Back-to-school haircuts offered by South Side nonprofit get students ready to return to class

“I think a haircut really can just reflect who you are as a person, so taking care of your hair is important because that’s a part of you and people look at it a lot,” said Jonathan Evans, 18.

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Emry Thomas, 16, leans forward as Mecca Highsmith cuts his hair at the offices of I Am a Gentleman, Inc. The nonprofit held a back-to-school event that provided free haircuts to students.

Anthony Vázquez/Sun-Times

Hair fell and confidence rose Monday in Bridgeport.

It was the beginning of a 30-day back-to-school haircut drive offered at the storefront headquarters of I Am A Gentleman, a nonprofit youth mentorship and leadership program for young people ages 13 to 21 who are from under-resourced communities in the city.

“I think a haircut really can just reflect who you are as a person, so taking care of your hair is important because that’s a part of you and people look at it a lot,” said Jonathan Evans, 18, who graduated from Lindblom Math and Science Academy and is headed to Bradley University in Peoria later this month to study game design and computer science.

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Evans went with a high top fade.

About 250 haircuts will be given over the next four weeks — with appointments available on the organization’s website iamagentleman.org.

“The reason we do this is because we want young men, especially from urban neighborhoods, to look good but also to feel good as they return to the classroom, because we believe that it will help them have a successful school year,” said Jermaine Lawrence Anderson, who founded and heads up the organization.

Anderson, 40, started a graphic design business in grade school and regularly shared his story as a public speaker before forming the nonprofit.

“I was that kid who would not go on the playground at recess. I’d be on the computer making things like greeting card designs and coffee mug designs, and selling those things at school and in the neighborhood,” Anderson said.

He grew up in Austin, graduated from Steinmetz College Prep and Dominican University, and now lives in Bronzeville.

“I’m a product of Chicago Public Schools and really wanted to make sure I was a model to other young men to let them know they can achieve despite difficult and unique circumstances,” he said.

Emry Thomas, 16, who is headed into his junior year at University of Chicago High School, stopped in for a taper.

“This organization is important to a lot of young Black men in the city because it’s so easy to get distracted by gangs, but that’s not going to get you nowhere except dead or in jail. This offers something you can do instead of going out on the block or something. It’s something positive,” said Thomas, who lives in Bridgeport.

“It’s like a family,” he said.

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