VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – The barbershop is a neighborhood resource, where men and women talk about sports, politics and life at home.

Now, some barbers are trained to recognize the signs of domestic violence.

In August 2022, barbers across Hampton Roads took a survey indicating they are interested in taking a class to learn more about how to be a safe space for clients.

Norfolk State University professor Dr. Stephenie Howard and Samaritan House Black Advisory chair Courtney Pierce created a 6-week class for ‘Black barbers promoting Black love.’

“In these barbershops, there are private conversations being had and we know that barbers are sharing information,” Howard said. “They are having important conversations, so we want to build on that,” Howard said.

In partnership with Norfolk State University, the class is geared to address the high rates of domestic violence within the black community.

“It’s not just about cutting hair and doing an edge up. It’s about how to reach people, how to have great customer service, how to create an atmosphere where people feel safe and comfortable coming in,” Pierce said. “That is what the barbershop has been to the Black community. We are excited to see it continue to grow and flourish in ways that are more helpful for men. This is a beautiful thing, [we want them] to have access to all of their emotions.”

Five barbers completed the weekly sessions, including three barbers from the Parlor Barbershop in Virginia Beach.

“We really saw that they appreciated coming together and having these critical conversations,” Howard said. “They were able to use the use the information almost immediately and they were excited to do it. That was really rewarding for us.”

Howard credits the connections with the owner of the Parlor Barbershop Joseph ‘Jay” Rodriguez for the success of the training. 

“[We hear about] all sorts of abuse, mental abuse, [and] emotional abuse. It’s not something that you commonly hear from a male perspective,” Rodriguez said. “They tread carefully but we develop a relationship over time. Since we see each other so consistently.”

Over the years, the stories from clients at the have grown increasingly painful.

“We meet them at their level and at some point, they just feel free to want to share with us,” Rodriguez said. “From abuse to finances. To what is society doing. Those are some of the more frequent questions we have.”

The U.S. Coast Guard veteran is helping others open up after loosing his business partner Miguel Angel Moyano in 2019.

“He was battling mental health. We did a marathon in Norfolk cutting hair for 24 hours straight for PTSD related illnesses,” he said. “He kept trying to fight it but eventually he ended up taking his life. I lost a friend, a mentor, a business partner all in the same stroke. That made me take a step back not only in my personal life but having small talk in the chair wasn’t good enough.  ‘What did you do last weekend? How was the game?’ It just wasn’t fulfilling. We do great haircuts and give out great service.

“So, I think the experience needed to change, that’s when I started asking a little bit more intimate question. ‘How do you feel, man? How are things at home? Do you want to get anything off of your chest today.’ Just trying to get into more personal relationships.”

Inspired by the classes curated by Howard. Rodriguez planned a ‘men’s empowerment night’ to help men come together.

“It was something I had been thinking about, but the classes gave me the extra push I needed,” he said. 

Thirty-three men showed up to talk in a circle at the shop.

Shocked by the turnout, Rodriguez plans to host monthly meetings every fourth Friday of the month.

“It’s up to us to empower each other, to make sure that we are holding each other accountable for what we’re doing and what we’re saying,” Rodriguez said.

If you or you know someone who may be a victim of domestic violence or child abuse, click here for a list of local and national resources.