MANSFIELD — Historically, the role of a barbershop has never been just about cutting hair - it's about creating a sense of community.
Barbershops in the Black community, in particular, have served as a cultural staple dating back to the 19th century. It was one of the first industries that allowed Black men to become entrepreneurs and that all communities could support.
Things may have changed here and there in order to adapt to the ever-evolving landscape of America, but the foundation for the barbershop has remained the same.
So what better setting than a black-owned barbershop in the heart of Mansfield, Ohio to start a conversation about race and reconciliation in our community?
On Sunday, May 31, the very first edition of "Shop Talk" took place at 419 Barbershop, located at 1367 Park Ave. West. Shop owner Damien Beauford opened his doors and his barber chairs to people who wanted to have an open, honest discussion.
The group was black and white, young and old. There were city employees, a sheriff's deputy, pastors, small business owners, a class of 2020 high school graduate, and a university grad student.
In the coming weeks, these conversations will be replicated again and again as "Shop Talk" continues as an ongoing video series. 419 Barbershop has partnered with Richland Source, Mankind Murals Inc. and DRM Productions to bring the series to life.
"The point of these discussions are to bridge the gaps that exist between races, ages, socio-economic status and bring awareness of all viewpoints in order to unify, rather than divide," Beauford said. "I want to give people a chance to walk away from the encounters with respect and understanding they previously lacked."
As the momentum of the Black Lives Matters movement continues, Beauford will reach out to a diverse group of participants to have an intimate dialogue at the barbershop in the effort to positively affect the discussion, and allow others to share their perspectives in a safe space for dialogue.
Richland Source reporters and editors will moderate the discussions using Solutions Journalism principles to complicate the narratives and give space for understanding and nuance. Publisher Jay Allred led the first discussion on May 31.
"The conversation was honest, vulnerable and woven through with deep empathy and respect," Allred said. "It was also astonishing in its healing power."
Beauford also reached out to Luke Beekman, founder of Mankind Murals, to create the series and develop creative partnerships. Each video will feature a local Black artist or artwork that speaks to the theme of the Black experience.
"I can’t imagine a world without the contributions of Black artists and people of color," Beekman said.
"Art, music, film, theater, literature, every single creative discipline is shaped by the narrative of individual perspectives, and the importance of black art matters. This unique collaboration is an opportunity to elevate local talent, and celebrate the themes of diversity as a part of these filmed discussions."
Mankind Murals is putting out a call for Black artists, people of color, and any artist or photographer who chooses to help represent the Black experience and diversity in their artwork. Those who wish to participate in this initiative can contact Director@MankindMurals.org.