For some families, the first haircut for their little boy can be a challenge. It's a time when parents have to teach their child to sit still, let them know that clippers won't hurt them and that they will get a special treat when it's all over.
However in the black community, the first haircut is sometimes seen as one of the first steps in becoming a young man and leads to a path of adulthood.
The scene is similar in many of Covington's barbershops specializing in black hair with posters showing different styles of haircuts, buzzing clippers and clientele walking in to their trusted barber for their preferred style.
At Sim's Barbershop located just off of Hendricks Street, owner and barber Dru Pél Sims lines up the hair on one of his clients as he talks about the history of his shop - that was passed down by his father, the late Thomas Sims Jr. who passed away in 2009. He said his father's shop was established in 1938, but his grandfather Thomas Sims Sr. established Sim's Barbershop in 1917.
"Historically, barbers served many purposes. They were experts through politics, and other business affairs. Men and even women would come to congregate," Sims said.
Sims said he came back to work with his father at his shop, but when he passed away he went to barber school and then continued the family business.
He has been cutting hair since he was 12 years old and earned a lot of his techniques from his dad. He explained why the first haircut was so significant in for a young black male.
“They have to trust the barber, or me, so you have to talk and walk them through it,” Sims said. “The buzz of the clippers — I like to describe them as Disney characters. Once they get my trust, then they can relax. Initially they might cry, but after that, they get used to it, they realize it’s not so bad.
“For 10, 15 or 20 minutes, I have to play big brother, or I try to treat them like a little cousin or nephew,” he said. “In a nonintrusive way, it teaches them structure and discipline.”
Sims said the first haircut was sort of the first step to manhood and that was pretty important.
At “Apollo’s Unisex Barbershop” located on Carlin Drive, “Apollo” Chung prepares his clippers to cut Landen Carpenter’s hair for the first time.
As his dad watches with a camera, the 1-year-old is not aware of what clippers are, but sits still on a cushion that rises him to the occasion. With a swoop of a wrist and a buzz, pieces of Landen’s childhood fall to the floor as an echo of screams fill the barbershop. As tears roll off his face, he is quite for a few moments to receive a piece of candy, but tears continue to flow as he again hears a buzz finishing up the job. Chung awards Laden with a certificate that announces that he has “graduated from childhood.”
Just down I-20 at “The U Barber Parlor” located on Crowell Road, barber and owner LaTroy “L.A.” Williams also talks about the first haircut. Williams said usually, the first haircut happens at the age of 1, but it’s based on the preference of the barber and how comfortable the child is.
“Just like any new thing, it’s a start of structure for the child,” Williams said. “If that parent does enough research, most of the time a child goes to a barber that the family knows. At that point, you have that connection.”
He said the experience can sometimes be a shocking and traumatic for a young boy, but that he has soothing techniques that help keep some children calm.
“I rub the child’s back and do a lot of little soothing things to kind of get them prepared. I talk to them in a certain tone and that always helps and a lollipop always give them a little time to at least think that, that’s so not to bad,” Williams said.
He shook a container of lollipops and said “these are live savers right here.”
Shantrina Williams and her fiancé Greg Miller took a trip to “The U Barber Parlor” with their two sons, Jaylon and Jordon Miller to visit their barber Keith.
Shantrina said Jaylon, 6, had his first haircut just before Thanksgiving and Jordon, 4, like it so much that he wanted one as well. She said she wasn’t ready for Jordon to get a haircut, but knew it was time for him to get one because he didn’t like to get his hair braided and his hair began to dred up. In December 2012, he received his very first haircut.
“You get used to that hair and seeing them with that hair,” Shantrina said. “They were our little boys, our babies and it makes them look older.”
“Now that Jordon has a haircut, it seems like his whole attitude is mature. He has matured into a little boy,” Shantrina said. “I think sometimes with the African Americans nowadays, you see guys walking around with dreads and pants saggin’ and they get into a thuggish mentality to me. That was something we didn’t want. We didn’t want them to go down that road.”
Though their hair is cut down low and both of her boys look like little men, Shantrina said she will hold on to the pieces of their childhood.
“I’ll eventually make a scrapbook for both of them,” she said. “When Keith cut Jaylon’s hair, I kept every bit of it, and I’ll keep his too. I will probably give the grandmother’s some too and put it in a scrapbook.”