By Erin Albanese
Lazevious Steele sat snugly in a barber chair as Duane Bacchus used a razor to perfect his fade. The next day, Lazevious and other seniors walked across the stage sporting fresh haircuts to receive their high school diplomas.
Bacchus, a Kent School Services Network community coordinator, had opened the high school’s new barbershop — inside the men’s dressing room attached to the high school auditorium — for the first time the day before graduation, sprucing up seniors with free haircuts before their big send-off.
Next school year he plans to open twice weekly for boys to come in for a trim, and to participate in the ages-old style of barbershop banter that occurs when men gather for haircuts. Bacchus, whose job is to connect students and families with resources, has always included his own style of conversation and counseling in his duties. With the shop he’s adding a cool spin on how he serves Godwin Heights: a “neighborhood” barber where all are welcome, just like those he is used to.
“The barbershop has always been a place where nothing is off limits,” said Bacchus, who remembers “dying of laughter” from the conversations he heard in barbershops as a child. “There was a lot of wisdom and honest talk.”
Bacchus, who cut friends’ hair in college for money, said he already regularly cuts several of his students’ hair. He had the idea of opening an in-school barbershop as a way to incentivize good behavior and build relationships.
With full support from the administration, he recruited his own barber, Chris Turner, from Ace of Fades in Grand Rapids, and another local barber, Miguel Estilo, who works at Maily’s Beauty Salon, to volunteer. Masonic Grand Rapids Lodge No. 34 donated three barber chairs.
Bacchus said he hopes to get more barbers to offer services, as well as a stylist for girls to get their makeup, nails and hair done for dances and special events.
“A haircut means so much to a kid in terms of confidence and your outlook on life,” he said. “You feel better about yourself, and it tends to make everything else easier.”
Turner’s also on board with helping students feel good and building up their self-esteem. “For some reason, people open up in a barbershop. It’s kind of reminiscent of a counselor. I listen and give feedback. Mostly, that’s what people need.”
‘Makes Me Feel Loved’
While Bacchus added the finishing touches to his hair, Lazevious reflected on how it felt to have someone care enough to give him a free haircut before graduation.
“It makes me feel loved and cared about,” he said. “I know Mr. Bacchus is a good barber. For him to take time out of his day to do this, it really means a lot to me.”
Part of his job is developing trust, Bacchus said.
“To sit down and have somebody take machines and run them through your hair, there has to be established trust,” Bacchus quipped. “That trust goes across the board. If you trust them to cut your hair, you trust them enough to talk to them as well.
“For me this project kind of embodies what KSSN is, making the school the center point of a kids’ life scholastically, bringing them community.”
Kent School Services Network is a countywide program that brings social and medical services to students’ schools and homes. It is run through a partnership with local districts and Kent ISD.
As they hung around the shop, students chatted.
“He’s a friend,” senior Gregory Sloan said of Bacchus. “He’s there if you need someone to talk to.”
“I don’t have to go to graduation with all this wild stuff on my head,” said senior Cameron Gray, touching his hair.
“(A barbershop) is a good environment. I think it makes everybody bond,” said senior Jamail Clark.
Next school year, students will be able to buy haircuts with Godwin Bucks, earned for good behavior through the school’s Positive Behavior Intervention Supports program.