When I was in hair school many years ago, my class went to a detention center and provided complimentary hair care services to delinquent young girls. It was in that moment I knew that becoming a hairstylist was more than about doing hair.
I witnessed the self-esteem rise in those girls in the little bit of time we spent there. They were so happy. They had something to feel good about. And I felt so proud and accomplished. It would be another several years before I left corporate America to pursue my passion and, eventually, open my own salon.
But Like The River The Salon in Atlanta was founded with community service as one of its principles. In short, anyone I hired on my staff has to commit to four events a year where we would donate our services to the needy.
It has been interesting to watch stylists who were reluctant to be a part of our efforts in the beginning but get so much out of giving of themselves to others.
Life is such that one devastating event can turn our world upside down – and any of us could be a resident at the Atlanta Day Shelter For Women and Children. I learned that from talking to the women from that shelter.
Three times in four years at Like The River we have provided free services for two dozen women from that shelter. We have delivered them to and from the salon in a stretch limousine, supplied lunch and soft drinks and, on the last two occasions, had make up artist extraordinaire Yolanda Parrish do their faces.
The ladies left there looking good and feeling great. One woman from the shelter said, “You don’t know what this means to me. I haven’t been to a salon in five years. . . One day, I will be back here.” Less than a year later, that woman came back to be serviced at Like The River. It was an emotional day for me and for her. She had rebounded from her troubles. For her, coming back as a client reaffirmed her new status.
The church has been and remains the cornerstone of the black community. But maybe it has at times failed us because we have put too much of a burden on it. Maybe we have not done our part.
Our neighborhoods are loaded with three businesses: churches, liquor stores and hair salons/barber shops. Two out of three ain’t bad – if we, as hair salons, take on a bigger role.
Through my business, I have found it imperative – and good for the soul – to give back, to help, to comfort. At the risk of sounding preachy, we have a responsibility beyond ourselves and our immediate families. If we are able, we should, in one way or another, help.
The other beautiful part about what we continually do as a salon is that our clients respect it. They see us as more than just someone who can “do hair.” They see our hearts and giving nature. And many of our clients come out and support our efforts through volunteering.
This month marks the one-year anniversary of me losing my dear sister, Madinah Aziz Grier, to cancer. She was just 45. Most all of us have a tragic connection to that dreaded disease. My mother is a breast cancer survivor.
Last year, not long after Madinah’s death, I teamed with the American Cancer Society and Sunni’s Wigs of Atlanta, and the Like The River staff provided a Day of Pampering for cancer survivors. The ladies came out in full force, some still without a strand of hair on their heads from chemotherapy.
We cut wigs, styled hair, hugged each other a lot and generally experienced a day of gratefulness and love. They were so appreciative of the effort and left feeling replenished in the soul. And we, as a staff, were equally full, having witnessed so much strength in those women. We did something for ladies who needed uplifting. And it was a rewarding feeling.
Here’s the thing: Even if providing complimentary services is too much to ask, we have found that there is much that can be done. We have annually had toy drives at the salon during Christmas season, taken donations for various service organizations, been featured on Fox 5 Atlanta’s Wednesday’s Child segment for aiding a foster child, had a complimentary makeover contest where clients wrote letters about deserving recipients, partnered with other community activists that have a heart of giving, donated money to various community-related organizations and on and on.
In other words, we understand that we have a responsibility to the community. The church needs our help in the community. And helping feels good. Doing the right thing always does.
Najah Aziz is the owner of Like The River The Salon in Atlanta, which has been ranked the No. 1 salon in Atlanta for two straight years—and one of the top 100 salons in America by AOL.com.