words by Marcus Harrison Green
photos by Alex Garland
Barbers typically hold their Sundays as sacrosanct. The coveted day off is recovery time for hands and clippers weary from a week of transforming an endless succession of unshorn heads into manes of art.
But on Sunday afternoon nearly a dozen local barbers happily gave up their time in offering their services free of charge to the South Seattle community courtesy of Rainier Beach High School’s Baseball team.
The event, which transformed the high school’s cafeteria into a festive barber parlor infused with 80s funk music, soul food, prize giveaways and motivational speeches, was an early step in the baseball team’s new mission to establish its players as positive pillars in the South Seattle community.
Organizing residents around free family friendly events providing resources, material support, and a place for neighborly connection is a vital part of that plan.
“We really want to change the culture of the South End. We as a team are really committed to that, and we know if we get others committed to it we can do just that,” said Gerald Smiley, the baseball team’s first year coach and a Rainier Beach High Graduate.
On Sunday, that commitment appeared to come from other Rainier Beach High alumnus, many of whom were the very barbers and stylists volunteering their services.
“I had no hesitancy to give up my day, even though the NFL playoffs are on. I’m giving back to my old high school.” said Brian House, a Rainier Beach graduate.
House, who owns House of Cuts barbershop in the Skyway neighborhood, said he lost count of how many haircuts he gave on the day, and was just happy so many people turned out.
“I really think it’s wonderful. We’re getting kids off the street and having them get involved,” said Porsha Fields, a Rainier Beach graduate and owner of Stylez4Kids who braided hair at the event.
Outside of haircuts, and braids, families could also pick up shoes and clothing donated by community members and local organizations, as well as plates of fried chicken and spaghetti.
Sunday also presented a positive option for youngsters, the majority of attendees, who could potentially be tempted towards negative activities because of limited recreational opportunities.
“We need to have more things like this for our young people to stop all the violence,” asserted Mary Billingsley, a Rainier Beach community member.
Many attendees saw Sunday’s showcase of “community helping community” as a continued necessity while they brace for perilous times nationally.
“In this Trump era, we’re going to be more dependent upon each other. We have to feed each other, love each other. We’re going to have to share our professional skills without charging anyone. Our mindsets shouldn’t be one of seeking position but one of community,” said Amir Islam who attended the event.
It was that mindset that brought some Rainier Beach High faculty to the event on their weekend.
“Kids need to see that were not just on them all the time, but that we really do support them by making time to be here for things like this,” said Rainier Beach High teacher Manuel Cadenas.
Though it featured raffle prizes and dance prompting soul music, Sunday was not exclusively fun and games. Attendees were also treated to speeches from those actively involved in the community, including Det. Denise “Cookie” Bouldin, and Charlie Walker, a Mason from Hercules Lodge No.17.
On the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Walker talked about growing up just a stone’s throw from Dr. King’s home and marching with the civil rights leader, along with the power of knowing one’s history and the essentialness of perseverance.
“These hands that once picked cotton, picked up a Ph.D,” he told the rapt crowd as his Masonic brothers smiled at Walker’s line referencing his doctorate.
With Masons, local law enforcement, city council candidate Sheley Secrest, and a turnout of more than two hundred people throughout the day, Sunday was just the latest show of support for a team that has long played subordinate to the school’s much heralded basketball team, and a resurgent football team that was undefeated deep into the season.
Starkly contrasting with those winning programs, Rainier Beach High’s baseball team has been a model of futility in the past decade, going winless all of last year.
Smiley, a former professional player, is looking to shift that culture not only on the field but off. The former Texas Ranger plans to forge in endearing bond with his team and the community by having them highly visible at neighborhood cleanups, food drives, and clothing swaps.
Early returns on the effort appear promising; two weeks ago community members helped the team purchase new equipment for the season.
“It’s just really good to see the community out here. You see this a lot with the basketball team but usually not with us,” said Brandon Vaughan, a junior on the team, who received a haircut on the day.
“We want people to know that what they think of Rainier Beach is not typical. This is a new Rainier Beach, and we have our community supporting it.”
Marcus Harrison Green is the co-founder and Editor-In-Chief of the South Seattle Emerald, a former Reporting Fellow with YES! Magazine, and a past recipient of Crosscut’s Courage Award for Culture. He currently resides in Rainier Beach and can be followed on Twitter @mhgreen3000