From when I was a child until present day, an unconventional place has been instrumental in eliciting, shaping and expanding my desire to help under-privileged communities: the barbershop. It is from this passion, founded at an unexpected neighborhood staple, that has brought me to King Hall at UC Davis. Through the Human Rights and Social Justice concentration, I will be prepared for a career in the legal field where I can serve the communities I am most familiar with, through both public counsel and education.
When I was about eight years old, my parents divorced and my mother took my sister and I to live in Watsonville, CA, a small agricultural town that seemed foreign to my birth city, Sacramento. My mother, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico as a teenager, had a lot of family support in the town, so relocating there was a sound choice for her, both financially and emotionally. We lived in a full house in which every adult -- with the exception of my disabled grandparents -- worked two to three jobs to support the family. Because I hardly saw my father, my uncles were often in Mexico and my grandfather didn’t communicate much with us children, I yearned for interaction with adult males. I found solace when my mother began taking me to a neighborhood barbershop, and was elated when one of the barbers eventually asked if I could help out on Saturdays by sweeping up and taking out the trash; I would be compensated with “tips” and a haircut.
At the time, I understood my Saturdays at the barbershop merely as a way to get outside of my impoverished home environment and gain exposure to a world in which I never knew. I was oblivious to the fact that this time at the barbershop gave my mother more time to study for her Nurse’s license exam. I felt fortunate to get to listen to older men debate about politics and sports, receive advice from people who had already lived life, and learn how to play the game of chess. It was, in essence, a selfish feeling. Yet, I knew that I admired these men, not only for giving a kid like me an opportunity but because they were stakeholders in their community, genuinely concerned with the welfare of it and proactively working (to the best of their capacity) to improve it.
Fast forward twenty years later, and I am on my ninth year as a licensed barber in the Sacramento region. The experience has been a rewarding one; I have been able to connect with other members of my community and give back, both formally and informally. Through my work, I have had the opportunity to meet and provide my services to a host of individuals from many different backgrounds; from attorneys to athletes, doctors to drug dealers, retailers to refugees, privileged to poor. Yet I feel that my discussions and interactions that take place within the walls of the barbershop are often limited in its efficacy.
The barbershop has provided a space where men (and women) can engage freely about ideas, whether shared or disputed....