More than a cut: Local barbers impact on the community

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH)--Herbert Tolliver recalled every customer he had the day he realized his calling.

"I cut 53 heads of hair the day I started."

It was Tolliver's first day as a barber touching the heads and lives of young soldiers in basic training on Fort Jackson, during the Vietnam War.

"That's when I knew I wanted to be a barber. I went straight to my parent's house and told my father. He couldn't believe it....that was good money for a barber back then, and it was my first day there."

A father and grandfather before him, and now a son after him, the barbershop is less of a business and more of a family. 20-year-old Tolliver had touched heads before that day on Fort Jackson, cutting hair on his father's porch before he could even drive, but that's when he realized what his influence could mean to a man going out to face the world.

Tolliver's Mane Event on North Main Street in Columbia is a product of the history and mentality of the man that owns it, managed by his son, Chris Tolliver, who will pick up the torch.

"I put more emphasis on other things in the barbershop than the haircut itself," said Tolliver.

In this shop, there's no sagging. No profanity. No drug/alcohol influence. If so, they give you a hug, send you out the door, and invite you back later. It all comes down to:

"Respect," said Tolliver. "Respect for all people."

With great influence on the African-American community, with barbershops new to old and customers old to young, local police have begun to take notice of the staples in the Black community.

Tolliver's Mane Event sits in Richland County and it's impact has not passed the notice of Richland's County's Sheriff Department, headed by Sheriff Leon Lott.

"A young person may not listen to me because I'm a cop," said Sheriff Lott. "But they'll listen to him. Everybody knows Mr. Tolliver."

Sheriff Leon Lott and his team face a troubling rise in gang- and drug-related offenses, particularly among the youth. Through various ways, they have implemented plans to diminish the crime in the area.

They first partnered with Tolliver's and other barber and beauty shops in the area by offering free concealed weapons permit classes to the employees. This, following a 2016 armed robbery attempted at another local barbershop, Next Up Barber and Beauty, that was stopped by a patron and barber who owned permits.

One of the suspects, however, was shot dead.

Sheriff Leon Lott saw the importance of the permit in the short term. But with a young man now gone, Sheriff Leon Lott wanted the barbershop to touch the lives of youth before it ever came to losing their lives.

"We understand that you don't go to a barbershop just to get a cut or a shave," said Sheriff Lott. "There's a lot of talking going on. There's a lot of conversation about what's going on in the community. And if we can get the barbers engaged in that positive conversations with the people that come in, then that helps us out."

The idea? Let the barbers who youth trust be the indirect voice of police. Stop the crime before the youth have to ever see a badge. This is the proactive step for him and his team.

"Sometimes, police are in a lose-lose situation," said Chris Tolliver, son to Herbert Tolliver and Mane Event manager. "But Sheriff Leon Lott and the department, they're good people and I'm thankful for them."

Tolliver, Jr. says that they go a step further and extend helping hands to those who may have records or who might not want to follow the cookie-cutter path of college or military.

"We look for the flawed barber first," he said. "You're going to get a man that may be broken a little bit or may be down. That's going to be the type of person that you hire so that, you as a barber, you need to extend your hand out to them and help them along as far as making it."

Tolliver says they have been blessed to see about 5 or 6 barbers to have gone on and opened their own shops and they expect more out of the ones they have.

A little ways over from his chair, books sit in one part of the shop, an initiative to inspire the kids waiting for their line ups to catch up on reading and schoolwork.

A young man, Kevin Felder, was there waiting on his son.

"He wants a Mohawk," said Felder, with a laugh. "I'm excited about it."

Felder had been coming to the shop since he was 3-years-old with his father. On a Saturday, he and his father got breakfast and took a trip to a shop where, he says, black men convene and fellowship more than anywhere else. It's a tradition he hopes to pass on to his son.

"You build that camaraderie with men and they become a part of your life," said Felder. "It's instituted into our culture, instituted into my life, into my family's life. That trip to the barbershop. So, it has definitely impacted me and has been a part of me becoming a man and expressing what manhood looks like."

The influence of the barbershop isn't lost on those who go, but cherished in the lives of those who do. Richland County continues to work with the social hubs in their respective spheres of influence, hoping to impact their community in positive ways.

"A good haircut to a man speaks volumes as to what he's all about," said Tolliver. "His personality. His respect. His dignity. The way he carries himself. That's what it's all about."

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