Barber Shops, Baylor, and CitySquare are Fighting Health System Stigma

Clippin Crownz 4Christ, Jay Vee Burberry’s shop next to the Forest Theater in South Dallas, is decked out with Dallas Cowboys gear and the plaid pattern that shares his last name. Burberry used to be homeless, but with the help of a nearby nonprofit he was able to start his own business. Every fourth Monday he can be found cutting hair for free at his shop, paying forward his good fortune. 

In addition to his services for the homeless, Burberry is one of several barbers in mostly black South Dallas who have partnered with Baylor Scott & White and CitySquare to connect the black male community to the healthcare system through a trusted intermediary—the barbershop. The barbers are trained to take customers’ blood pressure, getting their health and contact information along the way. Then community health workers follow up with the patients and their families. 

Burberry says that fear of the healthcare system comes from more than just a history of unethical practices, like the infamous Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis, which purposefully caused hundreds of black men in Alabama to go untreated for decades, even after penicillin became a proven cure. “People are scared of healthcare because it costs too much, or they don’t have insurance,” he says. 

Johnrice Newton, who helps run the program for CitySquare Community Clinic, calls barbershops “the black man’s country club,” where customers come to hang out and keep up with the news. “They trust their barbers with their hair, so it’s a natural fit,” she says. 

According to UT Southwestern research, men who live near Burberry’s shop have an average life expectancy 12 years shorter than men in Texas overall. CitySquare is uniquely positioned to address the healthcare needs and other social determinants of health for those residents, such as jobs and housing programs, low-cost legal services, and a food pantry. Their community clinic includes Baylor doctors and nurses. 

South Dallas residents don’t need insurance to visit the clinic—a fact that many don’t know. For Baylor, it makes sense to invest in addressing health needs upstream. Clinicians often end up treating patients in emergency rooms when their untreated health problems put them there, and that can result in uncompensated medical care. It is more cost effective to invest in preventive care through programs such as the barbershop initiative. 

Dr. Garrett Schwab and his brother-in-law, Dr. Benjamin McKinney, moved to live in South Dallas and work at CitySquare Community Clinic, and they are invested for the long haul. “Consistency makes everything better,” Schwab says. “We build rapport, coming week after week, forming relationships and trust over time.” 

For McKinney, who is white, the barbershop program is just a small part of addressing the systematic racism that plays out in South Dallas. “Living in the community, the reality of the implications of racism and poverty are clear,” he says. “No one else here looks like me, and there is a reason for that.”

The program is growing, with eight barbershops and a barber college signed up to measure blood pressure. And although the Forest Theater will be expanded and reopened soon, Burberry already has a place to move into down the street. He looks forward to continuing his leadership in the community there, cutting hair and providing a first point of contact for healthcare. And he’s confident he won’t have a problem getting folks to sign up.

“I have a trick—a beautiful wife,” he says. “I have her back there, and she takes the blood pressure. The men are likely to say yes to her.”