A new program that pairs free hair cuts with mental health support is encouraging Black men and boys in the Halifax area to open up about racism and the stresses of the pandemic from the comfort of a barbershop chair.
Dr. Ron Milne hopes the familiar venue will feel like a safe space for them to talk about their mental health, “an area that people in general, but men particularly, don’t like to talk about,” he said.
While two barbers provide free cuts, fades and shaves, Milne and other health-care professionals are there to help direct the conversation.
“One of the common things we hear is about racism in the workplace and, you know, a number of the men have experienced that or are experiencing it,” Milne told CBC’s Information Morning on Monday.
Information Morning – NS9:06Barbershop Talks
Sessions are taking place every Monday and Wednesday until Feb. 1 at two locations — Crowning Glory Hair Studio on Wyse Road in Dartmouth and at the East Preston Business Centre.
The barbershop model has been successful elsewhere, said Milne, a family doctor with the Nova Scotia Brotherhood Initiative.
The initiative is part of Nova Scotia Health and creates programs for Black men to access health care in their communities.
“We do talk about, you know, legal issues and issues with the police … in light of George Floyd’s killing and so forth. That’s another topic that comes up,” Milne said.
In some cases, he said the Nova Scotia Brotherhood Initiative has been able to get involved and help men navigate the justice system.
“Sometimes we’re able to connect these men with the lawyer or speak to their own lawyer, and we’ve had a couple of cases, you know, before the courts where we’ve gotten involved and helped the men to get a better outcome than they might have,” Milne said.
Another big topic of conversation during the sessions has been the pandemic and how it disproportionately impacts people of colour, Milne said.
The Health Association of African Canadians has been hosting virtual town halls for Black Nova Scotians since last spring to talk about some of these issues.
Sharon Davis-Murdoch, co-president of the association, said it’s clear the province needs more culturally specific programs like this.
The barbershop project is funded by the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage, which also funded similar sessions for women last fall.
“The women’s conversations could be quite different to the men’s, but generally as a people we are dealing with all kinds of racism and the impact of racism as a social determinant of health,” Davis-Murdoch said.
She said many Black women are working as caregivers and on the front lines as essential workers and therefore have added stress about contracting COVID-19.
“Women talked a lot about their experiences of structural racism,” Davis-Murdoch added. “You know, we break down that racism isn’t just overt racism. It’s not only direct so it’s systemic. It can be internalized.”
After the men’s sessions wrap up at the end of the month, the team will assess how the project went and write a report they hope will be used to ensure similar programs are offered in the future.
“We will apply for more grants, but ultimately, we would like it to be part and parcel of the delivery of health-care in Nova Scotia,” Davis-Murdoch said.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.