The Brothers Barbershop in Huntington Station is where Randy Paul has been getting his hair cut since he was a child. Now 24, he and two friends he grew up with want to pass on the tradition to kids in the neighborhood.
Teaming up with Dave Burgess, the shop's owner and barber, the group organized an event offering free haircuts to kids starting school — along with a stash of three-dozen backpacks with notebooks, colored pencils, small bottles of glue and crayons.
“On the first day of school, you look good, you're going to perform well,” said Paul, who graduated from St. Anthony's High School before heading to Marist College. He graduated from Marist in 2020.
He and friends Amaru Jones and Kenny Charles wanted to give back to the neighborhood where they were raised. Paul works in the city and lives in Brooklyn, but still comes to Brothers once a month.
“A lot of these kids, I was them 20 years ago,” he said. “This is a working-class neighborhood. Everybody's blue collar. We just wanted to make sure the opportunity is there for them.”
Jones, of Huntington Station, said they wanted to send the students off to a new school year with a fresh look. Jones is the president of Huntington Station-based nonprofit, The Leaders of the New School, and Paul its vice president.
“For a kid, when you look good, you feel good,” said Jones, 24, a former sixth grade teacher who now works as a legislative aide for the Suffolk County Legislature. “It makes you just want to do better throughout the day.”
One of the customers Sunday, Braylen Williams, 9, of Deer Park, had his first haircut and many more at the Brothers shop. “This is very calming,” said Braylen in a chair, as Burgess worked on him.
His mother, Marissa Williams, who sat nearby, said Braylen is excited to get back to school and the family is overjoyed to send him back Tuesday with a full return to normalcy despite the pandemic. Braylen will be a fourth grader at John F. Kennedy Intermediate School in Deer Park.
“We are ready to go,” she said. “The kids are sitting normally going to classes. They're able to interact with their friends and all the events are back. So it's normal. We are loving it.”
Like the Williams family, Sunday’s event was a regular outing for many who have frequented the barbershop for years, if not decades.
Kevin Gibbs, 41, has been coming here since he was a teenager.
Gibbs, who used to live in Huntington but moved to Bay Shore, drives from the South Shore to the shop for a weekly cut. He brought his sons, Alex, 6, and Noah, 4, to get theirs Sunday. Alex is about to start first grade and Noah, kindergarten.
“This is like family, you know? They know my family and I know their family. … I just feel comfortable here,” he said. “So many kids in the community could take advantage of this. They've got backpacks. It's really nice. The barbers are giving up their Sunday and their time to come in here to get the kids ready for school. I think it’s great.”
Gibbs and others said the shop is a place for more than a haircut.
“This is a place where Black men like me can talk about their problems,” Paul said. “This is where we come to vent about the things that we go through. So the barbershop, especially in a community like this, it's like a cornerstone.”