Roanoke City partnering with barber shops and hair salons to bridge a gap in Northwest

ROANOKE CITY, Va. (WDBJ7)-- A new approach to fighting violence in Northwest Roanoke: Mayor Sherman Lea is turning to barber shops and hair salons for help.

The conversations that happen in barber shops are often never heard by city officials, but with a rise in violence in Northwest, the city is partnering with barbers to hear some of those concerns and bridge a gap.

About 50 people walk into First Impressions Barber Shop every day.

“Everyone's story is different. We get the struggles we get the good times, we get the laughter. We get it all,” said Malik Muhammad, a barber at First Impressions.

The barber shop turns into a community hub, something Mayor Sherman Lea saw as an opportunity to create social change.

“Everybody goes to the barber shop. Everybody or most people get their hair done so we wanted to focus in on Northwest Roanoke because that's where the violent crimes are occurring and we wanted to make sure that those barbers can have an opportunity to help,” said Mayor Lea.

The "Mayor's Barbers and Hair Stylists" is a new group that will bring barbers together to talk about problems the community is facing.
It will also better equip them to connect people to the right resources in the city.

“We help them get through it. You know, tell them it's going to be alright. You can always come here. We're always here for you,” said Muhammad.

When it comes to the barber shop, it's a lot more than hair. They talk about some serious issues.

“This is where we hear the problems. This is where we hear about people that don't trust the police, who don't trust the politicians, and you know- we talk about it,” said Aleshia Muhammad, a hair stylist.

Now, they are looking to take that community atmosphere and turn it into a pipeline for information.

“Be able to hand out literature, when someone is having a problem with domestic violence the barbers can say here, here's the information. Not voicemail, but a person,” said Mayor Lea.