and president of Black Male Leadership Society (BMLS) saw an opportunity for a student-driven avenue to connect black male students with well-being and belonging resources on campus. Working with Student Care and Outreach (SCO), Multicultural Services and Programs (MSP), and BMLS, Stinson launched UGA’s first Barbershop Talk last February 2023.

Barbershop Talks are informal gatherings held nationwide to create a safe space for Black community members to meet and discuss matters of well-being or critical issues. For many Black men, their relationship with their barber is highly personal, and visits to the barbershop provide time and space to discuss life. Since many visit their barber on a regular basis, the barbershop is both a physical space and person that helps them navigate life and their identity. While getting a haircut, participants are encouraged to openly discuss their lived experiences, their intersectionality, personal interests, and most importantly, build community with one another. Participants can gain a fresh look, and hopefully, a fresh perspective.

In planning the event this year, students communicated a desire to host it in a convenient space on campus—a “pop-up” barbershop. But the logistics of setting up such a shop, and most importantly, finding a quality barber, still remained. Fortunately, Myke Lawrence, owner of MykeLare’s Barbershop, stepped up and the plan began to fall into place.

Lawrence and five other barbers will cut 25-30 men’s hair completely free of charge. As students receive their haircuts, Keri Pompey, Multicultural Services and Programs senior coordinator and BMLS Advisor, will facilitate discussions on various topics such as emotional well-being, overcoming stereotypes, and personal growth.

After last year’s success, BMLS saw this as an opportunity to expand MANifest beyond just Barbershop Talks to become even more holistic. This year, the one-time barbershop event has evolved into a wellbeing program with discussions on financial literacy, mental health, nutrition, and other topics, now called MANifest. One of the upcoming MANifest events will still be the staple Barbershop Talk, and SCO and MSP will be partnering with BMLS to offer even further support.

Stinson believes that for some, these wellbeing conversations do not occur while growing up.

“As Black men, we often do not focus on our mental and emotional health, as we are always busy trying to be whatever is needed by other people,” said Stinson. “MANifest changes that narrative by shifting the focus to self so that we can truly manifest our best self by introducing conversations, experiences, and resources that truly enrich Black men.”

“We hope Barbershop Talks promotes positive conversation around different topics black males are facing,” said Pompey, “It’s our hope to build support, share knowledge, and create a community bond among black males.”

The next Barbershop Talks event is scheduled for April 2 at the Tate Student Center Intersection. Appointments are limited, so students interested in participating and receiving a free haircut should register on the Involvement Network before attending. More details and the registration link will be shared by the hosting departments in the coming weeks.

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