Lorenzo Lewis on Mental Health in the Barbershop and Beyond

Posted on November 4, 2021
Share via

You’re invited to view a special webinar with Lorenzo Lewis, revered mental health pioneer and founder of The Confess Project.

Watch or listen to learn from Lewis and our partners at Chenal Family Therapy and The Bridgeway about mental health and resilience in communities of color.

The Confess Project has the first and largest organization committed to building a culture of mental health for young men of color, boys and their families by focusing on empowering frontline heroes and sheroes in communities across America – more specifically, The Confess Project trains barbers to be mental health advocates.

Read an excerpt of Lorenzo’s thoughts from the session below, or watch the whole thing by clicking the video above!

On the origin of The Confess Project

It’s always a pleasure to share about not only our work, but the work that we do for our community and the things that we’re really pursuing here, with Black men and their families.

I grew up in my aunt’s beauty salon. I went there probably from the ages of four to probably 17, in my teenage years and going there every day was a powerful transaction. I’ll never forget going in there just smelling those chemicals ,you know. It had about four stations, no more than five. There was one barber there by the name of Sylvester. I looked at him like a father figure. He was an awesome guy. And he was definitely my first mentor. He was helping to build and to nurture me to who I’ve become now. He would hold me accountable. He made me feel seen, loved, and heard and truly celebrated. And so in that relationship, I really understood,  I can go to my aunt’s salon and and receive the connection and empowerment that I deserve.

That relationship led to something I’ve been able to create with so many other great people in our organization, The Confess Project. We are committed to changing not only the mental health outcomes for African-American men and boys between the ages of six and 35, but also their families. We’re doing this by training barbers on some essential things: how to be a great listener, how to use positive communication, how to reduce mental health stigma, but also how to be compassionate, show empathy. As we really think about how we’ve been able to build and corral a movement around our barbers,  we first centered this work and them understanding that they must take care of themselves before taking care of their clients.

On the cultural impact of barbers

What they realize is that there are people coming in and out of their barbershop that they probably will see, just like me as a four year old kid with his feet dangling from the seat, all the way to a 40, 50 year old person. And so this is somebody that’s with them along their life journey, with them during grief, with them during having their newborn child, getting married, all the way to seeing them through college. What greater way for us to take a cultural asset in the community and really give them some tools.

With more than 600 barbers in 30 plus cities at this point, we provide that same support to the same cities across the country. It’s just recognizing that, hey, these shops are a huge part of the ecosystem of getting people what we call village care  – the support, and really putting the neighbor back in the neighborhood, right?

On barbers as entrepreneurs

Barbershops are historically one of the first places that African-Americans  own a shop and start to create generational wealth from it. And so I think that is phenomenal that we have been able to do a two for one, right? It’s really helping to invest in somebody’s mental health, but invest into these owners that are entrepreneurs, that are now owning barber schools ,and have been able to grow an income and life that they deserve by doing something they love to do and changing lives at the same time. A mantra that we believe here at The Confess Project is that “when you confess, you become your best.” So that is a mantra here that we instill in our barbers as a personal value system of knowing that when they are able to support their clients,  it’s a ripple effect in supporting each other.

Preparing barbers for high-stakes situations

In real time, we’ve had a barber in the state of Tennessee, let us know that he had a client in his chair that was struggling from suicidal ideation and not wanting to live any longer. So in that moment, this barber luckily had the training that we provided to really help him around their way and help to empower him.

But I also wanna tell that also, on the other hand, we’ve had a barber in Philadelphia that had a client sit in his chair and state that this was his last haircut. And then when he left the barbershop that day, that he didn’t plan to live any longer. And my God, I could feel how I feel in this moment to know if somebody sat down and told me that – if I didn’t have the support and vernacular and the literacy, how that made me feel.  That barber talked about how that kept him up for days, and that the client disappeared, and he couldn’t find them. He thought that he had really made to act upon what he had said, little known that the client had disappeared and moved because he was struggling and had gotten evicted from his home.

And so we, know from these firsthand experiences how people are coming in and out of these spaces and common spaces.

On reimagining the frontline of mental health

These are times where we can really reimagine how frontline, what I call heroes and sheroes, can really support communities and support those that love them and that support them. I’m excited that we’ve been able to bring this together, creating such a mass effect of change, but at a grassroots level. I think that’s what’s really important, is that we are building the efficacy and the resilience of our people every day to be able to take charge of their selves and their lives.

Huge thanks to Lorenzo Lewis for joining us to talk about mental health in communities of color. 

If you’re interested in more events like this, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date on the latest resources coming your way!