The role of a journalist is to write and report on information using credible sources to disseminate to the public. Journalists today must also listen to the public to determine what’s important to them when deciding what stories to write and disseminate.
Recently, my “listening” opportunity took place in a D.C. barbershop. It happens to be where my loctician (the person who makes sure my locs are properly maintained) operates. It’s not just any barbershop, however. It’s near Howard University and is seemingly the barbershop of choice for many HU students, professors, staff, and the surrounding predominantlyBlack but gentrifying community.
A chair is rarely empty there, even during COVID, when many barbershops closed, resulting in barbers opting to operate from their homes. Scheduled appointments, in many cases, are more often required.
This shop has an open door, however, and it’s a hotbed for stimulating conversations with men of all ages who come in looking as if they’ve been besieged by the world’s problems and leave appearing ready to solve them.
On this unusually warm winter day, one of the six barbers entered late with a cup of coffee. The conversation heated up quickly. Beginning his day with an espresso and chasing it with another cup of coffee launched a discussion about caffeine, its impact on the body, how they were able to help wean him from drinking energy drinks, and explaining, once again, why drinking coffee at night was causing him to lose sleep. There were lots of jokes and laughs, but the conversation was lengthy and mostly serious.
Last week, D.C. experienced a record-breaking 80-degree day, while places across the country were hit by several record-breaking snowfalls. Two days later, snow fell in D.C.
With a bright sun beaming through the glass windows, one barber said, “You know, it’s been snowing a lot in other places.” The conversation among the men quickly turned from the effects of caffeine on the human body to the impact of shifting tectonic plates on the earth and climate change.
“Yeah, man, but I’ve got to send you this article about this white boy that’s suing Howard University,” another barber announced out of the blue. “Man, read this whole article. It’s wild. It’s almost like they’re setting him up to win this $2 million lawsuit.”
It’s true. A former white law student who reportedly entered HULS in 2020 after receiving an annual $26,500 scholarship was expelled following his second year in September. He has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the university, claiming he suffered “emotional, mental, and economic harm.” He is seeking more than $2 million in damages.
This story clearly raised the ire of the barbers and their customers, who ranted at great length about the lawsuit and acknowledged the increasing number of white students enrolling in the historically Black university. Their prediction: He might win. He might get something, but he won’t get $2 million.
With the snap of a cape dropping shaved hair to the floor, the topic fell and then moved to Adidas and Kanye West.
“You know, Adidas might want Kanye back,” someone said. This story requires more fact-checking, but Adidas claims it is losing millions of dollars from its Yeezy line of sneakers, which they removed from shelves in response to Kanye West’s reported antisemitic remarks last November. The question remains, what will Adidas do with all those sneakers? Sell them off-brand or burn them? It’s a predicament costing them millions and the risk brands take when dealing with celebrities.
With sports programs on the big screen TV, the barbers switched to offering play-by-play reflections of the recent NBA All-Star game, and college and local high school sports. One of the barbers has two sons that play for their elementary and middle school football teams, respectively. It was a proud papa moment as everyone seemed aware of their exemplary sports skills. Local youth sports dominated that conversation.
That is until LeBron James’ name was mentioned. A thorough analysis of James’ career raised the temperature in the room.
“Father time has caught up with LeBron. His body has been taking some good hits, but he needs to give it up,” one barber advised. “He only gets nick-nack injuries, but nothing has set him down,” another responded. “That’s why we know he’s on steroids,” another joked. “Man, why can’t he just be superhuman?”
“Oh, oh,” someone announced, “the caffeine is kicking in!”
Rising food costs, unreliable grocery delivery services, the police killing of a 37-year-old Black man for shoplifting a pair of designer sunglasses from a shopping mall in nearby Fairfax, Virginia. And the impact of race on everything cut through each topic, no matter who occupied a barber chair.
And, with three women in the rear of the shop, the locticians, and their customers, including me, the only gender-related issues discussed was a brief mention of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, and the barbers whose daughters won’t share their Netflix accounts.
As a journalist, I left with a clean and simple hairstyle and trending story ideas that folks are discussing. I never announced that I am a journalist; maybe I should have. And, perhaps the next time, I will. Still, my job is to observe and listen and then to research, write and disseminate the stories and the solutions to issues our readers care about. I got an earful at the barbershop!
Denise Rolark Barnes is the publisher of The Washington Informer.
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