BALTIMORE, Md. — There’s a comforting hum in the air, a warm place to sit, and a friendly face.
“The barbershop has always been like a sanctuary for Black men,” said Kevin McSears, barber and owner of Pikasso Kutz outside of Baltimore.
He’s built decades of friendships in this place, where conversations flow with ease.
“We learned a lot about life in the barbershop. You know it's more than just cutting hair. We teach. We learn from one another,” said McSears.
Those lessons are what McSears carries with him every day.
“I was just told that you could always have your own. Don't ever be scared of going out and trying to get your own thing,” he said.
Years later, it inspired him to open the doors of his own shop, Pikasso Kutz, a playful nod to those who helped him along the way.
“One of the barbers, I was very slow cutting hair, but I was really detailed so he used to call me ‘Picasso,’ and I said if I ever opened up a shop, I was going name it 'Pikasso Kutz.'"
He promises to line you up faster these days, and that the moments in this chair come with an open ear.
“I’ve been cutting this man’s hair for over 20 years,” said McSears about his long-time customer and friend in the chair in front of him. “There's no pressure. We communicate. We talk about everything.”
In the face of the pandemic, health is one thing McSears is bringing up more often.
“COVID is definitely real, and being a Black man, it's my responsibility to let people who don't feel it’s real, to know it’s real,” said McSears.
These men know the pain this virus can bring, especially to the African-American community.
“We've lost people that we know,” said McSears. “It's affecting minorities, and on a great scale. Unfortunately, a lot of minorities don't have health insurance, or don’t have the means to get to their primary physician.”
That’s why McSears is taking on a new responsibility: bringing resources and information right to his barbershop by partnering with doctors at Live Chair Health.
“Our aim is to address health disparities amongst people of color,” said B.J. Carson.
The group is building a team of medical professionals and barbers to ask tough questions and help give answers. Live Chair Health has an app people can use to keep track of their blood pressure and find diet and exercise plans.
“I’ll ask him a question about, you know, ‘Do you have a primary health physician? When was the last time you had your blood pressure checked?’ And it might spark him to get his blood pressure checked,” said McSears. “He might be sitting here with hypertension. So potentially, we might save a life.”
The barbers hope the conversations about health don’t end in these chairs; they hope every client that leaves their shop will check in with a primary care doctor and keep better track of their help for years to come.
“I hope the difference is giving people those resources that we've been, we haven't been privy to. I think just giving those resources and just being in the barbershop, I think just I think it resonates with people is like, ‘OK, these people really care,’” said Carson.
These men hope in talking about underlying conditions, COVID-19 and the vaccine, the historic distrust built against the healthcare system will crumble.
“We have a distrust, rightfully so,” said McSears.
It’s those hesitations this barber is now fighting every time he turns his clippers on. But, little by little, with each person that sits in his chair, he hopes the conversations had here will not only boost mental health, but he also hopes they will create a way to usher this community out of the COVID-19 crisis, creating a way to level the playing field.