To school in style

Grove Hall barber shop gives free haircuts for the first day back

Michael Curry, 5, received an even cut from barber David Johnson at Mattapan’s Finest Barbers yesterday. Michael Curry, 5, received an even cut from barber David Johnson at Mattapan’s Finest Barbers yesterday. (Photos By Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)
By Patricia Wen
Globe Staff / September 5, 2011

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Keishawuna Redden-Lee, 11, had visions of the stylish bob worn by hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj. Fifth-grader Denarjeh Witherspoon asked for a millimeter-level trim because he has a future Mohawk in mind. Nine-year-old Mya Alexander idolizes the King of Pop, so she wanted something similar to the late singer’s loose curls.

“I’m going to feel happy if I go to school looking like Michael Jackson,’’ said the third-grader from Dorchester, her hair coiled into a dozen curlers as she sat under a dryer. “I’d be the person who is the star of the stage.’’

The opportunity yesterday for free back-to-school haircuts, washes, and curls brought nearly 200 children - and their budding senses of style - into a popular 22-year-old barber shop that has long been a de facto community center in Boston’s black community. The second annual “cut and curl’’ is the brainchild of Jamie Mitchell, a father of five and owner of Mattapan’s Finest Barbers. Lines spilled onto the sidewalk for the event, held at the barber shop’s location across from Grove Hall’s mecca shopping center.

At a time when many small businesses like Mitchell’s have shut down, unable to stay afloat in the largely poor, high-crime districts that they serve, this barber shop has a steady flow of loyal clients, even during the latest recession. Through little advertising, yesterday’s “cut and curl’’ event drew in a seemingly unending flow of families.

“I brought my granddaughters here this morning, and we were second in line,’’ said Sharon Curry, 51, who arrived at 7:10 a.m., nearly an hour before the door opened. “There are a lot of single parents around here and we can only do so much. The children’s hair always comes last. We can braid it - and that’s it. When the kids get their hair done here, they feel good about their whole body, mind and soul.’’

The event was a significant money-saver for families - each boy’s cut was worth $10 and each girl’s wash and curl valued at about $35, and there was no limit on how many children, up to age 12, in a family could take advantage of the offer. Some two dozen barbers and hair stylists donated their time from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and numerous businesses and nonprofits donated money to help provide backpack and school supplies to children, as well as feed the staff and visitors.

Boys and girls had far different wait times.

Most boys didn’t have to wait at all - their cuts were generally quick and efficient.

Some, however, asked for special styles, such as the “bald fade’’ or “high-top fade’’ - hair at the center but with a near-bald look on the sides. Others asked for a “tail’’ - an extra bit of length left at back of their heads. Another favorite was a design haircut - tight curls trimmed to display a geometric pattern, such as a star.

Many girls, however, had to wait several hours to get into an empty chair, largely because their services - wash, dry, straightening, curling - took far longer.

Some girls brought magazines, wanting the look of singers Rihanna or Keri Hilson. Others aspired to have the fashionable asymmetrical “Cassie’’ haircut.

Mitchell said he has long believed in the importance of education in helping the young people of his community, and wanted them to feel and look their best as they step into the classrooms this fall.

“Their self-esteem is important on the first day of school,’’ said Mitchell, holding clippers as he gave a boy a “bald fade’’ cut.

Not every child, however, was interested in a special look.

Many boys wanted the shortest possible haircut, so they could get on with the precious remaining days of summer vacation.

“I just wanted a regular short haircut,’’ said Nyquan MacDonald, 11, looking nearly bald as he raced off the barber’s chair. “I don’t want to have to come back to a barber shop a lot.’’

Patricia Wen can be reached at

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