*The Michigan Chronicle is discussing barbering and its history in Detroit in this two-part series. In this first part, we delve into one man’s story on becoming a barber in the community.”
Barbers are the community backbone.
Black barbers are the same – but they’re also heroes without capes.
Black barbers along with beauty salons have been keeping Black men (and women) sharp and in line since the turn of the 19th century – serving as places this community can get their hair done, eat, socialize and hear the latest tea, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). But we know this firsthand.
“They have been places not only to get hair care services but locations where Black people could be vulnerable and talk about issues of importance in the community. There were spaces where customers played games such as chess, cards and dominoes, while having conversations about local gossip, politics and community affairs,” according to the NMAAHC.
Over the decades, barber shops, like beauty salons, etched out a specific purpose for themselves in the Black community with scholars describing these places as “sanctuaries” for Black people. It’s easy to see why. In films like “Coming to America” (1988), “Malcolm X” (1992), and “Barbershop” (2002), a slice of life in the Black barbershop are displayed in its full, funny and raw glory. It’s easy to see why Black men and women and often their sons get in the barbershop chair time after time to bond and look good in the process.
Rico Robinson, 40, owner of Mr. Clippers (formerly known as Brooks Barbershop) on 19504 W. Seven Mile Road in Detroit, is a community superhero and has been for the past eight years.
He started cutting hair professionally 20 years ago – he first cut his own hair, then neighbors and friends and eventually went to school in 2008.
“The thing about it is everyone wants to look their best so you’re able to fulfill those needs and requirements — so anytime you can help a person get to where they want to be [it is] always a good feeling,” Robinson said.
He was in middle school when he “picked up a pair of clippers.”
He hasn’t put them down since then.
His shop does an array of styles that are in fashion, along with classic styles that never, well go out of style.
“I would say that in Detroit … we’re known for the taper, which is a real popular cut,” Robinson said. “A lot of people down south call it the ‘Up North.’”
He added that people in Texas, Florida and the like might have certain styles but Detroiters go for the universal look.
A taper, for those not in the know, is a fairly low (but not too low) cut and it’s faded (or shaved close) up on the sides and back.
“An actual fade would be the hair is low all around the head and it goes into the hair up top — a taper is not a full fade,” Robinson said.
His clients know what they want, when they want it and love telling their barber exactly that.
“I moved here two years ago and this was the [first barbershop] I took my two boys. Everyone made us feel at home, from the warm greetings when we walk into the shop, to opening up their break room so my children could eat lunch before getting haircuts,” a female customer noted in a review. “I always feel at home whenever we’re in the shop. The owner and the other barbers are very professional and have a passion for their art.”
Mothers often come in with their sons, Robinson said.
“You get a lot of that – everybody can’t do it all by themselves. Sometimes you become an extended partner in so many ways as a barber or hairstylist.
Robinson said that he sees all kinds of clients, including those who were children when he first cut their hair and decades later he sees them grown and about their business.
“[They go] from child to man and you see that growth – it’s always a good thing,” Robinson said. “I think that might be the most memorable thing. Seeing young guys grow and become successful.”