I SEE U

I SEE U, Episode 69: Black Men On The Cutting Edge

Houston entrepreneur, Ken Hicks, reveals his challenges and triumphs as he, along with his clients and customers candidly discuss the power of support, connectivity and mental healing when experiencing the culture of Black barbershops.

Top Left - Barber, Derrick Williams Bottom Left - I SEEU Editor Johnmitchell Goode, barbershop customers Dr. Wade and another barbershop client Middle Photo - Ken's Kutting Shoppe Owner, Ken Hicks. Top Right- Ken Hicks and Derrick Williams Bottom Right - Ken Hicks and Texas Coach Lovie Smith

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For decades, barbershops have served as special places for people of color. The barber plays a major role in not only providing hair care services, but for many Black men, in particular, this person is responsible for how their customers are viewed and seen by society. Notions of identity, appearance and character are often assessed, evaluated, measured—even stereotyped by the way a Black man's hair is styled or fashioned. But what happens when haircutting suites and brick-and-mortar barbershops become safe havens? These establishments bring a unique sense of energy and refuge where Black men turn to for comfort, networking, career insight, health advice and gossip – a destination where they can discuss anything, from sports to politics—and not have to worry about being discriminated against or humiliated. Join us as Host Eddie Robinson takes I SEE U away from the broadcast studio and into Ken's Kutting Shoppe – a Black-owned barbershop and hair salon located near NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. The owner, Ken Hicks, as well as one of his employees, Derrick Williams, share their stories of overcoming obstacles and a deadly pandemic all while transforming the lives of Black men (and their hair) for nearly 30 years.

 

Full Transcript

Eddie Robinson: For years, barbershops have served as special places for African Americans. Not only do they go there for hair care services, but Black men in particular view barbershops as safe havens where they can talk candid about anything from sports to politics.

Mickey McGill: It’s where everybody can come together and take care of each other. You know, a lot of times we don’t protect ourselves. We don’t take advice. We don’t look out for each other. But here in the barbershop, that’s the power of it.

Eddie Robinson: I’m Eddie Robinson. Stay tuned as I SEE U steps away from the studio and travels to Ken’s Kutting Shoppe, a Black owned barbershop in Houston, Texas.

Eddie Robinson: We’ll talk with customers waiting to get haircuts. The owner, Ken Hicks. Also shares his story of overcoming obstacles as he continues his business of transforming lives of Black men and their hair for nearly 30 years. Oh yeah. I feel you. We hear you. I SEE U.

Eddie Robinson: You’re listening to I SEE U. I’m your host, Eddie Robinson. Barbershops and hair salons have played a key role in the lives of African Americans for decades. Not only do we go to these special places for our hair care needs, but over the course of taping this particular episode, we discovered so much more.

Eddie Robinson: During October of 2022, our I SEE U team decided to venture to NRG Park. The area in Houston that’s home to the Houston Texans football stadium and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. We recorded a very candid conversation with over a dozen customers and clients of Ken’s Kutting Shoppe. It’s where I go to get my hair cut.

Eddie Robinson: On this very typical Saturday morning, the owner, Ken Hicks, and another barber employed by Ken, whose name is Derrick Williams, Both allowed us to conduct this recording while they continued their work of cutting hair in this very comfortable, spacious suite with huge glass mirrors surrounding the welcoming space.

Eddie Robinson: Derrick had just finished cutting my hair and trimming my mustache, and then I proceeded to sit in one of the empty barber chairs. To start the conversation and to explain to everyone what this show is all about and why we were there in the first place. I SEE U as we begin to explore this thing called the Black Barbershop Experience.

Eddie Robinson: Our show is based on a quote from an educator from Little Rock, Arkansas. The quote basically states, You are a reflection of your people, regardless of what anybody says. Now, this quote to me tells me that wherever you go, whatever you do, people will see you. They will see you by your race. They will see you by your face.

Eddie Robinson: They will even stereotype you. They will judge you like they think that they know you. But with this show, it’s about understanding who we are as individuals so that we can live, so that we can grow, so that we can work better together. As a community, and I figured the best way for us to understand who we are as individuals is to understand our culture, understand our Black culture.

Eddie Robinson: And what better way to do that is with a barber. A barber is the person, subconsciously I really didn’t think about it, it was just something that I would just automatically do every two weeks. But I realized how significant, how important a role of a barber is. He is helping us control who the world sees us as.

Eddie Robinson: That’s important. And I want to get your thoughts, everyone that’s here, as to how has being in a barbershop and the barber played a role in your life?

Kenyon Jackson: Well, first off, uh, the quote that you said I thought was so beautiful because… You know, as Black men, it’s some things that it’s hard to run from, and we can’t run from our beautiful Black skin.

Eddie Robinson: The first barbershop customer to speak is Kenyon Jackson. He’s the Assistant Defensive Line Coach for the Houston Texans.

Kenyon Jackson: And it’s a, it’s a perspective and a stigma that’s put on us from the outside looking in, right? And it shelters us in a way. But when we come in the barbershop, we can express ourselves to the highest form of our being.

Kenyon Jackson: And I feel like the expression of ourselves as Black men is how we can get to our highest version of ourselves. And being in the barbershop with people that allow you to be who you truly are is a beautiful blessing, right? So that’s why I love being around Ken. When I come into the barber shop, sometimes he gets me early in the morning, like 5:30 a.m. I gotta be at work at seven to coach. I gotta be there in the morning to get to coaching, right? But I gotta get that haircut as well. I wanna look good.

Eddie Robinson: You gotta get that cut.

Kenyon Jackson: And so Ken, Ken makes sure I’m sturdy and looking good, but. No, it’s just a beautiful thing. I can come in here and express myself, right?

Kenyon Jackson: And I come in here and I’m a musician as well. I’m a artist. And Ken allows me to come in here and I play my music and we sitting here just jamming my music and we’re just sitting here free and free flowing, and the energy’s going, and the free spirits are going, and all you feel is love and that connection in the building.

Kenyon Jackson: And that all starts with a barber that allows people to be who they truly are.

Eddie Robinson: Yes.

Kenyon Jackson: And when people are allowed to be truly who they truly are, they’re allowed to find themselves. You know, and that, that’s what the blessing is. And I appreciate Ken and all the barbers everywhere that do that.

Eddie Robinson: Now, Ken, how long you been going to Ken?

Kenyon Jackson: Since I’ve got here? Since I first…

Eddie Robinson: Since you got here to Houston?

Kenyon Jackson: Yeah. I went, I went to, I went to a barber out here, was looking for a barber. Then somebody put me on the Ken. And ever since then we, we’ve been locked in. We’ve been locked in.

Eddie Robinson: Yes. Yes. And tell what your. You’re, you’re, you’re with the Houston Texans.

Kenyon Jackson: I’m with the Houston Texans, assistant D line coach for the Houston Texans.

Eddie Robinson: Assistant D line coach.

Kenyon Jackson: Yes, sir.

Eddie Robinson: What is up with the Texans, man?

Kenyon Jackson: Man.

Eddie Robinson: I know that’s a hot, hot, hot, hot topic when you walk up in Ken’s Kutting Shoppe.

Kenyon Jackson: It is.

Eddie Robinson: It is like, you know, what is up with the Texans and all of our sports athletes and our, our, our sports teams. We’re always trying to know what’s going on.

Ken Hicks: I also want to chime in.

Eddie Robinson: Barbershop owner Ken Hicks chimes in to let us know about Kenyon’s father’s football career.

Ken Hicks: This guy right here, his daddy was a professional tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles. Keith Jackson.

Eddie Robinson: You’re kidding.

Ken Hicks: Played with Randall Cunningham, so that’s his son.

Eddie Robinson: This is the kind of clientele that pops into Ken’s Kutting Shoppepe. That’s fantastic.

Eddie Robinson: It’s I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson. And we’re on location at Ken’s Kutting Shoppe. Here with… The owner, Ken Hicks. Ken, thank you so much for being a guest on I SEE U.

Ken Hicks: No problem. Thank you for having me.

Eddie Robinson: How do you look at the Black culture as it relates to the experience of going to a barbershop?

Eddie Robinson: What is it about the barbershop that is so important to the Black culture?

Ken Hicks: Well, I think everybody like coming to the barbershop because right here we build relationships. I want everybody to feel like they’re at home. Be relaxed, and they can come in and talk, laugh, joke, cry, and do everything we need to do while getting a haircut.

Eddie Robinson: And I’m looking, I can’t help but look at that beautiful shot, right, that’s sitting right behind you. And this is the, um, head coach of the Houston Texans. I mean, how, how did How did that connection come about with the Houston Texans?

Ken Hicks: Well, I started with the Houston Texans and I was doing face painting. I was a season ticket holder.

Ken Hicks: I went over there, I went to view my seats. And a guy talked to me, he said, oh, you’re a barber. And at the time, he was telling me about some girls that was face painting, but they was slow. We face painted in the Churrascos Club, which is two hours before kickoff. And people come to pay good money to go to the Churrascos Club, but they stand in line the whole time to get their face painted.

Ken Hicks: And I was talking to my friend after I met him, was uh, over the event staff, and he’s calling me, he’s like, Ken, I gotta do something, man. I’m getting in trouble from these girls face painting, and they’re not getting the people out fast enough. I said, I know how to do that. He said, really? I said, yeah. So I started face painting, and I was getting them out like crazy, because I use a spray can, you know, like artists.

Ken Hicks: Once you’re a barber, You’re an artist.

Eddie Robinson: That’s true.

Ken Hicks: And I got him out real fast, whatever, and then I got a chance to meet people on the staff, and then a couple of coaches was coming here to another barber here, right? That barber moved to New Orleans, and so now that coach started coming to me, and once I started cutting him, it was like a snowball effect.

Ken Hicks: So every year coaches changed, uh, other coaches was coming in, and that’s how it happened.

Kenneth Davidson: My name is, uh, Kenneth Davidson. I’ve only had, uh, two barbers in my entire life, and one of them was my godfather back in Shreveport, and the other one’s been, uh, Ken. He’s been cutting my hair now for, uh, I don’t know, for 28 years.

Kenneth Davidson: And, um, my story’s a little bit different, uh, with Ken. Um, when he started cutting my hair, we got close. You know, I was in his wedding. We’ve done some… Things together that we would keep to ourselves, and now he’s like my son’s best friend. He talked to him, and my son has had conversations, and I’m not even aware that they’ve had conversations.

Kenneth Davidson: You know, and I played professional football for nine years, and once my career ended, it was like… These guys, Derrick and Ken, don’t know that. They were like therapy for me. Cause once that career ended… It’s like, okay, what now? They will tell you. I was treating it like a job. I would show up when they showed up and just would sit around all day just to talk until I could kind of find my way on what I was going to do next.

Kenneth Davidson: He’s like an extension of my family. He is family to me. He really is. My son calls him Uncle Ken. They both like food. My son follows him on Instagram. I mean, if I need anything done around the house, call Ken because he knows somebody. When I come to the barber shop, it was like, it’s like an outlet for me.

Kenneth Davidson: My wife, what are y’all, what you doing so long? But now she understands that my son is old enough, he comes with me. You know, even when she comes in here to bring him if I’m out of town or unavailable, whatever, she’s close to Ken. For me, it’s like a family environment. It really, really, really, really is.

Kenneth Davidson: You know, I come in now on Saturdays and, you know, when I sit down, it’s already understood. Derrick gonna give me a minute, but he gonna, he want, he want the dose of what’s gonna happen with the Texans, what’s going on, such and such, such and such. You know, I kind of tell him the ins and outs about the football that he don’t, that he was unaware of.

Kenneth Davidson: And he was like, man, I guess I’m like a, I guess a modern day bookie or whatever, just getting the inside information. And you meet some of everybody and all different people all ways of lives, you know, come here. You got your, you know, your Dr. Ward still a college professionals and you got the guy average guy that may drive a trash truck.

Kenneth Davidson: But when we come here, it’s like everybody family, you know, I’ve been with him when he cuts Steve Harvey’s hair, he’s cut some celebs, you know, hair and I mean now he got all the plug with the Texans and such and such and such, but he. Ken has made this barber thing out of where life. I’m very, very, very proud of him, of his entrepreneurship with his barber shop.

Kenneth Davidson: He is a true, true blessing to my son’s life, blessing to my life, my wife’s life. And honestly, I don’t know what I would do without him. It’s just, it’s just understood. My mom knows him. And she doesn’t even live here, she lives in Shreveport. You know, tell Ken how to say hello. You know, and I was sick a couple times.

Kenneth Davidson: He even came to my house, cut my hair. You know, it’s just, it’s amazing, man.

Eddie Robinson: Coming up, we’ll continue our conversation inside Ken’s Kutting Shoppe, a prominent barber shop and hair salon in Houston, Texas. We’ll find out why the barber shop has become a place where Black men can speak freely. And why this particular establishment serves as the perfect opportunity to network and start the process of becoming an entrepreneur.

Eddie Robinson: Plus, we’ll chat one on one with the man who cuts my own hair, Derrick Williams, and how he’s witnessed firsthand the growth and development of Black men. From the early stages of their lives to becoming fathers and grandfathers who bring their own children into the shop for guidance. And advice. I’m Eddie Robinson.

Eddie Robinson: Don’t move. Our second segment of a special on site edition of I SEE U comes your way right after these messages.

Eddie Robinson: If you’re enjoying this program, please be sure to subscribe to our podcast, I SEE U with Eddie Robinson. You can hear all the past episodes and be notified when new episodes are released. Also, please take a minute to give us a review or comment. We love getting feedback from our listeners.

Eddie Robinson: We’re back and you’re listening to a special edition of I SEE U. I’m your host, Eddie Robinson. We’re on site at Ken’s Kutting Shoppe. formerly located in Houston’s 3rd Ward, now just blocks away from NRG Stadium. This place of business has suites and private cutting rooms for hairstylists and professional barbers.

Eddie Robinson: We’ve decided to set up our own I SEE U shop, if you will, and connect with the client and customers to find out why coming to this Black owned barbershop is more than just getting a fresh fade or a nice beard trim. The barbershop, for African Americans, is a safe haven, a refuge for Black men to escape from discrimination and humiliation.

Eddie Robinson: It’s also a place for networking and even for some to build connection, especially within a community. Where access to capital is oftentimes limited. We’ll chat one on one with the owner, Ken Hicks, in just a moment. But first, we check back in with a group of clients and customers who’ve just walked in and have offered up their own insight and perspective as to the importance of barbershops in Black culture and identity.

Eddie Robinson: Here’s longtime customer and Houston financial advisor, Mickey McGill.

Mickey McGill: So this is Mickey McGill. I’ve been going to Ken for like 31, 32 years since I was about 16 years old in high school. So he literally has seen me grow up. Right. When I come back to Houston after after college. It’s my first stop. He’s my get right man.

Mickey McGill: That’s what it is. When I got proms I gotta go to events It’s where I go. And so your barber is also the connector You have all type of people that come in and when I became a financial advisor Ken was the first one lining up right? Let me help out Let me let me take care of you when I started working with NFL players five years ago He was oh, let me introduce you to somebody. When my roof was leaking, he was like, I got a guy, let me, I mean, whenever you need something, you call the barber, it is, get the hookup.

Mickey McGill: And it’s, and the crazy thing is it’s, and it’s so well known that even my wife was like, did you call Ken? You didn’t call him yet. You need to call him. Right.

Mickey McGill: He’s come by the house. It’s like, you need to do this and this and this. This is the safe spot, right? It’s where everybody can come together and take care of each other.

Mickey McGill: Something that happens in the Black community is that. You know, a lot of times we don’t protect ourselves. We don’t take advice. We don’t look out for each other. But here in the barbershop, that’s the power of it, right? You can come in and a guy that you don’t know you strike up a conversation with and now you’re able to do some business, take care of each other, help out someone’s mom, right?

Mickey McGill: I mean, my mom has had a lot of health issues, right? Ken’s been there down the street. She needs something. Let me know. Wherever I need something, this is where I go. That’s the power of the barbershop. The barbershop isn’t just in this, in this cocoon. It’s something that we all have. And it’s a community in this one place.

Eddie Robinson: I’m Eddie Robinson, and you’re listening to a special edition of I SEE U. We’re on location at Ken’s Kutting Shoppe in Houston’s NRG Park. We’re chatting about the importance of barbershops and hair salons in the Black community. We’ll reconnect with the larger group of clients and customers in just a moment, but let’s check back in one on one with the owner and CEO of Ken’s Kutting Shoppe, Ken Hicks, and find out how it all got started.

Eddie Robinson: How did Ken’s Kutting Shoppe take shape? You know, what happened? How did it all begin? Go.

Ken Hicks: Well, it started, basically, I started in high school.

Eddie Robinson: Oh.

Ken Hicks: Cutting hair. I had a friend. His name was Sean Wyatt. Currently, he’s an HPD officer.

Eddie Robinson: Okay.

Ken Hicks: And he used to cut his own hair. And when he used to cut his hair, he was like, Hey, Ken, can you do this for me?

Ken Hicks: And I was like, I don’t know what I’m doing. So I took the clippers. It went over it, and he liked it, and he kept asking me over and over again, and he just, after that, I just became a barber. But I had a dream in life, and my dream was, I played baseball in high school, at Cashmere High School, and once I finished high school, I thought, I said, either I want to be a pro baseball player, or a barber, so I ended up being a barber.

Eddie Robinson: What happened to the pro baseball?

Ken Hicks: It didn’t, it didn’t work out. We’ll talk about that another time when I got the fellas in here.

Eddie Robinson: Yeah, I mean, but you know, you managed to get your own shop. And from what I gather, it wasn’t here at this particular location near NRG Stadium. Where was it located?

Ken Hicks: I started in Third Ward in 1991. I started at a shop called Pat’s Hair Gallery, which is directly across the street from the old Ken’s Kutting Shoppe. I worked there, and in 1996, I walked outside, and one of the barbershops was for lease. And I was like, man, I could have my own business. So I asked my dad, I said, Dad, I don’t have no money, but I want to open this shop.

Ken Hicks: He was okay with it, but my stepmother was like, No, I don’t know if we should give him the money. But they went on and loaned me the money. And that’s the best move, you know, he ever could have made.

Eddie Robinson: Okay.

Ken Hicks: So I started there. It’s crazy how it started because we didn’t have but two barbers in there. And that was me and Derrick. Derrick Williams.

Eddie Robinson: That’s my barber. I absolutely love Derrick. That’s correct. And when did you get to Energy Park? Like in this particular area? What happened and why did you decide to move and come in this area?

Ken Hicks: Well, I came in this area because I wanted to be central. I wanted where my clients can reach me for easy commute, for everybody to come to get their hair cut.

Ken Hicks: So, in this very building is the barber supply downstairs. So I went to the barber supply, and the lady named Finley Barber Supply, I mean, I want to give her a little plug because she’s the reason why I’m here. I talked to her, and I was like, well, Ms. Finley, it looks like the building is, where I’m at, is being taken over by St. Luke’s. I need a place to work. And she said, well. I’m the building manager of this property. I got a spot upstairs. Let me see if you like it. So I went up here in this spot here used to be a company break room, right? So it had the water in it. I said, okay got water the plumbing That’s all I need was the plumbing and I just converted to a barbershop so I started in this location first in suite 270 and then just grew from there.

Eddie Robinson: And when you say It just grew from there. I mean, look, uh, you, when you walk into Ken’s Kutting Shoppe, there are suites, salons, barbers, stylists everywhere. What are you talking about there in terms of expansion? What happened there?

Ken Hicks: Well, with expansion currently across the hall and suite 200. You had a stylist over there, Renegade Hair Salon. He was kind of struggling with his business.

Ken Hicks: And I fixed this up so nice, and he walked over and he’s like, Man, this barbershop look really nice. Do you want to take over? I said, Oh, I don’t know about taking over your space. I said, Let me just think about it. So I went home, and I prayed about it, and I talked to my wife. And I brought her up here to let her see the spot.

Ken Hicks: And she walked in there and she’s like, are you making this a hair salon? I said, yes. She said, I can’t see the vision cause it was tore up. And I said, it can work. I said, we can put suites in there. Maybe we can release it out to stylists. She said, no, you can’t. I said, okay. So we walked in here and I took blue tape and I taped it off.

Ken Hicks: I taped off every suite and I asked my contractor to come up here to look at it, right? He came up looking and I said, Hey, if I put a wall here with this work, if I put another wall with this work, he said, yes, it’ll work in about three weeks. Everything just came to life and we had the stylist working in about three months later.

Ken Hicks: So I was trying to do some marketing, trying to get everybody to see if I could find some stylists. So I was doing something bad. So I go to other suites. Salon places. And I grabbed a business card.

Eddie Robinson: Okay.

Ken Hicks: So I took a picture of my suites. I text the stylist from that business card. I said, Hey, I got good deals.

Ken Hicks: And finally, I got one. One. And then once she came in, she told her friend and the next friend and that’s how it grew.

Eddie Robinson: And here we are fast forward 2022, 2023, what’s going on? How many stylist barbers? What do you got here in the clan of the oasis of Ken’s Kutting Shoppe?

Ken Hicks: Well, we have a total of eight barbers, including myself and 21 hairstylists.

Eddie Robinson: That’s wonderful.

Eddie Robinson: You’re listening to I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson. As we continue our conversation with customers and clients of Ken’s Kutting Shoppe.

Kevin Cooper: I’m Kevin Cooper. I’ve been coming to Ken since he was at Ms. Pat’s over on Dallas. That’s where it was. But what it is that we’re really tap toeing around, Ken is a businessman.

Kevin Cooper: And if you start to look at the economics of the Black community, of which we spend 1. the economy, but we spend 2% of it with each other, 1% of which goes to people doing our hair. So what happens is, is that this man becomes a, uh, a bit of an inspiration. So my background is, uh, I went to Yates High School, graduated, and I started my own business.

Kevin Cooper: So, one of the first people I talked to was Ken, and I bounced a lot of ideas off of, well, what do you think of this, and what do you think of that? And when we start talking about, you know, a hookup or whatever it is, well, he prints all of my stuff. So, everything that has my logo on it, he prints. And it’s something that’s important.

Kevin Cooper: So it’s having the ability to tell a story to know where you come from. I bring my son here. We don’t go anywhere else. I mean, he got his first haircut right on the other side of the wall. You know, when I was in high school, one of the greatest and most powerful quotes I ever heard of, it said, to whom you give your money is to whom you give your power.

Kevin Cooper: And the fact that we come in here and we talk about one of my goals in business is how can we go from 2% to 30%, right? And if we spent 30% of our. 1.7 trillion dollars with each other, we’re going to be in a much better place than 2%. Well, what is it? Where does the start of the 2% start at? It starts with getting our hair cut. So as we can go and start to branch out and you understand what your dollar goes to.

Kevin Cooper: Ken’s cutting hair. I mean, Ken’s giving other people an opportunity to have a safe place to start their own business. I met the coach from the Texans when he first got here. Ken introduced me. And I, you know, off of my 14 years of being in the building, I told him exactly what to expect, what to look for.

Kevin Cooper: Here’s who you need to talk to. Here’s who you need to trust, you know, because all of this stuff is all connected. So and someone said a word about networking, right? A wise man once told me networking is one letter away from not working. So if you get in here and you get the opportunity to sit in here and network with some people, if you sit down and have the ability, as I tell my son, get in here and be quiet.

Kevin Cooper: Sit and listen, and you might pick up on some game that might help you here in the future. And if we can influence a generation of young kids to sit and say, Yo, the only thing that I’m spending my money with with Black people literally get my haircut. How about I sit and I say, if I get $100, how about I sit and say, I’m gonna spend $30, with a restaurant or a someone that does clothing, whatever that is now, all of a sudden we start to get better and where’s that safe place because who’s in here to regulate what we talk about people. I know when I work at the Texans, you have to, what do we do? Code switching, being quiet. Hey, here you come.

Kevin Cooper: Here you come. Just, you know, you, you, you have the ability to be your, your most authentic self. And that’s what this is about.

Eddie Robinson: That’s right. I wanted to also mention the power there. Of the appointment. It was mentioned earlier. I come Thursday, da da da da. I come Saturday, da da da da. That’s our moment.

Eddie Robinson: That’s our time to shine. And it’s respected. It’s, you know, the barbers that make everybody make sure that it’s crystal clear. I remember when I started going, I’m from Mississippi, and the barber that my dad took me to, and we were, we always went to him, B. F. Reeves, the late B. F. Reeves, he’s passed on. But he had this little bitty notebook in the middle of the room and he would always say, I don’t do appointments.

Eddie Robinson: That’s what B. F. Reeves would always say because he didn’t really particularly like to set up appointments. But what he did do was cut walk ins and everybody that walked in. And I hated it. Sometimes when I first came to the barbershop, I hated it. Because we would stay there the whole, like half the Saturday.

Eddie Robinson: Three, four, five hours inside a barbershop. But we knew exactly, I knew exactly, as soon as I walked up in there, I ran, that five, six year old, I ran to that notebook and made sure I signed our name. But the power of appointment, and I’m so grateful That we’ve got Derrick, that we’ve got Ken. We’ve got barbers and stylists that respect that.

Eddie Robinson: And we have to make sure that we’re there for them and hold on to that appointment. And I gotta, D, I forgot to pay you. I gotta make sure that I give you my, I had my cut earlier and I forgot to make sure I get your, your money.

Eddie Robinson: I’m Eddie Robinson and we’re on location for a special edition of I SEE U at Ken’s Kutting Shoppe in Houston, Texas. We now turn to one of Ken’s employees, Derrick Williams. He’s the man who cuts my hair at the barbershop, and I sometimes like to call him D for short. Derrick’s chair is located in the same cutting room across from where Ken, the owner, cuts hair for his clients.

Eddie Robinson: And I’ve been going to D since I moved from New York City to Houston in 2014.

Derrick Williams: My name is Derrick Williams and I’m kind of like the right hand to Ken in Ken’s Kutting Shoppe.

Eddie Robinson: How long, um, were you first interested in basically like cutting hair? You know, when did that all begin for you?

Derrick Williams: I really started cutting hair in high school. I was cutting members of the band, because I’m a musician. So, after school, they wanted me to cut their hair.

Eddie Robinson: Wow.

Derrick Williams: So, I started doing that. And then, kind of afterwards, I started noticing that it was a niche for it, because Back then, that’s when the shag was popular and I would design the little shag in the back and, and the guys would walk around and it looked pretty good.

Derrick Williams: So I said, okay, well, there might be a niche to it. And uh, I continued to cut.

Eddie Robinson: Okay.

Derrick Williams: So that kind of compelled me to, to want to make sure that I kept that as a token. Then I, I met Ken and what was so ironic is I was at the barbershop that he initially took over. I was in there cutting hair and then all of a sudden they would say, hey.

Derrick Williams: This shop is being sold. It’s being sold? Well where am I gonna go? And then one day this guy walked in and he started throwing his stuff underneath the tables there, setting his stuff up, and I said, well who is this? And they said, this the shop owner, his name is Ken. And I said, Oh my God, well, let me see if he’ll let me stay, you know, and, and so he, he looked at me and he just waved.

Derrick Williams: He said, Hey, hey, how’s it going? But he had customers that he had to cut. So he had to move and cut that same day. So he didn’t really have time to stop and talk to me about, and he said, no, no, you’re fine.

Eddie Robinson: Yeah.

Derrick Williams: You fine.

Eddie Robinson: Wow.

Derrick Williams: So I said, Oh, oh, okay. Well, I guess I can stay at least, at least for a week until I understand what’s going on. And he shoved his stuff under the table and then he, he started bringing all of his clients.

Eddie Robinson: And he became the owner and you managed, cause I’m what I’m noticing because I’ve been coming to Ken’s for the past almost 10 years.

Derrick Williams: Yeah.

Eddie Robinson: Stylists come and go. Barbers come and go. But what is it that you think that it is about you that you’ve managed to stay from the very beginning? And it’s been a partnership, it’s been a friendship for that long, for decades, for you and Ken. What’s it been, what, what, what was it about that connection that allowed you to stay here at Ken’s for so long?

Derrick Williams: Ken is a special guy. I had never met anybody like that. His persona, the way he comes across to you, he makes you family.

Derrick Williams: And the minute he let me know that I was all right, he looked me in the eye like, no, we going to do this. And I said, okay. And I worked in a shop or two before that. And, and the management just wasn’t receptive. It was like, you pay your rent, you pay you, you pay me, and then you go home and you get, Ken was like, we going to make it, just stay, we going to make it.

Eddie Robinson: And what’s it been like, you know, how rewarding has it been for you, um, D, because here you are seeing families transformed in front of your eyes.

Ken Hicks: Well, Ken has laid out the groundwork of, it’s, it’s almost. Like a club, you want your, you want the clientele to be conducive to what the owner wants around him.

Ken Hicks: And Ken has created such an atmosphere where it’s family. And we gravitate to that, and we know that’s what he wants. So we make sure everything that comes in cultivates that. And we bring it to life.

Eddie Robinson: Coming up, more of our chat with barbers and customers about the importance of Black owned barbershops and hair salons and the role they’ve played in Black culture, identity, and purpose. We’ll continue with a very unguarded chat about Black men and mental health. How barbers might find themselves as advocates of talk therapy and how these candid community conversations help enhance the lives of African American men both physically and mentally.

Eddie Robinson: Why Black men consider the barbershop as a place for healing. I’m Eddie Robinson. A powerful final segment of I SEE U happens in just a moment. We’ll be right back.

Eddie Robinson: If you’re enjoying this program, please be sure to subscribe to our podcast, I SEE U with Eddie Robinson. You can hear all the past episodes and be notified when new episodes are released. Also, please take a minute to give us a review or comment. We love getting feedback from our listeners.

Eddie Robinson: We’re back. I’m Eddie Robinson, and you’re listening to a special edition of I SEE U. We’re on location at Ken’s Kutting Shoppe, a very prominent barber shop and hair salon establishment that houses a host of professional suites and cutting rooms formerly located in Houston’s Third Ward, now located just blocks away from NRG Stadium.

Eddie Robinson: We’ve been chatting one on one with the man who runs the shop, Ken Hicks. The barber who cuts my hair, Derrick Williams. And we’ve also been chatting with some of the customers and clients who’ve trickled into the shop on a typical Saturday morning not only to get a haircut, but they’ve also gathered around our microphones to share their thoughts and insight on why the culture of Black barber shops is so significant, especially in this time of social awakenings and racial awareness.

Eddie Robinson: Ken, who’s the owner and CEO of the establishment, has been gracious enough to sit and chat with us one on one about the history of the building, how he started his business, and what this place, this foundation, this barbershop has meant to him. Personally, we continue our chat.

Eddie Robinson: It’s interesting because when you go to a barbershop, it’s more than just getting your hair fixed and, and getting what you need to be done to your hair and, and, but it’s, it’s an identity thing as well, you know, when you look at your appearance and that matters, especially in our culture.

Ken Hicks: That’s right.

Eddie Robinson: What is it about this almost religious look at making sure that we get our appointment because I look at my mom and she’s like her Thursday morning eight o’clock appointments are not to be missed and it’s almost as if it’s like survival, you know, with her hair. I mean, and if you change it, if you move it, if you disrupt it, watch out, be careful.

Ken Hicks: Well, I got a story for you. It’s one of your frat brothers.

Eddie Robinson: Oh.

Ken Hicks: Dr. James Ward.

Eddie Robinson: Yes. Dr. Ward.

Ken Hicks: A professor at TSU.

Eddie Robinson: Yes.

Ken Hicks: The provost.

Eddie Robinson: Love him.

Ken Hicks: Dr. Ward is a living example of an icon customer. Let me tell you why. He came to me, Dr. Ward had an enlarged kidney, right? He’s now, you know, on dialysis and everything. He’s doing well.

Ken Hicks: The doctor, they wrote him off, said he might not make it, but he bounced back. But while he was in the hospital, Eddie, barely could talk, barely could walk. But he want his hair cut. So I used to come to the hospital to cut his hair, because it’s a long time coming. I’ve been cutting since the 90s. I cut his hair.

Ken Hicks: He said, Ken, I just got to tell you one thing. You give me… Healing, you know, just getting his hair cut made him feel good, you know, and that really brought tears to my eyes because that was special. And he’s just a, every week normal client, he talked to me every week about it. He said, Ken, you know, I went through all this in the hospital.

Ken Hicks: It was the time I was cutting his hair, Eddie, he couldn’t move. I couldn’t cut the back of his hair, it laid there, but he said, once he got his hair cut. He felt good. And that made me feel good. So after that, I said, if Dr. Ward can do it, I can make anybody feel good. And he was super sick Eddie. I’m talking about real sick, but hey, he come every week.

Ken Hicks: He said, Ken, if it weren’t for my haircuts, I really think you saved me. And that made me feel good.

Ken Hicks: Dr. Ward, you’re here with us. Tell us more about what it’s been like for you to Ken’s Kutting.

Dr. James Ward: Well, I’ve been coming probably 20, 21 years. And now my appointment is every Thursday at 10:30. I get here at 10 o’clock because I want to hear the, whatever is going on. And then, but I have to be gone at a certain time.

Dr. James Ward: So what you do is, I know that the media is a monster when it comes to reporting our people. But all they need to do is come to the barbershop and see all these fathers with their son. And the good part about it, you get to see them grow up like KD’s son grew up.

Eddie Robinson: When Dr. Ward says KD, he’s referencing Kenneth Davidson, one of the customers who spoke earlier in our first segment.

Dr. James Ward: I know KD because we grew up in North Louisiana. I’m an Alpha, he’s an Omega, he did the best he could. So, so, but the barbershop is like therapy, when you go there. And the people here will see about you, they’ll ask you, are you alright? And you know, Ken will tell you, well I’m not supposed to say this, I know you won’t tell him.

Dr. James Ward: But I said, he’s gossiping. That’s gossip. And, and it has been, it has meant a lot to me.

Eddie Robinson: Dr. Ward, you said a word therapy and we talked to Ken and he also mentioned the word healing. Talk to us more about what that experience feels like when you walk into a barbershop because not many people realize the mental capacity and the mental issues and the strain that a lot of Black men continue to go through.

Eddie Robinson: To this very day and they look forward to those moments of being inside a barbershop.

Dr. James Ward: Well, I was really really ill. I mean sick to the point that I couldn’t even walk. So Ken would come to the hospital and cut my hair. I mean And and I started feeling better. I mean I started feeling better And then, uh, when I was able to walk, uh, I came to the barbershop, and people would help you feel better.

Dr. James Ward: And they would say, I’m glad you’re feeling better. You’re up and ready. Ken told us how he was sick you. I said, Oh, he told all my business, but, but, but, but what I’m saying is. There are entities that will help you thrive and help you get up, that will let you know that you’re doing better. And so, that was one of the things that helped me to get through it.

Dr. James Ward: And because I know I would, uh, they had me in a wheelchair at one time. I threw the wheelchair away. You have to throw those things that you become dependent on. And I, I know the young people would tell me, said, You better get out of that bed. The bed will make you dead. And so, this was part of my healing.

Dr. James Ward: Because the energy was always right in here. Because if the energy were not right, I wouldn’t come to it. Because I don’t go to dark places. I, I don’t do it. So, so that’s, that’s what it has meant. To me in terms of my own healing. Because I was around people in here who wanted me to get better and it wasn’t just something they’d say I hope you get they really wanted me to get better.

Eddie Robinson: I’m Eddie Robinson and you’re listening to a special on site edition of I SEE U. We’re at Ken’s Kutting Shoppe in Houston, Texas. We’ve been chatting with customers and clients who are waiting to get their hair cut, and they’re also sharing their perspective on the impact of barber shops in the Black community.

Eddie Robinson: We continue our conversation with a customer who chimes back in, Kevin Cooper.

Kevin Cooper: Yeah, well, we sit and we talk about, um, you know, one of the things I don’t pride myself on, I don’t, I don’t go to therapy. I think that more Black people probably do need to go to therapy. Well… I paid Ken 20 every two weeks to get a little bit of therapy.

Kevin Cooper: He ain’t boy certified, but you know, you have the ability to sit and connect with somebody else that’s gone through the same thing that we’ve gone through or again, man, somebody’s trying to sit and give you some game and sit and say, Hey, like, this is what this may be what you need to do. I mean, you get in here and we just start talking about topics.

Kevin Cooper: That go on and like, you know, I got, I have my son here, you know, it was, it was, how do you deal with a lady? He’s 10, you know, well, where’s he gonna learn that from? Well, we’re much better than him learn from other Black men that are around as opposed to Learning it from another 10 year old. They don’t know how to pee straight, you know At least this gives you the ability to connect with people you know that are like minded because again, we’re gonna spend our time In our safe place. And this right here is where we’re all safe.

Eddie Robinson: And that reminds me of historically speaking. Blacks, you know, slavery and the, it’s been tough for us, you know, and as a matter, even with white slave owners, they had to have the ability to control how your hair looked and for all the pictures that I’ve seen, I’ve seen just a lot of baldness.

Eddie Robinson: Um, but here, like I said, this is a moment where we have the ability to control who we are and our identity and networking, networking, networking, job prospects. Skin has always been there. You know, you need to have some connection. You need to have some connection. Texas me all kinds of resources. That’s the beauty and the power of a barber shop.

James Davis: Hey, my name is James Davis and, um, Ken has probably been cutting my hair. I would say probably four to five years and, um, you know, everything that you just said, you know, it’s just so true because there’s a certain way that you want to look and, um, yeah, I’m in the car business. I own a car dealership.

James Davis: And I want to make sure that every Thursday morning at seven o’clock, I get a haircut and Ken is here. He’s on time, you know, because I want that certain look for the weekend, you know, there’s a certain look that my employees expect of me. And there’s also the other side, the information that I get when I come to the barbershop.

James Davis: All right. Now, understand, Ken is a barber. But he’s also associated with the Houston Texans. So now you’re getting information on what’s going on with inside the Houston Texans. As well as what’s going on in the neighborhood. So that is just so cool. So I can come home and sometimes my wife says, okay, what’s the barbershop talk, you know, cuz cuz Ken can come up with some stuff outside James did you hear you know?

James Davis: And I think the barbershop is a lot like a beauty salon because a lot of women get information and gossip from beauty salons So, you know, I appreciate that time. I appreciate Ken. I appreciate the location and I cannot imagine going anyplace else. Thank you.

Eddie Robinson: You’re listening to a special edition of I SEE U.

Eddie Robinson: I’m Eddie Robinson. We’ve been on location at a very prominent barber shop and hair salon establishment in Houston, owner and CEO of Ken’s Kutting Shoppe. Ken Hicks speaks to us one on one.

Eddie Robinson: Describe for us, how do I put this, you know, what’s been the, the biggest challenge that you’ve experienced as a Black entrepreneur? In the city of Houston?

Ken Hicks: Well the biggest challenge I can say is keeping up with contract leases, you know, especially with COVID happening and we’re trying to stay afloat, but my dad, I would say if he preached to me, my dad is 83 years old. He preached to me all the time. If you couldn’t hear, if you put one haircut up a day, when hard times hit, you can manage it.

Eddie Robinson: That’s so powerful, you know, with your father, he’s, it’s, it seems like he’s been, you know, a big source of inspiration for you throughout your life.

Ken Hicks: Yeah. He is.

Eddie Robinson: Tell us more about him because, um,

Ken Hicks: Well, my dad grew up in Chapel Hill, Texas in Brenham, Texas.

Eddie Robinson: Yeah.

Ken Hicks: And he grew up with a, a grade education, but you wouldn’t know it. He’s so smart. Uh, business minded because he sold Watkins products all his life and he worked at a

Eddie Robinson: Watkins products.

Ken Hicks: That’s where you have your flavors, your black pepper, uh, lemon extract, stuff like that. He went house to house, door to door.

Eddie Robinson: Interesting.

Ken Hicks: And he made himself out of a real business man.

Eddie Robinson: So he was a real entrepreneur.

Ken Hicks: That’s correct. Also, this is kind of strange, but it’s true. My dad’s dad.

Eddie Robinson: Yeah.

Ken Hicks: We’re three barbers, my dad, brothers, my grandfather brothers were barbers, so they passed away early. I never really got a chance to meet them, but I guess it’s a family trait that I picked up. And so it’s funny that you said that I met one of them.

Ken Hicks: He came to my shop and third wife say, thank you for being a Hicks and try to keep up the tradition.

Eddie Robinson: Nice.

Ken Hicks: Yeah.

Eddie Robinson: And that’s what you’re doing. It’s in your DNA.

Ken Hicks: It is. It’s right here.

Eddie Robinson: You know, what or who has been the thing that’s kept you afloat, that’s kept you in the game? Has it been the clients? Has it been, you know, what, what’s been that motivating factor to kept it, to kept you in this business for so long? I mean, almost 30 years, Ken, almost 30 years.

Ken Hicks: That’s right. I take my customers. I love the way they treat me when I come to work. They make me feel good. And I like just conversating with them. And I look forward to coming to work because not only they’re my customers, I feel like they’re my friends and my family. And that means a lot to me. So, that’s all I can say to keep me motivated coming, and it’s a good thing to see young babies start at the early age, come and getting their hair cut, and you blink of an eye, they’re out of college.

Ken Hicks: They’re doctors. They’re lawyers. They bringing their kids. So, that’s what keeps it going, you know, in the barbershop.

Eddie Robinson: I’m Eddie Robinson, wrapping up this special on site edition of I SEE U. Let’s check back one last time with the man who cuts my hair, barber Derrick Williams. Of all the accomplishments that you’ve made, the ups and downs that you’ve gone through, D What life lessons have you learned about yourself thus far?

Derrick Williams: Uh, okay. Uh, now entangled with being a Ken’s Kutting Shoppe employee. When I first came, I lost my son and it was very tragic for me. And I didn’t think I was going to get through that. It was very, very, very frightening. And… Through all of that, I’ve learned who I am, and, and he was 13 years old, so, and I was young, so, then I began to discover what my my plan was for life and where I fit in Ken’s Kutting Shoppe and made it a big part of my life.

Derrick Williams: So here I am today to say, I’ve been with him through thick and thin. We’ve came through a lot together. I watched him. He, he lost his mother. I lost my son. So we kind of came together and said, we’re going to mend this thing. And that’s when I found out who I truly was. And it has helped me. And here I am, a better guy, a better man.

Derrick Williams: And now I can give it to those customers that come in and sit down, especially the little young guys. I sit and let them talk. And then I throw in my little input on life. Cause I’ve seen it.

Eddie Robinson: Thank you. Thank you enormously for being a part of my life and being a part of the lives of Houstonians in this community for years and decades.

Eddie Robinson: And we look forward to many more to come. Thank you so much, Derrick, for what you’ve done for this community.

Derrick Williams: Thank you, man. Appreciate it. Yes.

Eddie Robinson: Ken Hicks, owner of Ken’s Kutting Shoppe. What’s the most fascinating, the most enjoyable aspect of your work?

Ken Hicks: Well, I love doing this. So when you’re doing something you love to do, it doesn’t feel like work. It feel like just I’m here with the fellas.

Eddie Robinson: Yeah.

Ken Hicks: And I enjoy that every day.

Eddie Robinson: Some of the life lessons that you’ve learned about yourself thus far.

Ken Hicks: Well, I feel like One life lesson is to work hard. I always gave myself a goal, and I said to myself, If I give myself 1%, I can earn the other 99%. Just by going to work, and just basically being yourself. And life, you can grow in life, you can grow in your business as well.

Eddie Robinson: Ken Hicks, owner of Ken’s Kutting Shoppe. Thank you so much for allowing I SEE U to be a part of this journey, and to infiltrate. A Saturday morning, one of the busiest, busiest mornings of a barber’s life. But the authenticity, the genuineness, and this place is a safe haven for all of us. Thank you for being a pinnacle to our community. Thank you for being you.

Ken Hicks: Thank you. I want to tell everybody, thanks for coming and get ready to get your nice haircut.

Eddie Robinson: Our team includes technical director, Todd Hulslander, producer, Laura Walker, editors, Mark DiClaudio and Jonmitchell Goode. I SEE U is a production of Houston Public Media. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter, and subscribe to our podcast wherever you listen and download your favorite shows. I’m your host and executive producer, Eddie Robinson, and I feel you, we hear you, I SEE U.

Eddie Robinson: Thanks so much for listening, until next time.

 

This article is part of the podcast I SEE U with Eddie Robinson

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