A community outreach initiative called Sponsor a Child, Make a Difference offered free haircuts as part of a back-to-school campaign to promote education, self-esteem and improved decorum in classrooms in Bradley County.
Haircuts for school-age boys and girls were provided at no cost to youths thanks to a grassroots movement that caught on like wildfire in the Cleveland community, according to Solomon Williams, one of the coordinators of the event that continued from Aug. 5 to Aug. 10.
Explaining how the outreach initiative came about, Solomon said, “Me and my business partner, Chester Sharp, were sitting down thinking of ways we could impact our community. One of the things I shared with him was that school was starting back and there was a need for our community to look good on the first day of school. From there I immediately shared our thoughts with the community over social media. All of this happened on Facebook.”
Solomon said he approached Tiffany Wood, owner and stylist of The Omega Salon in Cleveland and Rodney Williams, owner of R&B Barber shop in Cleveland, and asked them if they would be interested in participating by providing community youths with free hairstyles, the cost being covered by voluntary donations. Both shop owners agreed.
“Immediately, my friend, Kelly Runyons and my mom Tona Williams, wanted to be a part of it,” Solomon said. “Really, it was just a community of one. We were just trying to impact our community. It wasn’t through an organization or a church. It was done through a group of people in the community who came in and said, ‘Let’s do it!’
“We initially started out wanting to do 20 boys and 10 girls. That was the biggest thing I saw from everyone pitching in. They actually did more! It turned into some 62 lives being changed. This couldn’t happen without everyone’s support. So I think we’re seeing the positive power of social media.”
Volunteer donations to sponsor the free haircuts came from people throughout the community as well as Cleveland natives living as far away as Florida and Louisiana, according to Solomon. Friends and relatives told coworkers who shared the news with others, including church members. As the word about Sponsor a Child, Make a Difference spread on Facebook and by word-of-mouth, more than five dozen youths were provided with free haircuts before school began — 24 girls and 38 boys.
Wood commented, “I learned that if you ask you shall receive. A lot of times in our community I think we shy away from the fact that we can depend and lean on each other. We tend to look just within our family or church to get things done. But these kids that were sponsored were not our kids, but they are our community. As a community we’re trying to come together and help each other.”
Runyons, a senior account manager with Staff Management, added, “What I’ve taken from this is that maybe one person can’t do a whole lot, but everyone pitching in a little bit can make big ripples. It’s like throwing a pebble into the water. Regardless of the size, it’s still going to have an effect. This started off small but it’s grown. With God’s glory it will continue growing each year.”
Tona Williams, an evangelist of All Nations Worship Center, summed it up by saying, “With its spiritual aspect, it’s an outreach that I feel God wants me to be a part of — participating in the lives of others — and if each one reaches one, what we can accomplish will be explosive.”
Describing what a new hairstyle does for a young lady, Wood said, “It actually builds your self-esteem. You may not have the best clothes or the best home life. You may not have a dad in the home or as much food as someone else. Everybody’s ‘normal’ isn’t everybody’s normal. But a hairdo gives you confidence when you’re going to school. It can better your attitude in the classroom and in your personal relationships.
According to experts, frequent trims not only make the hair look healthier, but it makes you look up-to-date and gives others the impression that you have the ability to learn new skills, keep up with new technology and change, which makes a big difference.
Although Christina Guy and her 4-year-old son did not participate in the special community event, Guy, said she wanted her son to look nice for his first day in pre-K.
“I think a good haircut makes a good impression on the teachers and the other kids,” Guy said. “When you see someone who takes care of themselves you relate it to what the family does. He was excited about getting his hair cut for school, for his teachers to see.”
Master Barber Rodney Williams, said, “A lot of kids don’t get haircuts in the summertime. Out of school — they do it once a month. Parents are busy and kids are running around. Once school starts back we see kids we hadn’t seen all summer long. The purpose of this drive was to keep our youths positive because how you look is how you act, in most cases. This way they start out right and they may end up right.”
“It also boosts their morale and gives them hope,” Tona added. “It goes with the assurance that ‘I’m going to be all right. I know I can!’ And it helps them do their best.”
Runyons said, “When someone looks at you, the first thing they look at is your face. So if you see that fresh haircut or hairstyle and there was a morale issue (with the person), but someone asks, ‘Who did your hair? It looks good!’ It’s going to trigger a conversation, which triggers communication skills and interactions with one another.”
Solomon made mention of former Cleveland High School basketball All-American Del Baker and his wife, who came from Knoxville and took a family of three boys shopping at Walmart in Cleveland.
“They bought clothing, shoes, supplies, backpacks — everything. That was their contribution to this back-to-school campaign. For me, it was seeing Cleveland do what I knew it could do. We always hear the negative that we don’t get along or don’t do anything together. But these people shattered that perception. The community did this.”