Thursday, May 3, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Deandre Sansberry finishes cutting a customer’s hair when he notices there are no patrons waiting for him.
The momentary lull gives the 48-year-old manager at Blade Masters the chance to do something not typically associated with a barbershop—get his blood pressure checked.
Throughout the country, black-owned barbershops are being used for various forms of community outreach, whether it’s to promote literacy for youth or to encourage patrons to stay on top of their health.
“The barbershop is the pillar of the black community,” said Amineh Harvey, health educator with the Southern Nevada Health District. “It’s a safe haven where men can gather and have open dialogue. They can talk about topics from A to Z.”
The health district recently launched its Barbershop Health Outreach Project to bring blood pressure checkups and cardiovascular education to the businesses.
“This is a nonclinical setting and makes them feel more comfortable,” Harvey said.
She added it’s important to keep health care at the forefront of people’s minds, especially for black men. According to the American Heart Association, 45 percent of black men have high blood pressure, which can increase rates of cardiovascular disease, among other health problems.
Harvey said men are less likely to stay current on health needs.
“Women are often more likely to access health care,” she said. “There are barriers that prevent black men from accessing preventive health care.”
This could be anything from lack of insurance to distrust of health care providers.
Barbers aren’t just recommending patrons get checked. They are getting checked as well, and it serves as an example and encourages others.
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Sansberry sits down at the outreach table, answers basic questions about his age and whether or not he is a smoker, and then has his pressure checked.
“I usually get this checked every eight months,” he says. “This provides another checkup in between. This is an easy way to keep everyone healthy. I try to tell all my customers to do it. Most go, but some are just too bashful.”
Along with the quick test, the health district passes out pamphlets on high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and sodium intake, and helps those interested connect with health care providers. The health district has been referring people to Nevada Health Centers, which also can work with patients who lack insurance.
“We take the clients’ info and their staff follows up,” Harvey said. “This prevents people from falling through the cracks.”
Blade Masters is one of three barbershops, along with FairKutz and Masterpiece, involved in the health district’s pilot program.
Relying on volunteers from the Medical Reserve Corps, the health district has rotated in and out of the barbershops since February.
It will collect data until June and then analyze the community response to determine whether it will increase the number of barbershops included.
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Barbershops across the country have also been used to help low-income students with literacy issues. By age 3, there is a 30 million-word gap between affluent children and children from low-income families. Without access to books, some barbershops have created libraries or reading programs.
For the past three years, the Las Vegas My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, the City of Las Vegas, and the Nevada Black and Hispanic Legislative Caucuses have organized Read with My Barber.
“Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson approached the city with this initiative,” said Jordan Moore, who has helped coordinate the program. “He witnessed other communities across the nation replicating this initiative.”
Las Vegas’ version of this outreach coincides with Nevada Reading Week and invites students, primarily boys of color, to read a book in exchange for a haircut. This year, 11 barbershops participated in the event.
“The community response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Moore added. “For the barbers, they are naturally people who care about the communities they serve. I love walking in and seeing the shops that have created dedicated space for barbershop libraries for kids who come in. For parents, it creates the awareness that fostering a child’s love for reading can be done anywhere.”
Moore said many of the shops keep a year-round library of books for students.
“You might be less comfortable to go to a library,” Moore said. “However, you’re going to a barbershop every two weeks or once a month.”
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.