Vinegar Hill Article

by Naila A. Smith, PhD

In 2020, firearm-related injuries became the number one leading cause of death for children and adolescents in the United States, with most cases due to firearm assaults rather than unintentional injuries or suicide. This national issue looms large locally in Charlottesville. Gun violence has been steadily increasing in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, with several high-profile incidents involving adolescents. Community forums and institutional collaborations have emphasized community involvement to help stop the violence.

It was after the shooting of two teen boys on the Downtown Mall in October 2022 that Fernando Garay, owner of the House of Cuts Barber Studio, and Daniel Fairley, president of 100 Black Men of Central Virginia, came together to launch the #100Cuts Initiative. The outreach initiative is a program where middle and high school youth in the Charlottesville and Albemarle community can get their hair cut for free by local and visiting barbers. This was not their first time collaborating. Fernando and Daniel held one-off, back-to-school haircut events in 2021 and 2022, and saw the #100Cuts Initiative as a way to extend access to this free service all-year-round.

Additionally, the #100Cuts Initiative specifically seeks to create awareness about the impact of gun violence on local youth, create a safe space that youth can seek out if there is imminent danger, and help youth build trusted relationships with adults in the community. 

Amanda Burns, who serves as the Community Engagement Coordinator for House of Cuts Barber Studio, joined the team in January this year because she believed in the vision of the initiative. Her son, Julian, had been deeply impacted by the gun violence in Charlottesville and she wanted to support him and other young men in the community. In her role, Amanda leverages her relationships with Charlottesville City Schools and Albemarle County Public Schools to plan and execute the initiative’s community events.

Through the #100Cuts Initiative, youth can get free haircuts in two ways. First, any student can visit the House of Cuts Barber Studio, located on “The Corner” of the University of Virginia (UVA) and access a free haircut by showing their school identification card. Second, youth can get free haircuts at their schools. In partnership with local schools, the initiative hosts events on school grounds, bringing five to seven barbers and a stylist to the school to provide free services to students. These school-based events also boast a dj, food, and branded swag to give away. Sometimes other community partners attend and meet with students as well. Past community partners include UVA’s CAV Futures Foundation, current UVA football players, and UVA alumnus like Joe Reed, a former UVA football player and wide receiver for the Chicago Bears.

Barbershops: A Cultural Community Space

Barbershops are a cultural and community space that have long been a site for health promotion, especially for the Black community. Because the barbershop provides a space for young people to talk with someone, the #100Cuts Initiative also includes a focus on mental health intervention. Several barbers at House of Cuts Barber Studio have been trained in trauma-informed care through a brief mental health first aid program facilitated by Region Ten, an agency providing community-based behavioral health programs.

If youth disclose serious mental health concerns, the barbers are prepared to refer them to Region Ten for professional support. Furthermore, because of the partnerships with schools, youth who may need other kinds of support, such as resources to eliminate food insecurity, can be referred to school-based social workers for additional help.

Collectively, these points of contact in the barber shop and at school events as well as the partnerships among various community institutions (barber shop, schools, health care systems) surround young people with caring and supportive relationships across their community.

Impact of the #100Cuts Initiative

To date, over 200 students have received haircuts from visits to House of Cuts and about 170 haircuts have been given at school-based events. The impact of these haircuts are immediate and long-lasting. Fernando talked about how many kids light up with joy and get gassed up by friends because of their fresh cut. Fresh haircuts not only meet youths’ self-care needs but also provide a boost to their self-confidence, which is important because of the salience of body image concerns in adolescence. The initiative has also impacted families who do not have the finances to get frequent haircuts for their children. There have been kids who came for a haircut as part of the initiative in December whose last haircut had been at the back-to-school haircut event in August. Middle and high schoolers also look up to the barbers. Some reach out after their cuts to get additional advice on a problem they shared while in the chair and others find purpose and see a path to a career through this emulation of the barbers.

Fernando also runs a barber apprenticeship program that can help youth develop their barbering and entrepreneurial skills to find a viable career path and make a six-figure income by running their own businesses. Fernando drew on his entrepreneurial expertise and high-quality barbering skills to increase the cost of his full service haircuts to $100, creating a path to financial success for himself and a model for others. In addition to owning House of Cuts Barber Studio in Charlottesville, he also owns The Classics Barber Shop in Harrisonburg, VA.

Fernando’s apprenticeship program helps to fill a hole left by the closure of the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center (CATEC) barbering program, of which Fernando was a member in its last cohort. Daniel is working with Fernando’s mentor, Will Jones, to reinvigorate the barbering program. They plan to do this by starting a six-week paid summer internship program for high schoolers through the Community Attention Youth Internship Program (CAYIP). The hope is that this internship program will turn into a full barber program, creating career opportunities for local youth who may not choose a two- or four-year college path.

Future Plans

The cost of youths’ haircuts are funded through donations from local businesses, churches, parent-teacher organizations, and community members. So far, the initiative has raised about $9,000 to fund haircuts all year-round. Ideally, the initiative would like to give about 100 cuts per month and would need to raise $40,000 to make this dream a reality. By expanding the work of the initiative, Fernando, Daniel, Amanda, and their team hope to serve the needs of young people in the community on an ongoing basis to help prevent and mitigate the impact of community violence in the Charlottesville/Albemarle areas.