The discussion about the Black Barber Shop has reached mythical proportions. It is referenced as the center of African-American life. A place where Black men, and their sons, make a weekly pilgrimage to argue about relationships, music, movies, sports, politics, and religion. A place where the leader barber pontificates to the masses seated on the side. Where arguments are settled, debates are encouraged, and laughter is a must.
And when it comes to community leaders, we often have the idea of a grassroots activist, who goes from door-to-door, trying their level best to improve the lives of their neighbors - often, against stiff opposition.
Omar Townes fits the mold of both. Then, pushes it further.
Omar Townes is the owner of Cut Creaters, Inc., Newark, New Jersey. It is literally a family run establishment with three shops (or salons) which certainly retain the attributes discussed above. But it is his devotion to his Newark roots that places his talents a cut above.
His employees? His wife, son, cousins, nephews, and the like. But what makes Omar special is his keen eye for talented individuals who have the skills, but just needed guidance. For those men and women, he doesn't play favorites. He seeks out his jewel, provides training, and expects excellence. Sure, you may fail - but he will put you back on the right track. But if you slack, or refuse his help, you're not disowned, just merely replaced by his next protegee.
His shop? One in a gentrified section of Newark where old stores are being replaced by lofts. Mom and Pop shops moved out for botiques. And where cafes replace homes. Another in neighborhood that has not seen the brighter future taking over downtown Newark. It is where asphalt serves as grass and not everyone is your friend. And a third in "suburban" Essex County that is seeing a rebirth after difficult economic times. Still, for Omar, all three are as much home as one place in particular.
His mission? To use the hard lessons learned in his life and make lemonade by providing his clients, and essentially his community, a "better way" through encouragement, a smile, and the belief that you can do better because he believes you can. Having the business acumen of Bill Gates, the knack to invest like Warren Buffet, the swagger of Richard Sherman , and being politically astute as Newark's former mayor, Omar is certainly man for all seasons. Despite his omnipresent smile, he's no politician. He allows others to make that fight.
His fee? Nothing. Only the promise that you come back within the next week, possibly bring a friend. He reasons that after you've been "cut" by one of his employees, your hair is the only calling card Omar needs.
Sure, every burg has an Omar Townes. But few impacts the lives of his clients like him.