Durham barber looks for ways to give back

Tim McIntosh Jr.
Tim McIntosh Jr.

Todd  Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. – As a child, Tim McIntosh Jr. once asked his mother, a high-school teacher in Maryland, why she always bought more food at the grocery store than their family seemed to need.

She told him the extra food was for students in her class whose families could not afford to buy enough food.

As a teenager, when McIntosh enrolled in a work-study program at his high school, a local barber gave him a job cutting hair.

Now, working as a barber in Durham, McIntosh is using the lessons he learned as a child to help others.

Co-owner of The Renaissance Barbershop near The Streets at Southpoint, McIntosh also is co-founder of the Park West Barber School, which trains students, including ex-offenders, and provides them with opportunities for community service.

He also founded The Barber Foundation, which serves as the philanthropic arm of the barber school and helps build partnerships and develop service projects for students at the school.

And he is a member of the Next Generation of African American Philanthropists, or NGAAP, a giving circle whose members pool their time, know-how and funds and make grants to African-American-led nonprofits making a difference in the community.

McIntosh started cutting hair at age 13 in his house in Forestville, Md., after a neighbor taught him how.

But it was through his work-study job in high school that he learned the techniques of barbering and running a barbershop, as well as the power of lending a hand.

“They took me under their wing,” he says of the owner of the shop and the men who worked there. “The whole sense of mentoring was huge for me.”

In 1991, McIntosh enrolled at North Carolina Central University, where he studied business management while also working in a local barbershop.

He eventually started his own shop and, in 2004-05, served a term on the state Board of Barber Examiners, an experience that he says reinforced the impression he had had that customer service “was kind of getting away from where it used to be.”

So in 2006 he founded the barber school, which is located on East Main Street in downtown Durham, trains about 75 students a year and serves 600 to 700 customers a month who pay only $5 for a haircut.

And in 2007, he launched his foundation and co-founded The Renaissance Barbershop.

That same year, he formed a partnership with the state Department of Correction, which had received a federal grant for an effort to reduce recidivism among African-American men.

At 5 a.m. every Tuesday through Saturday for a year, McIntosh says, he would drive to the Durham Correctional Center on Guess Road, pick up prisoner Fontain Covington and take him to the barber school, where he would cut hair as part of a work-release program.

Fontain, whose tuition was paid through the Department of Corrections grant, took his barber exam in 2008, the same day he was released after 15 years in prison, and now works as a barber in Greensboro.

Through a partnership with the city of Durham, the school also has trained roughly half-a-dozen ex-offenders.

And through partnerships developed by the Barber Foundation, the school has teamed with Duke University to provide free haircuts and screenings for diabetes and hypertension, and with the Department of Nursing at N.C. Central University and the Durham County Health Department to provide blood-pressure screenings.

African-American men face a high risk of diabetes and hypertension, McIntosh says, and the two programs each attracted 60 to 70 people for screenings.

Sixty percent of those who were screened for blood-pressure, for example, learned they had hypertension.

In 2003, through Darryl Lester, a customer at the barbershop who serves as a consultant to African-American givers and giving circles, McIntosh was invited to join an informal group of African Americans to talk about community issues and how to deal with them.

Their conversations led to the formation of NGAAP, which now includes 11 members, each of whom contributes $350 a year.

With matching funds from the Ford Foundation, the group so far has contributed just over $55,000 in grants.

One grant, for example, supported the West End Revitalization Association, a Mebane group that advocates for poor rural communities that lack basic amenities, such as a community near Pinehurst with no access to running water.

Another grant supports Glory to Glory House of Refuge, a Raleigh group that has provided medication, services and transitional housing to over 800 homeless African-American women with HIV/AIDS.

McIntosh also helped start and teaches in a barber program at the Holton Career and Resource Center, a program of the Durham Public Schools that teaches job skills to high school students.

“So high school students,” he says,” have an opportunity just like I did to get a barber license before they graduate.”

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