Good health news from the barber

Nine barbershops in South Los Angeles are teaming with MLKCH to bring health education to men in a place that feels comfortable: the barber’s chair.  In this brief interview, Darryl Jones of Just Showin’ Off Barbershop talks about why barbers, especially in the African American community, are often the best way to get men motivated to take better care of their health.

What kind of health problems do you see with your customers?

Everybody has health issues here. I see it very, very commonly.  Heart attack. Stroke. My dad died from a stroke. He had high blood pressure. He had prostate cancer.  My mom has cancer now. She has fourth stage breast cancer. My sister has breast cancer. So yes, I see a lot. 

I get more health information calls than haircut calls. I have more ‘patients’ than clients.

Barber Darryl Jones with a client

"There’s a disconnect between how people feel about doctors and how they should feel about doctors." - Darryl Jones, Just Showin' Off barbershop.

Usually they give me the symptoms and I tell them what the problem is and tell them to inform their doctor.  They come back saying: How did you know that? Well, I do a lot of reading. I know the warning signs.

I have customers and they don’t even get haircuts. They’re here to tell me ‘this is going on, I’ve got this, this, this.’  I’ll feel them to see if they have fever, I’ll see if they have an infection.  I’ll say ‘give me all your symptoms’ and then I’ll say ‘tell the doctor this. I’ll need you to tell them just like this.’ Because there are certain keywords that doctors understand.

Why are men, and African American men in particular, more likely to talk with their barber than their doctor?

In my community, people are afraid of doctors because they have nothing but bad news. And they have bad news because it takes people 10 years to go see them.  So of course there’s going to be bad news. So there’s a disconnect between how people feel about doctors and how they should feel about doctors.

And then when you go to a doctor it’s so rushed. You get 10 minutes to tell you what happened in the last year. You don’t get a whole lot of time. If you don’t tell them within that time, the doctor will just tell you to come back in six months. But the patient doesn’t come back because the doc didn’t do anything. The patient still feels the same. So they say: “Why go back?”

That’s what it’s ultimately about: trust. Because if you trust somebody you’ll do what they say or you’ll trust what they say. You’ll be more apt to do it because you trust them.  It’s the personal relationship that barbers have with people they’ve been seeing for years and years. It makes bad news easier to digest.

What do you tell your clients to change their mind?

I’m not trying to change their mind. That’s not my job. I give them the information so that now they’re responsible for it. If they do it they do it. If they don’t, that’s ok too.

But if you’re sick and you fall out of your barber chair, you can’t say ‘why did this happen to me?’ You know why it happened. I’ve given you the reason why it happened. 

When I have customers, if someone comes in and they don’t look right, I ask ‘what’s going on?’

Usually they give me what’s going on. I ask them, ‘have you checked this or that with your doctor?’ 

Sometimes they say they didn’t take their medicine. I say: ‘I’m telling you: I’m going to drag you outside if you fall out of your chair. Because we don’t allow no falling out of the chair here!’ I make a joke of it: ‘I’m not doing mouth to mouth, so you better take your medicine!’ I tease them like that.

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