This is Texture Talk, a column that celebrates and delves deep into the dynamic world of curly hair and the deep meaning it can have.
Lorenzo P. Lewis isn’t a hairdresser, but his mental health organization, The Confess Project, comes alive in black barber shops amid fades and sections of beard. The initiative, which aimed to get hairdressers to talk to their male clients about mental health issues and recommend culturally sensitive resources, grew out of Lewis’ life experiences. Growing up in Little Rock, Ark., Lewis said he frequented his aunt’s hair salon and saw self-care transform into self-love through close relationships between clients and hairdressers. “I saw women who were going through tough times come into the salon and months later their lives changed,” he says. “They would come, get empowered, and go happily.” He is also aware of the sacredness that hair salons and barber shops in black communities perceive as one of the few places where you really feel seen in a society of systemic barriers. “I felt supported, heard, celebrated – and not just tolerated,” he says.
After experiencing all of this joy and then realizing that suicide is the fourth largest killer of black men ages 20-44 and the third leading cause of black boys under 20 in the U.S. – and personally suffering from depression -, Lewis has over 10 years of mental health experience and saw the need to work from the hair salon. “Because of this cruel problem, I realized that we needed more strength – more people to be at the forefront of the conversation,” he says, adding that the recruitment of black barbers as mental health attorneys is also reducing the lack of color therapists when they receive assistance fixes numbers that can properly relate to a client’s background.
Here Lorenzo shares more about The Confess Project:
Why black beauty salons and barber shops are such havens:
“I think when it comes to the black community, a lot of us are just tolerated. Racist systems and oppression did that and all [with these shops]We build a space in which one can hear, play, celebrate, enjoy and also experience joy. It’s also a place where you can be with people who look like you and understand you. “
Why Hair Professionals Are Ideal Mental Health Advocates for The Confess Project:
“The level of intimacy that hairdressers and salon stylists have with clients during a working day is very rare. You don’t tend to see this closeness except with family or loved ones. Instead of overlooking this level of intimacy, much more attention should be paid to it, because I think a lot of power and effect can start here: getting people to really talk about their life experiences. “
How the training of the Confess project works:
“The training consists of four points: active listening, validation, communication and reducing stigma. Our hairdressers are trained to be good listeners, communicate, know how to validate their clients’ reactions and emotions, be empathetic and how to reduce stigma through language sensitivity and help clients [with resources] Your wellbeing is a priority. In a hair salon, it just looks like a barber is cutting hair and doing a service, but the barber can try to create a dialogue that is open and rewarding for that client. The dialogue will not offend the customer and encourage them to tell their story. It all increases potential access to mental health services and a better life path. We train hairdressers to stay away from negative languages like “Man up” and “You are weak”. We have over 150 hairdressers in 14 states. “
To get black men and boys to the fore in the Confess Project:
“We found that the masculinity experiences of black men and boys are very complicated because of toxic masculinity, the environment, violence, social pressures and identity. They grow up in a complicated world where the world doesn’t like them. They see themselves killed, tortured, and also not loved or respected. I think there are several levels of problems that explain why we need to be very clear about the support for this subgroup. That’s why we do what we do. “
About the professional therapists The Confess project works with:
“We make sure that the therapists hairdressers refer customers to are culturally competent and sensitive to the Black experience – that goes hand in hand. We interview them before they become referral therapists in our network. “
On the effects of the Confess project on the hairdressers themselves:
“We have had barbers struggling with mental health who have been able to acknowledge their own trauma and take medication. It’s been an awakening trip for her and I see a lot more hairdressers awakening during the pandemic. You tried hard to feel supported and helped. We have been making Zoom self-catering calls throughout the pandemic and many hairdressers are showing up on those calls. You just want to talk. “
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