Shot of a handsome young man trimming his beard at the barber

Source: Kobus Louw / Getty

The barbershop has always been a sacred place in the Black community, and now they’re helping reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.

“The haircut’s gonna be the one way to make you feel good, but we’ve gotta go deeper than that,” Willis the Barber tells NY1.

Willis is the owner of the Well Connected barbershop located at 66 Rivington St in New York’s Lower Eastside. The establishment’s name can be connected to A$AP Rocky lyrics from the song that put him on the map, “Peso.”

Well Connected was just a spot to get a fresh cut, but with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became essential to go beyond skin deep and focus on the local community’s mental health to break past that tough exterior. Willis was with the movement and connected with The Confess Project –the nation’s first mental health barbershop movement– to make it easier for shopgoers to open up.

“That idea was to train barbers to become mental health advocates. Utilizing some of the same skills that counselors use, and while it’s not counseling, we believe these skills can ultimately change our community and extend the lives of Black and brown men,” says Dontay Williams, CEO of The Confess Project.

Willis explains that the deeper conversations can start with the typical small talk once you hop in the chair and listen to the tone of their voices when discussing topics like work-life, kids, or plans for the week.

But the importance of mental health amid the pandemic didn’t only affect New York, so The Confess Project also works with barbershops in Little Rock, Arkansas to Atlanta, New Orleans, Louisville, and Indianapolis. 9 states in total.

“We support boys, men of color, and their families,” Lorenzo P. Lewis, The Confess Project founder and Project Director, told TODAY. “Barbers can be great listeners, a great advocate for themselves and their loved ones, which would be their clients in the community.”

Lewis understands how hard it can be for African Americans to get the help they seek and how important it is to destroy or reshape the stigma between black men and mental health.