Troy Staton has been cutting hair since he was 13. He started on his mother’s porch. Then he began hanging around local barber shops. One of those barbers encouraged him to get formal training through the Westside Skills Center. After that, he studied under some of the city’s best known and best loved master barbers.
“You ever watch those old karate movies? That’s pretty much my story,” Staton says. “I went from master to master, and each one taught me something, instilled something in me. Then, I became the student that had something from each master.”
Barbershops have always been central to Staton’s own life, but he sees their significance throughout the community as cultural cornerstone. “Historically, being a barber or a beautician was one of the first jobs a person could have coming out of slavery or share cropping,” he explains. “That’s why you see so many influential Black people—politicians, businesspeople, lawyers—their parents were often barbers.”
When he opened up his first shop, New Beginnings, it happened to be nestled between an elementary school and an alternative high school. He started bringing art into his barbershop to show the kids and broaden their horizons, but he soon realized it was helping the whole community. Eventually, these exhibitions turned into the LuvsArt project, and Staton was showcasing some of the city’s finest African American artists in his shop.
Over the years, as Staton became more engaged in community work through community associations and other outreach programs, he realized there were so many needs, especially when looking at the health disparities in the Black community. About five years ago, he started working with Kaiser Permanente to pilot a program to offer health screenings at New Beginnings. The first year they did 117 screenings. The second year they expanded the program to include two other barbershops and two salons, conducting more than 1,000 screenings. This past year, before COVID-19 hit, the program did more than 5,000 screenings across the five participating shops.
Bringing resources into the community and making them accessible is the idea behind More Than a Shop. In partnership with groups like Kaiser Permanente, the Enoch Pratt, and others, More Than a Shop works across a citywide network of 12 barbershops and salons. They address issues in the community, including health disparities, food deserts, literacy, trauma-informed care, teen sexual awareness, and elder abuse. As part of the OSI Community Fellowship, Staton will continue to build the network and the resources it offers.
“I have quite a few other friends that are OSI Community Fellows, and I have seen the work that they have done—connections to resources and the network that comes with that,” says Staton. “From what I have seen, I believe I can get a lot more done being part of the OSI network.”
While he works to scale up his citywide network, he sees this as a model that can be replicated in other cities and communities across the country.
“Barbers listen to people all day. We already understand the issues in our communities. And we’re trusted,” says Staton. “If we can educate the barbers and the beauticians, then we can educate the community.”