One of my best memories growing up is going to the barbershop with my pops. I remember him telling me the barbershop is a man’s refuge. I cherished the rides to and from the barbershop with my father. We talked about everything: school, his job, his dreams, my dreams. He worked in sales so he always had to stay fresh. I remember as a young kid I had to bug my dad to take me to the barbershop not just because of the cut, it’s about how I felt after the cut. A great haircut by the right barber can make all the difference! I wasn’t an athlete, but I lived by the words of philosopher Deion Sanders: “When you look good, you feel good, when you feel good you play good.”
The Black barbershop has always been a special place. The first Black barbers were some of the first African-American entrepreneurs during and post-slavery. They styled their slave masters’ wigs which were then sold to European nobility across the seas. The original black barbers purchased their family and friends’ freedom.
I never knew the barbershop would save my life.
Today, the barbershop remains not only a place of refuge but a place that takes care of the community. You’ve probably seen the stories about barbers offering free cuts to kids reading aloud in their chairs. These days, barbershops are literacy centers, community COVID vaccine sites, and Ground Zero for men’s mental health initiatives.
But I never knew the barbershop would save my life.
It was February 26, 2016, and I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror (I looked that bad). My battle with alcoholism and addiction had taken over my life. I checked into a rehab facility for the second time. I was hopeless. Addiction had destroyed my family, and I got the gene. After a few weeks clean, I started to feel better but something was missing. I finally had the courage to look into the mirror. I was clean, but I still looked like shit. I had to beg the rehab staff to take me to a barbershop. They thought I was just being vain, but they did not understand that it was so much more than that. If I was now sober, I did not want to look like I still got high. Looking rough is actually one of my biggest triggers, and seeing my own reflection had me on the verge of relapse. Needless to say, the rehab facility provided me transportation to get my haircut weekly through the grace of the Most High. I’ve been sober ever since, looking good, feeling good, playing good.
Hell, I have to remember to tell my therapist things I have told my barber!
There is an unspoken pressure of being a man; when you walk into the shop you are immediately greeted by people who know what you are going through and want to help you in the process. My father was right; the barbershop is a man’s refuge. As you sit in the chair of your favorite barber the trust that lies between you and him (or her) is so powerful. Hell, I have to remember to tell my therapist things I have told my barber! Before getting a cut, I feel depressed but after I get a cut, I feel like I’m the number one draft pick. Literally, it is as if my bank account went from $20 to $100 million.
Ever since 2016, I get weekly haircuts. They play a huge role in my sobriety. When I look clean and sober, I feel clean and sober. With the weekly dose of confidence provided by my barber, I’ve made it over 5 years sober and I went on to get my Masters in Social Work. I have found my place in the barber industry as a consultant; I get to travel around the country and get cut by the best barbers while helping them grow their businesses.
When you take care of the barbershop owner, you take care of the barbershop, when you take care of the barbershop you take care of the community.Jackson Sarter, M.S.W. is a consultant for Squire, a platform designed to help barbershop owners manage the business of barbering. You can reach him via Instagram.
soulciti scoured Black Austin to find the best barbershops in town that have survived the pandemic; data show 30% of salons and barber shops have closed and failed to reopen due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a disproportionate number of those were Black-owned businesses. And when you add in the impact of gentrification and rapidly rising rents in Austin, it’s getting hard out here to find a barber. Here’s what we came up with:
- Delton’s Pecan Street Barber Shop – Just like the barbershops you remember as a kid. Trash talking, ESPN, and a packed house all day on Saturdays. And you can still get a $10 cut like back in the day too, depending on what you want. Delton’s doesn’t take online bookings, and it’s hard to get them on the phone because they’re always busy, so go during off times, or be prepared to hang out awhile. 101 E. pecan Street, Pflugerville
- X’Cellence Lounge & Grooming – On the complete opposite end of the spectrum from Delton’s, X’Cellence Lounge & Grooming sits in a trailer next to its sister business, Down South Cajjun Eats. Emphasis is put on a luxurious, pampering experience with essential oils, hot towels, and only one person allowed in at a time. You might pay $50+, though, if you want your beard and goatee lined up, too. Clients are seen by appointment only. 15630 Vision Drive, Pflugerville
- The Mike Robledo – Mike Robledo also specializes in a luxury experience, for a mid-range price. The average cut will run you about $30, and he sees clients by appointment only, ensuring you get a 1:1, in and out experience. 2471 S. A.W. Grimes Blvd, Bldg 300, Ste. 1, Round Rock
- Agape Family Barber Shop – A father-daughter team, Reginald and Valincia Johnson have been serving up cuts and hairstyles for decades. Reginald started barbering out of his garage as a teen over 30 years ago, and Valincia offers styling services like braiding and loc maintenance. Today, the shop is as much of a community sanctuary as it is barbershop, with weekend potlucks and an emphasis on educating clients — especially those with biracial or adoptive children — on how to care for their hair. 4503 E Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Austin
- Marshall’s Barber Shop – Marshall’s has been an East side staple for over 30 years, and the shop, like the newly revived Victory Grill, stands as a reminder of the resilience of the East Austin community. One reviewer called it “an old school, real-deal barber shop, like the kind my mama used to bring me to as a boy” and said he’s loyal to his guy but all the barbers have skills. 1915 E 12th St Austin, TX 78702
- Kings & Queens Barber Shop – “Old school vibes and informal views,” promises one reviewer. Like Delton’s, Kings & Queens has also managed to keep prices low and houses several barbers who will get you in and out and feeling good. Locs and styling services are offered as well and cited widely as being great with kids. Check them out online.4315 S 1st St, Austin