The barbershop is often described as the anchor of a community, and nowhere does this ring more true than at Denny Moe’s Superstar Barbershop in Harlem, New York. Led by owner Dennis ‘Denny Moe’ Mitchell, the barbershop organises an incredible number of projects, all centred around supporting the Harlem community. With a focus on health and education, this includes free medical screenings, providing school supplies and even a college scholarship fund.
Denny Moe started cutting hair at fourteen, after stumbling across a pair of clippers in a dresser drawer. His skills soon earned him a reputation, and his client list includes Mike Tyson, New Edition and Eddie Murphy. He spent years touring with artists including Keith Sweat and Doug E. Fresh, before returning to Harlem to open his barbershop ten years ago.
One of Denny Moe’s biggest projects is the bi-annual ’48-Hour Haircutting Marathon’, where twelve barbers from all over the world gather at the shop to cut hair for two days, non-stop, to raise money. Last year’s event included participants from Japan, France and Canada. “I like to call them barbers with caring clippers” Denny says. The event is organised by his non-profit organisation Cutting For A Cure which is dedicated to providing healthcare guidance, education and resources to underserved communities.
During the event, screening vehicles gather outside the shop to screen for over fifty different diseases, including diabetes, cancer, HIV and AIDS. “It’sa great way to keep the community healthy” Denny explains, “a lot of people I talk to don’t go to the doctor, whether it’s because of inadequate health insurance, or for the simple fact that they don’t really want to know”.
The event has grown over the years, gaining media coverage and celebrity backing, with artists like Ice Cube, Common and Eve all lending their support. With it’s fifth marathon fast approaching, we sat down with Denny Moe to talk health, happiness, and why his barbershop is striving to achieve both for its community.
Denny Moe’s is very involved with the community, organising many ongoing projects which focus on health and education. Could you tell us how this started? I decided to let a doctor come in and test people for high blood pressure. We got rave reviews, the customers were like “wow, this is really cool”. So I thought, I may be on to something here. Then we started screening people for cancer: prostate, colon, breast cancer, you name it. It just became the norm. People come here, they get in the chair and say, “hey man, can you check my blood pressure?” We’ve screened for over fifty different kinds of diseases.
It’s a great way to get the community healthy. I believe that everyone deserves a good quality of life, and that comes through education, through resources. A lot of people I talk to don’t go to the doctor for many reasons, whether it’s inadequate health insurance, or for the simple fact that they don’t really want to know. It’s an ongoing issue, and it needs to be dealt with.
“I believe that everyone deserves a good quality of life. And that comes through education, through resources”
Barbershops and salons are often described as the anchor of the community. What are your thoughts on this? The way I see it, the church should be the anchor of the community, but the church is only one-sided. There’s two sides to every story. When you go to church you listen to one man talk, nobody is talking back to him, no one is asking questions… but in the barbershop it’s a conversation. When we engage in conversation we learn from each other. And in the barbershop, we’re informed. It’s definitely a community situation, it’s a hub. We have a wealth of knowledge in here, and people come to get that.
Tell us about your team of barbers? I’ve got an amazing team, the best barbers in the state of New York, and I’d put them up against anybody. It hasn’t always been like that, in the ten years I’ve been here I’ve had over a hundred barbers. It’s a high turnover rate – just because you cut hair doesn’t make you a barber, a lot of people come in with different agendas, they want to be a barber/ DJ or whatever, but I like to hire barbers who are pure barbers. This is what we do to support ourselves, it’s what we do to grow, and if that’s not what you’re here for, then Denny Moe’s isn’t the place for you. But if you’re a real barber then you’re rolling with me.
“Love what you do, or leave it alone”
What’s your favourite part of the job? Seeing people smiling when they walk out of the door. There’s nothing better than someone looking in the mirror and saying “wow, that’s exactly what I wanted, thank you!” I live for that. That’s the gasoline that drives this machine.
What advice would you give to an aspiring barber? I’d say, always be in learning mode, always know you can learn from anyone. Love what you do, or leave it alone. Barbering is a different animal, we’re here more than we are at home. So to the young cats, get involved, and once you’ve got a good following, get involved with your community. It will all come together.
“From writing the play, I’m aware of how vast, nuanced, beautiful and delicate barbershops can be. Also, how ridiculously funny, over the top, exaggerated and naturally theatrical those spaces are.” – Inua Ellams