Local Barbers Help Expand Healthcare Access in the Black Community

When barbershops closed in 2020 due to COVID-19, many Black men in our community felt the loss deeply. That’s because Black-owned barbershops are more than just a place to get a haircut. It’s a home away from home, where Black men can hang out with friends, talk about life and be themselves.

Toledo’s barbershops are buzzing again, which is welcomed news for our community. It’s also good news for ProMedica’s Barbershop Program. Launched in 2017, the program brings health education and screenings to eight local barbershops.

The shops are located in Lucas County zip codes where residents have suffered the most from early death due to poverty, unequal access to health care, low health literacy, and racism.

“Black men in these communities are dying at a younger age compared to those who live elsewhere in Toledo,” says Robin Charney, ProMedica Cancer Institute community liaison. The barbers help us understand the unique challenges Black men face, and work with us to develop programing in an effort to improve the overall health of their clients.”

Listening Makes the Difference

Charney designed the program with help from barbers, county and state health departments and other ProMedica employees. And the program includes an advisory committee — comprised of barbershop owners and a physician — that meets twice a year. The committee reviews health data in the communities each barbershop serves and plans programs that meet specific needs.

Ongoing communication is critical to the program’s success. Charney typically visits the barbershops on Fridays to check in with the barbers, drop off health education materials and talk with customers in the shops. “We enter into these spaces with cultural humility,” she says. “Nobody is an expert on everything. We must take time to listen, learn and work together for the good of the community while building relationships.”

In the last four years, 40 barbers have participated in the program, which provides education, training and support they can pass along to their clients. For example, barbers:

  • Have been trained and certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
  • Received free automated blood pressure cuffs with instruction on how to use them.
  • Planned community wellness events at their shops where health screenings can take place.
  • Continue to learn about common health conditions and the importance of cancer screenings.

A small group of doctors and nurses from ProMedica provides the health screenings. The emphasis is on relationship building, and the vibe is relaxed. “We want our volunteers and barbershop clients to talk and get acquainted,” Charney says. “Our stories may be very different, but we can learn from each other.”

Barbers Building Healthier Communities

Jamal Grant, who owns Da Shop on Toledo’s east side, has been part of the program since the beginning. He says he appreciates the opportunity to help men in his community be healthier. “I grew up here, and it means a lot to be a health advocate for my clients,” he says. “At least three times a week, I’m talking to a client about high blood pressure or prostate cancer or diabetes. I’ve got high blood pressure myself, so it’s real for me, too.”

Grant may offer to check a client’s blood pressure before he leaves the chair. “These guys might not have health insurance or a doctor they trust, but they trust me,” Grant says. “If a client’s blood pressure is borderline or high, I can send him to a doctor who works with the Barbershop Program. I’m very thankful to ProMedica and Robin for reaching out to our community and helping us change attitudes about men’s health.”

Outreach That Can Change Lives

The Barbershop Program extends beyond the walls of the barbershop, with community-based programs that build awareness and, sometimes, raise money for the program. One of the most creative events, The Art of the Cut, took place at the Toledo Museum of Art’s GlasSalon. Barbers involved in the ProMedica program performed 16 haircuts in four rounds, inspired by styles through the decades and by works in the museum’s collection. The festive event included museum tours and a live DJ, with a “Barbershop Sharp” dress code.

During the pandemic, Charney’s interactions with the barbershop were limited to communicating on Facebook and dropping off health education materials including COVID-19 vaccination information. In recent months, the advisory committee has been meeting again and developing new initiatives. Several of the barbers have talked about a need for understanding mental health issues, Charney says. In response, she is working with behavioral health to provide mental health first-aid training for the barbers in the program. The focus will be on reducing trauma.

“Black-owned barbershops are anchors in the community,” says Charney. “Our hope, both mine and the barbers with whom we collaborate, is that this program will continue to grow and evolve based on mutual respect and a shared response to the needs of the people they serve.”

Learn more about the Barbershop Program by watching the video “Brussels Sprouts” on our ProMedica Stories page.

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