In February 1926, historian Carter G. Woodson established Black History Week, then called “Negro History Week.” Nearly a century later, it has evolved into what we now know as Black History Month, a time we celebrate and reflect not only on how far we’ve come as a people, but on how far we still have to go.
Last year, we gathered to protest George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police, but also to support and recognize our community, our sovereignty, and our humanity. This year, we continue to march forward by organizing with, and investing in, one another.
Growing up black and poor in America is a struggle. James Baldwin once said “to be a negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost all of the time.” Every day, we are bombarded with the narrative that we are victims. What we do not hear often enough is that we are leaders, visionaries, artists, entrepreneurs, and that our story is one of incredible success.
The “rags to riches” story is inextricably intertwined with the black experience. We didn’t choose to come to America but we ended up here and have had to rely on our resiliency, creativity, ambition, and faith to make it. We weren’t given the same opportunities to succeed, so we have to create those opportunities ourselves.
My story as a black businessman in California was to dream my way out of poverty. I was raised by a single mother with three other siblings. My father was from Nigeria and was unable to stay in the U.S. As soon as I became aware of my situation, I wanted to overcome it.
As a black businessman, my drive to overcome obstacles has defined my career. As a barber, honing my craft allowed me to grow as an inventor and innovator. Small problems in my day-to-day work inspired me to find solutions that I could bring to market as products.
The results were the patents for my 10 Second Blade Setter (the first quick handheld blade setter on the market), my 1 Min. Blade Modifier (the first and only trimmer blade sharpener on the market) and my Flash Comb (a first-of-its kind comb with a detachable LED light to increase visibility and precision).
Over the course of my career, I’ve seen black businesses, including mine, flourish as black communities gain access to educational resources, acquire capital, and learn to organize. We’ve begun to see how much black culture influences our economy as a whole and are now learning how to capitalize and monetize our influence.
One small fraction of the black success story is black barbering. Black barbers were originally emancipated slaves that took up one of the few trades they could. By the mid 20th century, 80% of black barbers were graduating from barber’s colleges like The Tyler Barber College.
Barber shops became the gathering places for black men to discuss politics, organize, and enact social change. It was during this time that the world saw one of the first black millionaires, Alonzo Herndon, who had grown his empire from a single barbershop.
In 2020, men’s grooming became a $26 billion industry and barber shops continue to grow at an annualized rate of 2.9%, passing $4.5 billion in revenue in 2021. Black barbering continues to be a huge part of that story and black barber shops continue to be a focal point for their communities, even now being used to improve health for black men.
While we should always use Black History Month to reflect on our history within the context of systemic racism, we should also use it as a time to celebrate everything we are: our vision, our spark, our enduring resilience, and our impact on modern culture.
Now is the time to foster the next generation of black barbers, artists, and entrepreneurs. My book The Rich Barber Method imparts all the knowledge I’ve gathered after more than a decade in the industry and is the perfect primer for young black men looking to enter the industry or begin their own unique success story.
To all my Rich Barber friends and family - Happy Black History Month, and remember: black is beautiful.