Like many businesses around the country, the Nile Style Barbershop has had to evolve to protect its staff as well as its clients from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Black-owned Baltimore barbershop now requires infrared temperature checks and masks.
The barbershop also requires clients to answer a coronavirus questionnaire found on a health care kiosk.
“It kind of gives us a baseline idea of the individual and possibly where they’ve been and who they’ve come in contact with,” Kennard Perry, a senior partner and barber at the Nile Style Barbershop, told CNN.
The results of the survey and the infrared temperature check determine whether clients get haircuts or not.
And if those clients do not end up in the barber chair, they will not leave empty-handed. Nile Style makes sure that the client is armed with a list of health care providers who can determine if that person needs a coronavirus test.
“We have to take care of one another,” said Perry.
Live Chair and health care
The coronavirus surveys on the health care kiosk and the infrared temperature checks are just two parts of a much larger service provided to Nile Style Barbershop by Live Chair, a booking and appointment management platform that equips barbershops with health screening tools.
Andrew Suggs is one of the co-founders of Live Chair. He said that he and his team wanted to bridge racial disparities in health care.
“When you look at the health statistics for minorities versus the general population, they are very glaring,” Suggs told CNN. “And when you think about how most chronic diseases are preventable — that emboldened me and my co-founders to get the message out.”
Suggs’ push to provide barbershops with health screening tools also stems from his family’s experience with heart disease. His father suffered from congestive heart failure and died in June.
“My father was dealing with chronic health conditions for the last couple of years, which culminated last year, in 2019 with three cardiac arrests,” he said. “I think that was the final straw.
He added: “Had Live Chair been around 20-25 years ago, my father who frequented the barbershop almost every two weeks, would have been alive today because he would have been more engaged in his health care.”
In the fall of 2019, Live Chair started training barbers and providing them with weight scales, blood pressure cuffs, BMI sheets, risk assessments to detect the likelihood of hypertension as well as access to a network of Black health care professionals.
Nile Style Barbershop was the first salon to be equipped with the tools. Now, 20 salons in Maryland have the same opportunity to serve their communities.
“It has worked wonders for us,” said Perry. “It not only brings us closer to our clientele, but our community which we serve at large. We are able to help people on a one-on-one basis and the appreciation level from them has been profound.”
When the coronavirus forced businesses to shut down in March, the Nile Style Barbershop had no choice but to halt its health screenings.
Nevertheless, Suggs hopes that Live Chair will continue with the screenings once coronavirus starts to tamp down.
“Once Covid subsides a little bit, we will implement the screenings again,” said Suggs.
The Black man’s country club
A barbershop is a good venue to implement this kind of health screening because of the level of trust between barber and client, Perry said.
“The average African American man who has a barber creates a very longstanding relationship with that barber so there is a trust there,” said Perry. “So if you trust me, I’m now able to talk to you about things and you bring things to me about your daily life.
In addition to trust, there are two other factors that make the barber-client relationship unique: the barber’s close proximity to the client’s face and the frequency of the client’s visit to the barbershop, according to Suggs.
“Trust, close proximity to your face — you don’t allow too many people to get that close to you — and when you think about the frequency, which happens to be about twice a month for most men or at least once a month for most African American men,” he said. “There’s a lot of regularity in the sense that you see the same person again and again and again.”
He added: “You may only see your doctor once a year for 15 minutes and a lot of our Black brothers and sisters are not going to the doctors as they should.”
Perry says that Live Chair not only broke down a “wall of silence” within the barbershop but “shattered the myths of health care.” The company has also helped the Nile Style Barbershop deliver a very important message to its clients.
“We are here for you,” said Perry. “We want to make sure we cut your hair today and for the next 30 years.”