When students at B.E.S.T. Academy walk into Room C201 every other Tuesday and Wednesday, they’re not just entering into a regular classroom.
Instead, the young men are headed to their school-based barbershop – a room complete with barber chairs, mirrors, and plenty of real talk and positive conversation.
Known simply as A Cut Above, the program – the first of its kind at Atlanta Public Schools – provides students free haircuts, as well as mentoring and grooming advice from positive male role models who are more like uncles and father figures than barbers.
Established at B.E.S.T. Academy in March 2019 by Atlanta natives Keith Lewis Jr. and Jermaine “Towd” Clarke, the A Cut Above program is part of Lewis and Clarke’s nonprofit organization, I’m A Father F1rst, which aims to provide positive male mentorship and resources to young men who need it the most. A Cut Above is also held in partnership with After School All Stars.
As part of the program, barbers like Cornell Carter and others from across metro Atlanta donate their time and expertise to help cut hair for about two hours every other week. On average, about 40 boys’ hair is cut each week.
“This program has become a passion, and now we’re cutting hair,” said Lewis, program co-founder and a father of three. “B.E.S.T. was one of the first schools to implement the program. We cut about 1,000 heads since we started the program , and we now have barbers who come out and cut anywhere from 25 to 40 heads every other Tuesday and sometimes Wednesday, free of charge.”
According to Clarke, he and Lewis founded the program after discovering that many boys they encountered lacked positive male role models.
“Throughout the day, I would see kids who needed haircuts and shoes, and me and my partner, being the people we are, we stepped in and we put our resources and networks together and called some of our friends,” said Clarke, a father and former elementary school paraprofessional. “We wanted to step in and fill that gap for the kid that didn’t have that father role in the house.”
So far, the program has made a lasting impression on students and staff alike.
“I know that if I’m in need of a haircut, I know I’m going to be straight going to the barbershop,” said Giovanni Morgan, a senior at B.E.S.T. Academy. “The barbers are trusted and they’re great at their jobs. A Father F1rst has been exactly what the organization is – it’s been a father that I’ve never had in my life.”
Ke’Andre Lewis said he’s proud of the work his dad is doing at B.E.S.T.
“Seeing my father help kids who don’t have dads in their lives feels amazing,” said Ke’Andre, an eighth-grade student at B.E.S.T. Academy. “I have friends that don’t have fathers, and I know the importance that having a dad in your life has on a kid.”
Meanwhile, Spanish teacher Celina Flores praised the program for providing students with strong, positive influences.
“I’m A Father F1rst is probably one of the most influential and best programs I’ve ever seen a group of young men be part of,” said Flores, whose classroom is located directly across from the classroom where the barbershop is housed. “It helps them become better men and better boys. And, it helps with their overall confidence and livelihood.”
To learn more about I’m A Father F1rst, or to volunteer your time and resources, please visit: www.imafatherf1rst.com.