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Barber training program helps keep kids off the streets in Harlem

New barber training program keeps kids off Harlem streets
New barber training program keeps kids off Harlem streets 02:12

NEW YORK -- A new training program for barbers is keeping kids off the streets in Harlem.

The teenagers are learning a career -- and life lessons, too.

For 100 young men and women from Harlem, buzzing means business in the new home of the Big Russ barber and workforce training program on West 135th Street. At its helm is longtime master barber Russell "Big Russ" Smith, owner of eight local businesses.

"I see a lot of young kids in the community who are not doing anything, who maybe dropped out of high school, kids who come home from jail, kids who's in the system. So my thing is, let me help them," he told CBS2's Jessi Mitchell.

His pilot program graduated 24 apprentice barbers earlier this year; four of them now work for Smith full-time as they earn their licenses, bringing along the lessons they learned.

"If you come in with a bad attitude, that's all you gonna get back, and all that negative energy. If you stay positive no matter what ... everything will come back tenfold," apprentice barber Joalbert Flores said.

Smith sets out to show just how lucrative legitimate business can be, focusing his efforts on teens already exposed to illegal means of success.

"Barbering is a high six-figure job. Six figures, people have no idea," Smith said.

Considered a "credible messenger," Smith embraces his role as a bridge between police and kids in the neighborhood, serving as vice president on the precinct's community council, which stands just across the street.

"We're looking for other alternatives because enforcement and arrests aren't the only way out of crime. We have to provide these opportunities for the youth," 32nd Precinct commanding officer Inspector Amir Yakatally said.

In fact, the city chipped in to pay for this program through the insistence of Jackie Rowe-Adams. She lost two children before starting the nonprofit Harlem Mothers & Fathers Stop Another Violent End in 2006.

"The pain hurts. It never go away," she said. 

Her determination to save Harlem's families from the same future grows stronger each day.

"Check your kids' bookbag. Check under your mattress. Know who your children are with. Keep your kids engaged," she said.

Even if it takes money to engage their interest, young people in this program walk away with so much more.

"I remember ... exhilarating feeling it was for me when I graduated, so to pass that on to another kid that's like 15, 16, like a little tiny protégé or something like that," apprentice barber Cameron Gillespie said.

Inspiring success for the neighborhood's next leaders. 

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