From the porch of his childhood home in Cherry Hill to barber shops across Baltimore, Troy Staton, 52, has cut hair for nearly four decades. For Staton, cutting hair is more than just a trade and he is more than just a barber.
When Staton was 13 years old, he got his first pair of clippers. He practiced cutting his brother’s hair, then his friends’, and eventually in the community. The clippers gave Staton a sense of independence. He no longer relied on his mother to buy him new outfits or any of the latest gadgets, he says.
Staton was recently named a 2020 fellow at the Open Society Institute (OSI) for his work in the community. The OSI recognizes local activists and entrepreneurs who are creating community solutions related to health, education and criminal justice. The fellowship program awarded 12 Baltimoreans $60,000 each to help them expand their programs over the next 18 months.
In 2017, Staton launched a program called More Than a Shop so clients were able to attend reading sessions, receive food distributions, have a quick health checkup or get other information.
“Barbers are the cornerstones of the community,” Staton said. “The shop is a place to get advice, decompress and just talk for hours.”
He reached out to organizations including Enoch Pratt Free Library. The library bought local authors into the shop to read to children. Healing City Baltimore, RnD Associates and the Baltimore City Health Department hosted informational sessions regarding sexual health. And Staton partnered with Kaiser Permanente, a health care company, to bring clinicians into his shop to test for heart disease, diabetes and HIV, three major health concerns the Baltimore City Health Department was working to prevent in Black communities.
“We embrace the need to reach community members outside of the walls of our medical center,” said Alma Roberts, Kaiser’s interim director of Community Health and Economic Opportunity and Impact. “We wanted to go into spaces where people congregate to reach African American males who may not have access to these preventive services.”
Within the first year, 117 screenings were done at Staton’s shop. While New Beginnings is under new ownership, the More Than A Shop program expanded to include 12 other barbershops and beauty salons, including Vanity Salon, where Staton now works.
“Every area has a different need,” Staton said. “The needs within the 21223 ZIP might be different from the needs of 21215, and we still need to take responsibility for those [community] issues.”
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, clinicians from Kaiser Permanente now set up tents in parking lots adjacent to barbershops and beauty salons to offer the free health screenings. It’s a resource offered every Saturday between October and July.
After three years, more than 5,000 health screenings have been done at area barbershops and salons, according to Roberts. A 2019 report by Kaiser Permanente showed that 90% of those helped were African American and more than 60% percent were Black men.
“Troy is the epitome of a community advocate,” Roberts said. “He’s someone you wish you had in every community.”
Tatyana Turner is a 2020-21 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project, a national service program that places emerging journalists in local newsrooms. She covers Black life and culture. Follow her @tatyanacturner
This article is part of our Newsmaker series that profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor, Sundra Hominik at email@example.com.