Hip-hop music blasted, pretzels and hot dogs were distributed and free merchandise was given out, but it wasn’t at a party. Students about to begin school congregated at Head Artist at 8045 Frankford Ave. last weekend to get free haircuts and school supplies.
For Ray Miller, owner of the store for 17 years, giving back to the community is important. Since he moved to the Frankford Avenue location a couple of years ago, he decided to make his annual back-to-school giveaway even bigger this year – and the best way to do that was to make it a party.
“We wanted to go bigger this year because we have a bigger space now,” the Mayfair resident said.
Kids and their parents grabbed free food and listened to the DJ play music while waiting in line for their free haircuts. After the cut they were able to pick up free backpacks filled with school supplies like pencils and folders.
About a quarter of the school supplies were donated from the community, Miller said, with the rest being purchased by Miller himself.
“Cutting kids who were 5 or 10 years old who are going to college now and watching them grow up kept me interested in school and them doing well,” he said.
Since starting the business at 22 years old, Miller has always strived to make it more than just a barbershop. He said he wants his shop to be a safe space for youth or anyone in the community, and that showing them they have support by giving them a haircut or supplies could have a huge impact.
“A lot of kids come to me for guidance,” he said. “If they can’t talk to their parents or something like that. They come and talk to me and I’m here basically six days a week, but my phone is always on 24/7. I’ve seen a lot of kids who would have turned to crime or who weren’t interested in school go on to graduate, and a lot of them got jobs, or a lot of them went to school.”
Other barbers giving haircuts at the event were some of Miller’s mentees who he said came from the streets. Seeing people come from a place where people are selling drugs was something Miller said he saw at an early age growing up in Frankford, and decided he didn’t want that to be his lifestyle.
“When I got my barbershop and saw the same people from my background doing not too well as far as being on the streets and going to jail, I told them I got a spot they can come to if they learn to cut hair, they’ll never have to worry about a job ever again,” he said.
Growing up in Frankford, Miller said he would have to go to different areas of the city to get a haircut.
“There were no barbershops around that fit my culture so I always said I should get a barbershop and stay up here,” he said. “I stayed up here and it’s just been love since.”
Cutting hair isn’t the only one of Miller’s talents. Rapping under the name Fatboycash, his song Don’t Rush My Love has more than 21,000 streams on Spotify. He also has his own clothing line and will open a new restaurant called Soul Food Artists serving soul food like chicken and doughnuts, which is being renovated now and will open at the end of the year.
He’s a man of many talents, including making sure kids were prepared to go back to school.
“This is a safe place,” Miller said. “Kids can come here, play games and feel safe here.” ••