'The Confess Project' Aims To Train Barbers To Help With Clients' Mental Health | WAMC

'The Confess Project' Aims To Train Barbers To Help With Clients' Mental Health

Aug 15, 2020
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Many American adults say the coronavirus has affected their mental health, especially in communities of color, where people have been more likely to fall sick and lose their jobs. An effort called the Confess Project wants to bring help to places where people may lean back and talk in their barber's chairs. Craig Charles is a barber from Johnson City, Tenn.

Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Charles.

CRAIG CHARLES: Thank you. It's a pleasure.

SIMON: Your customers talk to you, I guess, right?

CHARLES: They talk to me on every level, from the kids to their spouses to their parents (laughter).

SIMON: Well, and tell us about the kind of counseling you received at the Confess Project and whether that helps you respond to them now.

CHARLES: Well, the Confess Project, it's a platform that barbers use to advocate in the community. The power to help people of color, especially men who have been going through this for ages, to find an avenue, find a platform to get help.

SIMON: Is it hard for people to ask for help?

CHARLES: It has been - I mean, previously in the African American community, it's always tough because there's a word called machoism that we've grown up with. And with the plethora of single mothers who are raising these boys and girls, you always hear you need to be the man at the house. I mean, that's the wrong approach to tell young boys. And they grow up with their mantra of thinking that they have to be the man of the house. And that's not fair. You have to be a child. Let a child be a child.

SIMON: Yeah, so they lean back in your chair, and they feel they have a friend. Do you mind telling us without violating barber customer confidentiality, yeah?

CHARLES: We call it the barber code.

SIMON: The barber code. Well, what are some of the stories you've heard?

CHARLES: One of the main thing is people spend so much time together, especially during this pandemic. Spouses not getting along. People are being around each other, having to learn each other over again and not knowing what to do.

SIMON: Yeah.

CHARLES: How to have a conversation because in our lives, we work nine to five. We come home from five to seven. We go to bed at nine. That's the end of time to get to know someone. That can affect you when you have to sit down and face that person every day.

SIMON: Have you talked to customers? Have they come back to your chair - or maybe even run into them on the street? And then have they said to you, thank you - you know, I did what you suggested and it helped?

CHARLES: All the time. All the time. I'll give you a story of one of my students. He sat in my chair years ago, and he's going through something. So I was cutting his chin in the barber shop. And when he signed up to school four years later, he said to me, I remember a conversation we had when you told me, hey, learn how to express myself because when I express myself a certain way, good things happen.

SIMON: Mr. Charles, this is not the most important question I'm going to ask. But, well, I have a professional with us. I have to. What's the key to a close shave?

CHARLES: (Laughter) What's the key to a close shave? The consultation. It goes beyond just the shave because you're able to reach out to your client and hear their cries, hear their voices screaming for help.

SIMON: You know, I probably don't have to tell you, Mr. Charles, a lot of people, even barbers, would have just, you know, heard what their customers had to say and say, thanks very much. See you next time. What motivated you to decide to do more?

CHARLES: Well, you have to understand what your community needs. I had to step up and try to do something different, whereas about only 4% of clinicians in the fields is Black men. So we have to try to get a platform to give these guys in our community opportunity to express themselves. I mean, you grow up thinking you supposed to not cry, when you feel you're in that realm where people looking at you, like, hey, you're soft. You're not this and that. And you clam up. You close up and not express yourself like you're supposed to. You're supposed to cry. You're supposed to let it out. You're suppose to be as a man to man and have a conversation to say I am hurting, I need help.

SIMON: You know, I could use a haircut. I wish I could get to Johnson City and go to you (laughter).

CHARLES: Come down to Johnson City. Johnson City, Tenn., is a great place. Come by Crown Cutz, Crown Cutz Academy. You'll be taken care of.

SIMON: Craig Charles is a barber. He owns Craig's Crown Cutz and Crown Cutz Academy. And he's a member of the Confess Project in Johnson City, Tenn.

Thank you so much for being with us, sir.

CHARLES: Thank you. I really appreciate the opportunity. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.