INTRO Its spring and students are taking their final exams…. Including students who want to be Barbers. In order to graduate and receive a license, Master Barber students first need to pass the New York State Board exam. To practice they’re partnering up with a willing group of hair models. Refugees housed at city shelters. Yzeppa Macias has more.
MACIAS 1 In the lobby of the Wyndham hotel in Astoria, SUNY students have set up a “make-shift barber shop.” Small tables are set up with black and purple combs, there are spray bottles, hair products and shavers plugged into extension cords that run along the floor. They've been giving free haircuts for the past two weeks in order to prepare for their finals. And like many of the students, Letisha Parsons is nervous. LETISHA 1 It’s so bad to the point where I'm dreaming about doing state board in my dreams. I dream about cutting hair.
MACIAS 2 Parsons is 42 and is a Brooklyn native. She travels over an hour to get to school. She says the commute takes awhile but she’s grateful for the experience because she is trying to break into what she says is a male dominated industry.
LETISHA 2 And I have two strikes against me because I'm trans.
MACIAS 3 And you’re black
LETISHA 3 Yes. And I'm a woman. So it's like, yes. And the guys will be like, Oh, she doesn't know what she's doing. Or, you know, she don't know how to cut. And I want to prove them wrong.
MACIAS 4 In order to do that she needs real-life practice.
MACIAS 5 Two chairs away from Letisha a man sits down in one of the chairs. Christie, another barber student here to practice, begins to shave off the man's short dark hair, he looks relaxed, eyes closed. His name is Fernando … Christie translates for me.
MACIAS 6 Will you ask Fernando how he feels after his fresh cut? CHRISTIE 1 Spanish - how you do feel? FERNANDO 1 Me siento mucho mejor. CHRISTIE 2
He feels better, basically it’s a clean cut. He feels fresh, he feels refreshed.
Fernando and his family, his wife and two sons, have been at the hotel for a month now after coming from Colombia. He just had a job interview in Brooklyn. CHRISTIE 3 He’s a chef, verdad? Cocinero … FERNANDO 2 si, si si. CHRISTIE 4 He actually cooked, I think, [SPANISH] for like 100 people, and he's actually going to get this job.
MACIAS 8 New jobs are also on the students' minds. When they take their state boards they’ll have one hour to set up, give a haircut, a shave a facial and clean up. So they need to learn their techniques like how to cut a fades and properly use the different settings on clippers. Christie says after graduation she wants to open her own barber shop. Their instructor Ehimare Ojafore is there with them to supervise.He wants their work to come out as good as possible. EHI 1 So that's how that helps the refugee because it's like, oh, now I look good. So now I can kind of now I can move at least that's one aspect of my life that I don't have to worry about. MACIAS 9 When he’s not teaching, Ojafua is a full time barber at a shop in Times Square. He says that he and students often go to homeless shelters as well to get that one-on-one client experience. Practice on human heads isn’t required for the exam but he says its essential for the students' growth as barbers. Sitting on a small blue couch nearby is 19-year-old Carmen Rawlinson , he says that since this hotel is reserved for families with children he’s had to cut a lot of kids' hair, which was really challenging. CARMEN 1 I felt a little under pressure. But um, you know, to each their own, some people don't don't get that one cutting children, but I don't know, I just feel like I don't want to, like mess up or hurt a child. You know. MACIAS 10 It's hard to cut kids' hair right? CARMEN 2
Yah It's very hard. MACIAS 11 Did they sit still for you? CARMEN 3 No, no not at all. MACIAS 12 Carmen says he hasn’t had any clients this morning but last week everyone seemed to like their haircuts, even the little kids who squirmed.
CARMEN 4 Yeah, I'm feeling good. I'm actually interested in seeing the other people that we might possibly be serving today at another location. So I'm not entirely too sure yet. But wherever it is, we're going to do our job. We're going to show up and we're going to succeed. MACIAS 13 The students have another four weeks to study and practice, challenges and all.