It is not an exaggeration to say many minorities, particularly men and women of color, often have a complex relationship with law enforcement. The roots of this tension are webbed deeply throughout history, tangled with stereotypes, lack of communication and mutual distrust. While much of this uneasiness might seemingly be uncalled for, unfortunately sometimes factual evidence lends credence to the apprehension. Due to the wonders of technology, one no longer must wait for the evening news to keep up with current events. Camera phones, live video feeds and social media create instant news. So when someone is injured or dies at the hands of law enforcement, people know within hours and sometimes within minutes. Therefore, many of you will recognize the following names… Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. John Crawford. These are just some of the black men who lost their lives at the hands of police officers in 2014.
There were many more victims. Often the officers involved in the incidents were not charged or they were found not guilty at trial. People in numerous communities became outraged and rioted in response to what they perceived as a continuous lack of justice. Meanwhile, peaceful protests also took place across the country. On April 4, 2015, Walter Scott was murdered – shot in his back by an officer in North Carolina. On that very same day, Lucas Bryan of the Lynchburg Police Department, announced the creation of Badges & Barbers. While people marched with their hands up, begging not to be shot, the local police officer had the desire to make a positive impact.
Bryan, along with his barber, Sam Snead, designed Badges & Barbers as an outreach program. Over a period of eight weeks selected youth would not only learn to cut hair, but they would learn other valuable life skills. Snead worked closely with his business partner, Que Watkins, as well other barbers and members of the Lynchburg Police Department to design the program. Despite the racial and civil tension that ensued elsewhere, Lynchburg residents were eager to support a positive program that as a natural consequence, served to nurture a relationship with local law enforcement.
Bryan has been a police officer for 13 years. He and his wife moved to Lynchburg about 2000. Having grown accustomed to life in the hill city, the couple soon agreed there is no other city in which they would want to live. Bryan always has had a passion for engaging the community, particularly the youth. The vision for Badges and Barbers began to take shape following a candid conversation between Bryan and Snead. Armed with a referral from a friend, Bryan met Snead when he was in need of a haircut. Bryan was so pleased with Snead’s work that he became a regular customer. Throughout those six months, the two got to know each other, often exchanging anecdotes from their pasts. They discovered they had much in common, including humble beginnings and the desire to give back. Somewhere along the way, the relationship changed from that of barber and customer, to that of friends. At a time when the country was in chaos and a revolving cycle of surreptitious racism, blame, anger and pain, they made a choice. They chose to see each other as the men they are and not the labels that would have been easy to hide behind. Bryan said his desire to help probably stemmed from his own childhood. His father was a felon and it took quite a while before society viewed him as anything other than a criminal. So where one might look a teenager as a troublemaker, Bryan sees only potential.
Bryan’s story resonated with Snead. Now co-owner of Directors Cut barbershop, Snead still remembers being 13 years old and sweeping hair from the floor at a local shop. As the years passed, Snead continued to work his way up. He soon stopped doing chores and began to cut hair himself. Reflecting on that time, Snead still is grateful he was given the opportunity to advance. Mentored by Lynchburg businessman and entrepreneur that most locals affectionately call “Chopper,’ Snead continued to focus on his career. Eventually he felt the pull to be more than an employee in someone else’s business. That feeling was shared by fellow barber Que Watkins. The two decided to take the leap and branch out on their own. Directors Cut was a success. Having benefited from a mentorship, Watkins wasted no time joining Bryan and Snead in their efforts. Amassing a team consisting of more police officers and barbers, they began to pitch their vision for the program. Lynchburg City Schools and Partners In Education were both on board. Thus, Badges and Barbers was born.
The program ran in 2014 and again in 2015. Sadly, they had to pause for 2016 due to personnel restraints. Yet all involved parties agree the desire to continue in the future is a constant. They are even considering expanding the program to include other trades besides barbering. While cutting hair is a valuable skill, the program was designed to be about more than that. When asked what the most beneficial thing they learned, every graduate had the same answer – punctuality. Being on-time is even a struggle for some adults, so to see that a group of young men understand the importance of respecting time is poignant and will no doubt serve those young men well as they move forward in their lives.
Note from writer: Arguably, further take-a-ways from the program may vary by participant. As a mother of children with brown skin and the complexity that entails, the feeling is hope. I used to tell my children that if they were in danger, they could trust a police officer to help. Yet in recent years that conversation changed. Instead of encouraging them to run to an officer, I warned them to follow directions, keep their hands up and in sight, and not to talk back. “No matter what happens, don’t argue with a police officer. Don’t talk back. You have to be careful. Stay alive, and I will take care of the rest when I get to you.” It was not easy to watch the innocence leave their eyes as they realized their complexion might one day put them in danger because of covert racism. With so many men and women of color dying in police involved incidents, it became difficult for my family to even watch the evening news. I told them that most police officers are good. I could tell they did not believe me. I was torn between restoring their faith and maintaining their urge for self-preservation. So on behalf of parents of brown babies, I thank Officer Bryan for providing us with palpable proof. Again, most police officers are good people – good people who truly desire to serve and protect. Combine that with a few skilled barbers and anything is possible. As I watch Bryan, Snead and Watkins exchange pleasantries in the lobby of Directors Cut, I did not see two barbers and an officer. I saw three people, smiling and genuinely engaging in an obvious friendship. I see humanity at its best and definitely a cut above the rest.