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Milwaukee barbers learn how to become mental health advocates for Black men


MILWAUKEE — Barbershops have been a sanctuary for Black men in Milwaukee for years.

My father was a barber, so I grew up in the barbershop,” said James Flippin.

James Flippin, who’s been cutting hair for more than 20 years, currently works at Gee’s Clippers. In those two decades, Flippin says he’s created strong bonds with clients who’ve sat in his chair and turned to him for help during some of their darkest times.

“I listened to him, a lot, and it was about his wife. He didn’t know how to talk to her, he didn’t know how to talk to anybody else,” said Flippin. “He called me and said man thank you because I really wanted to hurt myself and her.”

Stories like the one Flippin shared are the reason why advocates with The Confess Project of America are touring the country. They provide barbers and stylists with the tools they need to identify, listen, and help their clients, primarily Black men, dealing with mental health issues.

“Men carry a weight unlike any other, “said Gaulien ‘Gee’ Smith, owner of Gee’s Clippers.

“Through positive communication, through active listening, through validation, and reducing the stigma, that goes a long way for our community to prosper,” said Craig Charles, a barber ambassador for the confess project.

Experts say the relationship between a barber and their client is often viewed as sacred.

“I’m sure I have clients that have shared things with me that their own families don’t know about them,” said Smith.

This, in turn, creates the perfect opportunity for barbers to provide a safe space, and serve as a reminder to others that it’s okay not to be okay.

A lot of Black men don’t like to talk. They like to keep things sealed up,” said Flippin. “You have to learn how to just say, okay I hear you, I understand. You’re okay. It’s okay to hurt, it’s okay to be hurt.”

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org.

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