INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Fred Yeakey could be considered an expert on three things: working in a school, cutting hair and getting through to teenagers. His school says he’s found a way to do all three at once.
Yeakey holds a barbershop class at Providence Cristo Rey High School on Indianapolis’ west side called “Grooming the Outer Man, Guiding the Inner Man.” It’s a cut and a conversation.
“In 2010 I was a teacher over at Arlington High School and I had a group full of young men who often complained about school not being engaging,” said Yeakey. “So we started a male mentoring club called The Barbershop with five people. It grew to 30. It grew to be much more than what I anticipated.”
The set up is simple: a circle of chairs, a sharp pair of clippers and some privacy to talk.
At the start of this school year, Yeakey brings up one of the boys, wraps a cape around him, hands him a mirror and asks him two questions. The first is obvious.
“OK Richard,” he said. “What kind of cut are you trying to get today?”
Then the second question.
“What are we going to talk about?” he asks, turning to this session’s group of six boys.
The conversation starts to flow, so often led by the students.
“Mr Yeakey, how do you deal with stress?” asks one.
“When it comes to making decisions in life, do you follow your heart or your mind?” asks another.
“How do you deal with pressure as a man knowing that everything falls on you?” asks a third.
Mr. Yeakey has a response for each question but often begins by turning the tables on the students.
“You know what, that’s a good question man. What do ya’ll think?” he asks, clippers in hand, working on a student’s ball fade.
Eventually, Mr. Yeakey spills over with advice: how to manage your time in college, how to talk to police officers, how to take care of your parents, how to isolate all your options before making a decision.
He also walks them through the haircut itself, explaining why he’s using a certain trimmer attachment, why it’s important to wash your hair before coming to the barber and how to even out the “swirl” on the back of your head. He can draw a life lesson from nearly everything.
“Much like life right, you’ve gotta blend it all the way around,” Yeakey says, trimming the back of a boy’s head. “Image is important so you want to have a fresh cut, but the person you can’t see on the inside is important too.”
Students in the club say the conversations have made a big difference for them.
“It gets heavy sometimes,” said Derryck Strode, a senior at Providence Cristo Rey. “A lot of it is just as a colored man or as a man period, how to survive out in the world.”
“There are some days that I’m stressed about school or something at home and he’ll put a smile on my face,” said Chris Mason, also a senior. “He’s a great man.”
“It made me look at things different. I used to look at certain situations as if there was only one outcome but if you look deeper you can evaluate more options,” said Kyerre Hudson, a senior.
Some students say they don’t come for a haircut at all; they just like the conversation.
“Mr. Yeakey has been trying to cut my hair since I was sophomore,” said Hudson. “He hasn’t touched my hair yet. I told him he’s got to make my cut valuable. It’s got to be special for me.”
Yeakey says he’ll keep up the Barbershop Club as long as there’s hair to cut and kids to listen.
Providence Cristo Rey High School is located at 75 N Belleview Place, west of IUPUI. Administrators say it’s meant for low-income, minority students. and this year it celebrated 10 years of 100% college acceptance for its graduating class.