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An appreciation of Black barbershops takes place in Springfield

Paul Tuthill
Clarence Smith, owner of The Final Touch Barbershop in his shop in the heart of Springfield's Mason Square.

A hub of the Black community, barbershops get credit for promoting positive mental health

The city of Springfield, Massachusetts has officially recognized Black-owned barbershops for their role in promoting mental health.

A barber, it is said, is someone with whom you trust your personal style and your personal stories. The barbershop is a space where Black men can sit in the chair, express themselves, and be heard.

Clarence Smith, who has owned The Final Touch Barbershop in Springfield for 20 years, jokingly describes himself as an “underpaid psychiatrist.”

“You never know what someone is going through in life,” Smith said. “They talk about their kids, their family members, the day-to-day of what is going on in life. You get them in the chair, your touching them, your personal, you can really get in tune, and they become extended family members.”

The sidewalk in front of Smith’s small shop on State Street in Mason Square – the heart of the city’s historically Black neighborhood – was the venue for an appreciation of Black barbershops and Black-owned hair salons for the significant role they play in the lives of their clients and the community.

Springfield Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris said the barbershops and beauty parlors offer prevention, intervention, and treatment.

“Prevention; because they listen and they care, “explained Caulton-Harris. “ Intervention; because if you are having a hard day and you sit in that barber chair, they will talk to you. Treatment; because it is critical we stay in each other’s heads and treat each other as we move forward.”

Black barbershops have long been hubs of the Black community, said State Rep. Bud Williams of Springfield.

“They are the lifeline to the community,” Williams said. “You get more information in a barber shop in the Black community than you do any social media, audio, or video.”

When barbershops were closed for months in 2020, Williams said it contributed to the mental health crisis that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It caused havoc within Black and brown communities because that outlet wasn’t there,” he said.

Also saluting the Black barbers at the event was the Trust Transfer Project – an initiative of the Springfield Cultural Partnership to use artists to deliver public health messages.

The program’s director Vanessa Ford said people see barbers far more frequently than they do doctors. So the barbers may observe physical changes that can lead to early detection of a health problem.

“We thank God for you being there and being a witness and a listening ear,” Ford said.

The barbershop owners were also recognized for the thousands of free back-to-school haircuts given each year to children in Springfield.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.