HARTFORD -- A barbershop and salon in Hartford’s North End is always abuzz, with people stopping by for more than just a fresh, new ‘do. Some people are also getting a do-over.
“You still see the brother struggling. They`re walking up and down the street. They`re looking for opportunity,” said owner of It’s a Gee Thang, Lebert Lester.
Lester says he saw the shop as an opportunity for people living in the poverty-stricken neighborhood where he grew up. Therefore, he purchased the once abandoned building from a city auction and transformed it into a barbershop. “This used to be our clubhouse when we were kids. It`s been down since the King riots and no one has ever done anything with it. It had been an eye sore,” said Lester.
Now, it’s eye-catching because of its distinct name and the services offered to employees.
A few times a year, Lester brings on fifteen new workers from the community, looking to earn honest money and get their lives on track, especially those with a rocky past.
For instance, one of Lester’s employees, Bronco Davis, spent years selling drugs in Hartford. Davis turned to It’s a Gee Thang after being rejected by countless employers. “The streets of Hartford man, you`ll get swallowed up out here man. I was in to all types of things. I was into the gangs, the streets,” said Davis.
“I have never seen anyone ever go into a barbershop or a hairdresser and say, hey, can I see your criminal history? What they want to know is, can you do hair?” said Lester.
Learning how to do hair, along with the value of hard work is what Lester wants his employees to gain from their experience at his shop, which also includes daily classes about hair and life.
“If it wasn't for this, I don`t know where I would be or what I`ll do. I`d probably still be incarcerated or somewhere in the grave man, six feet deep,” said Davis.
“Through this art of barbering, you can always find a way out,” said Lester.
Some of Lester’s former employees found a way out. They opened their own Barbershop in East Hartford and Lester even donated all of his old equipment to get them started.
“It feels good. We actually did something with ourselves instead of just running around out there and doing whatever it took to pay the bills or something. Now, it`s more positive,” said Benjamin Jolley.
More positive for them and Lester hopes, the community. He encourages the barbers to also make an investment by volunteering at his free back to school haircut event for hundreds of kids in the neighborhood.
Lester also wants his barbers to get involved by attending town halls at the shop with elected leaders, like a recent meeting with Senator Chris Murphy.
The overall goal, Lester says, is to make sure everyone walks out of his barbershop with a better look at life. “These are good individuals,” said Lester.
Lester said he is currently using his own resources and money to help those in the community, but, he’s talking with city and state leaders to figure out how they can help with funding and also work on developing similar programs at other businesses in his neighborhood.