PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — A Pawtucket barbershop is not only offering free haircuts to the state’s inner-city youth, it’s also teaching them to be proud of their heritage.

Haircuts and Heritage owner Kobi Dennis told 12 News the young adults who walk through the door of his barbershop get more than just a haircut.

Dennis said his business pairs students from middle and high schools in Pawtucket, Providence and Central Falls with a mentor to discuss their life goals and aspirations.

“I let them know who I am. I say my full name. I shake their hand firmly and welcome them to Haircuts and Heritage,” Dennis said. “I talk about their haircut, but I also talk about their heritage: who I am and where I came from. A naval barber, I’ve been to war. I have three children and I’m an executive. These are the things I want them to leave with. This is not a hangout.”

Barbershops, according to Dennis, have always been a place for inner-city youth to go and speak their minds.

“We thought this would be the perfect backdrop to let young people, especially during these COVID times, come in and just talk and let their feelings out in a safe space,” he said.

Students are referred to the barbershop from their schools and must maintain good grades in order to receive a free haircut.

Dennis said his business provides teachable moments, not only during Black History Month, but every month.

“This all means something,” Dennis added. “This is not some vain type of event for myself and other leaders from the past … we do this to remind them of who they really are.”

“You’ll see no depictions of slaves, you’ll see no depictions of anyone in jail, you’ll see no depictions of negativity,” he continued. “We want there to be positive images from the time they walk in the shop to the time they leave.”

Dennis said life isn’t easy for young people of color.

“Gun violence, poverty … it scares me when these young people tell us the stories they tell us,” he said. “The barber chair is also a truth-teller. It helps when they’re so comfortable that they let us know something they wouldn’t normally tell the police, their teacher or their parents, but they tell the barber.”

Dennis said the barbershop also has a library and an art gallery for young adults to look through.

“We have books here that help them build their imagination and their mindset,” manager Jordan Bishop explained.

Bishop said the students he’s worked with have talked about a variety of things while in his barber chair.

“We let them say the things they want to do and then we try to help them expand their horizons,” he said. “A lot of times, they talk about what they want to do when they get out of high school, or what they see in the news and on social media, and the part they want to play in changing things.”

All haircuts must be scheduled in advance online, including school referrals. Anyone who wishes to donate to Haircuts for Heritage can do so by clicking here »