With clippers in hand trimming away tufts of Eric Morton Jr.’s hair, barber Eddie Taylor joked he would shave the 8-year-old’s head bald. His deadpan line was met with a glare before Taylor let out a laugh and Eric cracked a smile.
Minutes later, Morton stepped down from the Baltimore Mobile Barber Lounge with a fresh haircut. His hair was trimmed tight against his head, but he didn’t leave bald.
“It feels good,” he said before darting away for ice cream.
Eric was one of about 25 boys who were treated to free hair cuts Saturday at Union Baptist Church in Upton. The Baltimore Mobile Barber Lounge, an RV-turned-barber shop, partnered with the church, as well as Sharp Street United Methodist Church and the Gilman School to provide the haircuts days before the start of school. Quinn’s Ice, a local food truck, dished out free soft-serve ice cream and school supply goody bags to the boys and their families.
“What this was was just kind of an organic idea coming out of some men saying, ‘You know what? When I was young one of the things that I remember is that I got my hair cut before I went to school. Is there a way in which we could do that for the young people in the community?’” said the Rev. Alvin C. Hathaway Sr., senior pastor of Union Baptist Church.
Hathaway and his longtime friend Johnnie Foreman, director of community inclusion and equity for Gilman, organized the event for the first time this year, and they hope to bring it back again.
The church handed out fliers in the community before and during the event, and reeled in a number of passersby Saturday. Ebony Parker, Eric’s mom, who was on her way to pick up her sons and take them to an event to get free bookbags, was one of them.
“I was like, ‘Oh yes, that’s so helpful,’” Parker said.
Eric, who will enter third grade at Harlem Park Elementary School, already gets his hair cut every two weeks, so Saturday’s event saved them a trip.
“My hair always grow back and I don’t get why,” he said.
The two barbers working the event, Taylor and Ray Clea, took about 15 minutes per cut and fielded plenty of requests for fades.
The Mobile Baltimore Barber Lounge, owned by husband and wife Rodney and Precious Barnes, regularly participates in charity events. The 2-year-old shop is always booked the weekend before school starts, Precious Barnes said.
“We support a lot of churches where they give back to the community,” she said.
Local church organizers said they were pleased with the event’s turnout, though they’d originally hoped to serve 100 boys.
“We’ve been talking to some of the young men after the hair cuts and what they’ve said is, ‘I feel more confident,’” the Rev. Cary James Jr., senior pastor of Sharp Street United Methodist Church, said. “That was one of the things that we wanted to accomplish was to really boost their self-esteem with a haircut.”
While the kids waited in line for cuts, five students from Gilman, ages 13 to 17, spent time talking with the boys about their school and sports.
“I wanted to kind of set an example for the little kids that are coming out to see what they could possibly grow up to be,” said Nigel Parker, a 16-year-old sophomore.
Several Gilman officials attended the event, too, offering an opportunity for parents and caretakers to discuss opportunities for their children.
Rob Heubeck, head of Gilman’s upper school, said Gilman was looking for ways to give back to the community. The partnership with Union Baptist Church came naturally, he said. The student volunteers were part of the school’s mentorship program.
“These guys are part of that and see the value of giving back to the community and being a presence — being a positive presence, which communities like this need,” he said. “They need to see some positivity, know that people care and want to help them, and you do that through really human presence.”
Yolanda Foster brought her brother, 18-year-old Rashad Foster, and nephew James Coleman III, 6, for haircuts. She said it was nice to see a positive event in the neighborhood.
James’ father, James Coleman Jr., agreed.
“It just keep hope alive,” he said. “And that’s all that’s really needed for this community.”