Breaking News
More () »

A cut above the rest | How this club is giving young Black boys confidence to grow their skillset

Once the school day ends, these kids trade in their pencils for a pair of clippers.

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — When you think of an after-school club, you probably go through the normal list of activities like photography, chess, drama or even math. 

But for Washington Junior High in Rock Island, the club to be in is trading pencils for clippers — the barbering club. 

On Monday afternoons, the middle schoolers spend an hour or so learning the ins and outs and all of the short cuts of cutting hair. 

And there's no mannequins to be found! Students also learn the grind of finding their own customers. So far, weekly patrons have included the fellow young-barbers-to-be, other kids from around school, their assistant principal and even Washington's basketball team. 

Leading the club is George Todd, a master barber from Supreme Legacy Barbershop in Moline. Now, he's passing on his knowledge to the next generation. 

"It just helps the community a lot, you know," Todd told News 8's Shelby Kluver. "It's something good for these young men, to learn how to cut."

Not only do these kids get hands-on experience learning the sometimes-delicate skill, but they also get a crash course in valuable business skills. Each afternoon, Todd patiently reviews how to properly clean and sanitize the equipment and how to deliver proper customer service. 

During News 8's visit to the club, Todd began quizzing each of his students as they worked. 

"Did you ask him his name? Does he play any sports? How about him, did he tell you if he wanted a fade," he asked. "How about this, does anyone know what this is? Yes, a lever!" 

The club began in the summer of 2022 at Edison Junior High School. But it didn't take long for the district to notice its success. Now, Rock Island hopes to continue the club into the upcoming school year, with possible plans to have the students begin charging $0.25 for a haircut. 

"We want them to be able to run their own business one day," said Larry Harris Jr., who is the coordinator for the school's Lights on for Learning program that helps sponsor the barber club.

Harris says there's always a need for talented young barbers and hairstylists in the Quad Cities. But beyond the physical need, he notes that clubs focusing on skills like these are critical to helping young Black boys and men succeed.

"We got plenty of other clubs in our school ... but a lot of our students are underrepresented in those clubs, you know. Especially Black African American males," Harris said. "That's another reason why we started the barbershop club is so they can be around people and talk to individuals who look like them." 

It's about creating a culture and family that understands those skills will take each student far into the future. The district views the club as a community that's actively being built. 

And so far, it seems to be working. What started off with a few, dedicated kids, has turned into an after-school activity ballooning in numbers and quickly outgrowing its small classroom space. 

"Sometimes you gotta say a few things more than once," Todd laughed. "But I love it. I love giving back to the community, to the young kids. They're our future." 

In just a few short weeks, students like eighth grader Jeremiah "JJ" Jamison are already pros. 

"It's cool," said JJ. "If I don't make it to where I want to go, I have a second, like, job I wanna do." 

JJ was hard at work, cutting hair, when we caught up with him. 

"It's kinda like you bald the sides and then keep the top," he explained, eyes focused on his clippers while his free hand carefully twisted his patrons head from side to side. "Mr. Todd taught me a lot of things about cutting hair. It's kinda easy, you just can't be nervous!" 

Nearby, seventh grader Herman Byamone was experimenting with giving his client a design on the side of his head. 

"I was nervous when I first started cutting hair, but right now I feel great," Byamone smiled. Underneath the edge of the clipper, his client smiled too. "I can finally line people up now! It's cool!" 

"You can come in, you can meet individuals who have the same interests as you and get a good lesson out of it as well," Harris said.

As their customers' hair gets shorter, the young barbers' confidence gets bigger. That proves that this club is a cut above the rest. 

Download the WQAD News 8 App 
Subscribe to our newsletter 
Subscribe to our YouTube channel 

Watch more news, weather and sports on News 8's YouTube channel

Before You Leave, Check This Out