<p><em><strong>&quot;We want our students to know it doesn&rsquo;t matter what color you are, who you love, your gender, your faith, we just want them to show up, to work hard, and to listen because&nbsp;knowledge destroys fear.&quot;--Rodrick Samuels&nbsp;</strong></em></p>

"We want our students to know it doesn’t matter what color you are, who you love, your gender, your faith, we just want them to show up, to work hard, and to listen because knowledge destroys fear."--Rodrick Samuels 

<p><em><strong>Hair Lab Detroit Barber School</strong></em></p>

Hair Lab Detroit Barber School

<p><em><strong>Hair Lab Detroit Barber School</strong></em></p>

Hair Lab Detroit Barber School

<p><em><strong>Hair Lab Detroit Barber School</strong></em></p>

Hair Lab Detroit Barber School

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<p><em><strong>&quot;We want our students to know it doesn&rsquo;t matter what color you are, who you love, your gender, your faith, we just want them to show up, to work hard, and to listen because&nbsp;knowledge destroys fear.&quot;--Rodrick Samuels&nbsp;</strong></em></p>
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"We want our students to know it doesn’t matter what color you are, who you love, your gender, your faith, we just want them to show up, to work hard, and to listen because knowledge destroys fear."--Rodrick Samuels 

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<p><em><strong>Hair Lab Detroit Barber School</strong></em></p>
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Hair Lab Detroit Barber School

<p><em><strong>Hair Lab Detroit Barber School</strong></em></p>
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Hair Lab Detroit Barber School

<p><em><strong>Hair Lab Detroit Barber School</strong></em></p>
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Hair Lab Detroit Barber School

Rodrick Samuels isn’t afraid to raise his hand. Samuels, an established industry educator, an award-winning artist, motivator, and salon and school owner, is also the State Captain (along with life and business partner, wife Lauren Moser Samuels) for Michigan, a position they hold with the Professional Beauty Association (PBA).  A history of stepping up and giving back has taught him that meaningful change on every level—personal, public, local, or global—requires the fire of commitment. 

“I’ve gone through things so my students don’t have to,” he says. “I’ve confronted racism in my life and in my industry, and the systemic problems and challenges we have are not going away without uncomfortable conversations and sustained work to erase the divide in our industry.

I'm saying, stop looking at us as black barbers or female barbers, just look at us as a people and as a whole.”

In the days following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the despair being shared by so many also served to propel Samuels into action.  “It’s June 3rd 2020,” he says, “and I find myself fighting for my health, fighting for my life and fighting for my profession. But I want to work to unify and move us forward.”

To that end, Samuels is launching SolidHAIRity, a movement to look inside the industry and outside it, too, to the communities supporting small businesses.

“We’re fighting a few different things,” he explains. “We need non-persons of color to have our back as African Americans. We also need to stop defining ourselves as barber, stylists, colorists—we’re all personal appearance specialists—and we need to focus, as a collective, on what we were taught in school, which is to respect everyone, from all different perspectives. And we need to give back to our community. Every small business has patrons from their communities who are there, through good and tough times. They support us so we need to do the same for them, now.”    

MODERN SALON: What do you think are some barriers to change?

Rodrick Samuels: Unfortunately, there are several invisible racial lines in our industry.  Sometimes the ideas and the trends and the content put out by corporations and shared with the market come from the culture of African Americans.  They are created by people who aren’t getting credit for them, by people who don’t have a seat at the table.  Inside these major manufacturing companies, the black people are wearing the blue shirts, the white people are wearing the white shirts. Probably 85% of clipper purchases are made by persons of color—wouldn’t it help to have someone in leadership who looks like them?

As an African American male in our industry I have had to endure some hurdles and, unfortunately, some of the opportunities that I think I should have been afforded didn’t come through and I can’t see any other reason outside of the color of my skin.  Some people may disagree, but I can’t get a director position, I can’t get a leadership position, even at barber-driven companies. People see my value and what I bring but I feel they don’t want to have a black man in that position.

The second thing that needs to be overcome involves the education in our schools. Similar to the reform we see in the US through the Department of Education, we need real change in the curriculum for our cosmetology programs.  We also need more diversity in our hiring inside the schools and the education system. We’re not equipping our students to be successful, and we’re not training them on the skills they need to serve every client. And I believe this is because there aren’t enough people properly trained to teach these students that hair doesn’t have an ethnicity, it has a texture, and here’s how you work with it.  You see it from the classroom to the teaching salons; if I’m a black man going into that school for a haircut, everyone runs the other way.

Education reform isn’t an option, it is a must.

I consulted on and helped to develop Pivot Point's Fundamentals of Barbering but they have always been a company that understood the importance of the stylist and of the expert.  But not every company acknowledges the value of the African American stylist.  We get hired for supplemental education, for one unit, but they don’t bring African American stylists in to be part of the larger conversation. 

There needs to be a paradigm shift.  A lot of people think because you’re white, you’re better at straight hair. But in our salon, in downtown Detroit, 90 percent of my clients were white. While my wife, who is white, specializes in curly hair.

We can’t have our industry grow and thrive if the little white girl always runs to the color room every time an African American woman comes into the salon. We can’t have a black gentleman come off the street into a white barbershop and everyone is looking like a deer in the headlights. 

It’s about texture… and texture doesn’t have a race.

MODERN SALON: Tell us about your school, Hair Lab Detroit Barber School.

Rodrick Samuels: It took me seven years-- from conception to fruition-- to get a loan to start my first barber school. And when I lost that school, and met with temporary defeat, I went back and did it again. I tell my students this story because everything looks good on social and we don’t see the work behind it but as a leader in my industry, it’s my responsibility to create more leaders. We do that by showing what it took to get there.

In our school, there are no diversity problems because we devote our whole lives to diversity. My marriage is interracial, my family is interracial, and my businesses are interracial.  It’s how we live. So we’ve already done the heavy lifting for them, we’ve already confronted that racial divide and said we’re not having it.

Every student needs a champion and somebody that gets that extra push and lets them know it will be ok. We want our students to know it doesn’t matter what color you are, who you love, your gender, your faith, we just want them to show up, to work hard, and to listen because knowledge destroys fear. 

When we know better, we do better.

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