ENGLEWOOD — For many young people in the area, the West Englewood Library is a second home, a safe haven from the violence that plagues their neighborhoods.
And, in a unique program, the library offers hair cuts, too, as well as a place for area young people to freely speak their mind.
Once a month, a group of boys and young men, age 12 to 19, gather in a room used for special events for an effort dubbed "Barbershop at the Library." In addition to free cuts, the youngsters find a barbershop atmosphere where they are able to talk about what's going on in their lives.
Kenneth Clayton, owner of Longevity Barbershop, 6901 S. Ashland Ave., volunteers his time and brings barbers to help. The program meets at the West Englewood Library, 1745 W. 63rd Street.
The new program is meant to get the young men to talk, said the library’s teen program director, Ade Abioye.
“It’s always good to hear the kids talk about their experiences, and just to hear from them,” Abioye said. “So often we, as adults, try to impose our feelings and ideas about their experiences without hearing directly from them.”
At a recent meet up, about 10 young men showed up. Some trickled in late, but they quietly grabbed a chair and jumped right into the conversation.
“Let’s talk,” Abioye said to the teens. “What do you all think about Englewood?”
Some said there’s too much shooting. Abioye later asked them if there are any positives about their community. One teen, who was in the barber’s chair, acknowledged the community organizations which are trying to make a difference. Another teen said people are helping the homeless. Another talked about the programs for children.
When they were asked what needs to change, one boy responded that the police need to “destroy every gun.”
Many of the participants frequent the library almost every day after school.
“I just love this library,” said Joseph Rice, 14.
Joseph said that besides talking to his mentor, he doesn’t have anyone else to talk to, which is why he likes the new program. The library, he said, is his “second home.”
One of the concerns Joseph has about his neighborhood is the lack of safety. He said he has to avoid certain streets because of the gangs and it’s even worse when it gets dark. As a precaution, he said he keeps one of his stereo earplugs out and walks down main streets.
“I don’t want be worried about that,” Joseph said.
Jayvaughn Rice, 12, wishes he didn’t have to worry about his safety either.
“It makes me feel sad because I know that I can’t have a normal day at the park because there’s shooting,” he said.
“I want Englewood to become a place where people like coming to and want to stay and live,” Jayvaughn said. “It’s a real great place. We just need to eliminate the evilness and negativity in Englewood because it has a lot of nice programs, philanthropy and free activities.”
Ricky McCoy, 12, said he spends a lot of his time at the Barbershop at the Library program because it gives him a safe space, and an outlet where he can talk about his feelings and share his thoughts on issues.
“You can actually talk to these people and they’ll listen and understand what you’re talking about,” Ricky said.
Abioye said he wants to get the teens thinking about their lives, their futures, and ways they can better their community.
“When I come to work every morning and I’m driving through Englewood, I see a lot of opportunities,” he said. “A lot of people see blight, but I see opportunity.”
“I wish people would come and really get to know West Englewood, have conversations with people and see the array of beauty that exists.”
The next meet up will be in late February.
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