“Most of you see a barbershop, but I see an opportunity…I can remember going to the barbershop with my dad as a kid. We went to Mr. Mike’s barbershop every other Saturday, and, like clockwork, the same group of men would be there every time we went, either waiting on their favorite barber or just soaking up the atmosphere…I remember the range of the conversations was immense. The men would talk about politics and sports and music and world news, national news, neighborhood news…and health.” ~ Joseph Ravenell, TED2016: How Barbershops Can Keep Men Healthy

In his Ted Talk, physician Joseph Ravenell discusses how the barbershop can be a safe haven for men, particularly black men, and a place for honest conversation and trust—and a good place to bring up tough topics such as health. Dr. Ravenell wants to turn barbershops into a place to talk about medical problems that statistically affect black men more often and more seriously, like high blood pressure. Several health studies have documented the success of this approach. In Michigan, approximately 700 hair stylists were trained to deliver health promotion messages to 14,000 clients resulting in 60% of clients reporting taking steps to prevent diabetes, hypertension, and chronic kidney disease.[1]

Conducting outreach with barbershops is an approach to problem solving with broad applications. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services , Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assistance’s National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse created and implemented Fatherhood Buzz, an outreach effort that was part of President Obama’s Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative. Fatherhood Buzz connects community-based organizations and barbershops to promote responsible fatherhood by equipping barbershops–one of the most trusted community resources for men—with information and resources to disseminate parenting information to fathers, families, and the community at-large. Topics like financial literacy, effective co-parenting, and men’s health have been the focus of Fatherhood Buzz at over 200 barbershops and partnering community organizations across the country.

Fathers who model a healthy lifestyle can have a powerful and positive impact on the development and health of their children. In fact, a number of studies have found that children who have actively engaged fathers are more likely to have good physical and emotional health, to better achieve academically, and to avoid drugs, violence, and delinquent behavior.

Why Barbershops are Ideal Ambassadors of Responsible Fatherhood

For many men, neighborhood barbershops are community hubs that serve far more than their grooming needs. They are a trusted space to discuss personal and public issues, ranging from family to politics, health, money, and other life issues. Visit any barbershop and you are likely to find a rich, intergenerational dialogue among men and boys. Again, this unofficial outlet for peer education has proven to be an effective way to reach men. For example, in an effort to promote health and prevent illness among black men, the Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program successfully reached nearly 10,000 men nationwide through a grassroots, volunteer-driven effort.[2]

Focusing efforts in places outside of traditional clinical and community settings has shown promise for reducing health disparities. Barbershops and other such locations provide a unique opportunity to share healthy information about fatherhood and the role of fathers in society. When fathers have a trusted place to connect and receive accurate and supportive information on ways to address the needs in their lives, they can better support their children and families, helping to build stronger, healthier communities.

“What is your barbershop?” Dr. Ravenell asks. “Where is that place for you where people affected by a unique problem can meet a unique solution?” Let us know your ideas!

For more information on Fatherhood Buzz, tools, resources, and promotional materials for starting a local Fatherhood Buzz activity, click here: https://www.fatherhood.gov/fatherhood-buzz

Click here to download the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse’s “Going to the Barbershop” coloring and activity book for children: https://www.fatherhood.gov/content/stay-connected

Click here for Dr. Joseph Ravenel’s TED2016 Talk: How Barbershops Can Keep Men Healthy

[1] Madigan ME, Smith-Wheelock L, Krein SL. Healthy hair starts with a healthy body: hair stylists as lay health advisors to prevent chronic kidney disease. Prev Chronic Dis. 2007;4(3): A64.

[2] Releford BJ, Frencher SK Jr, Yancey AK. (2010) Health promotion in barbershops: balancing outreach and research in African American communities. Spring;20(2):185-8.Office for Research and Health Affairs, Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science: Lynwood, CA.

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