Harith Augustus’ death spotlights barbers’ roles as community pillars
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In the three years before he was shot and killed by Chicago police, 37-year-old Harith “Snoop” Augustus had assembled a growing list of clients at a South Shore barbershop who trusted him with a lot more than just their hair.
“Barbers are sometimes the closest thing to a pastor or a counselor for a lot of folks. Snoop was one of the ones that always listened,” said Adonius Johnson, who owns the Sideline Studio barbershop on East 71st Street where Augustus worked. “Some people are put on this earth to make people a better version of themselves. Every barber is a version of that.”
The outpouring of grief and reverence for Augustus —evidenced by several community vigils and protests in the wake of his July 14 death — speaks to how integral barbers across Chicago’s West and South sides are to the communities they serve.
Sunni Powell, owner of Powell’s Barber Shop in Englewood, empathized with those most affected by Augustus’ passing. He knows too well the important role barbers play in the community and the hole that is left when a barber is lost.
“A barber is a symbol of hope in the community because they portray a positive image in the neighborhood,” Powell said. “When that barber is lost, that symbol of hope turns into [despair]. A painful reminder that no matter how much good you do, you can fall too.”
Like most days, the smell of hair products and shaving cream filled Powell’s Barber Shop on Thursday. The sound of buzzing clippers was drowned out by gossip.
Suddenly, laughter breaks out when a barber pauses from lining someone up to act out a character in the story he’s been telling for the last 10 minutes.
While conversations ripple throughout the shop, Powell gives a neighborhood kid a free haircut.
Powell’s opened in 2010. It’s also experienced its share of losses: According to Powell, the shop has lost a half-dozen customers to gun violence over the last year.
In 2016, a gunman entered the shop and killed a man waiting to get a haircut.
Yet this violence hasn’t stopped his shop from being a pillar in Englewood.
“Ninety percent of people are good in this neighborhood, but there are those 10 percent that are bad,” Powell said. “Our goal is to create a safe space for this community and also be infectious for other barbershops to be the same.”
Marlon Jackson gets his hair cut at Powell’s Barber Shop every two weeks for the last three years. He keeps coming back not only because of the freshness of the haircuts, but also for the camaraderie the barber shop provides.
“Everyone needs a good haircut, for potential job opportunities or just to make yourself feel good, but it is more than that too,” Jackson said. “What they do here is inspirational, and they are role models. They do a lot for the kids and the community.”
Juwan Spruill, better known as Jmo (pronounced Jay-Mo) Da Barber by his clients, has been cutting hair since he was 13 years old. He works out of North Lawndale’s His and Hers salon that has operated in the community since the mid-1970s.
The 37-year-old takes his job seriously, and knows his role as a barber is more than someone who cuts hair for a living.
“The customer is not only trusting you to put a razor blade to their face but also with the stories they tell during that time,” Spruill said. “I’ve been through some of the same things they are going through now, and I can identify with their struggle. That trust often goes into the conversation they have with you for the 45 minutes they’re sitting in your chair.”
Becoming a barber isn’t easy. Illinois requires barbers to perform at least 1,500 hours of training at a barber school to obtain their license. Tuition hovers around $4,000 for barbers living in Chicago. Next is the National Barbering Written Licensing Exam, which costs $127 to take. Barbers then fork over $30 for a licensure fee. Barbers must also renew their licenses by July 31 in every odd-numbered year. That’s another $50.
Augustus obtained his barber license on June 17, 2009, according to the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation, the state agency that issues professional licenses.
It was set to expire at the end of the month.
Authorities continue to investigate the events that led a probationary police officer to shoot him not far from where he worked — a shooting captured on the officer’s body cam. Augustus was carrying a gun. He had a valid Firearm Owners Identification Card but not a concealed-carry permit, according to police.
- JUST RELATIONS: Harith Augustus’ shooting pushed community to demand action.
- CPD releases body cam footage of fatal officer-involved shooting in South Shore
- McCarthy says shooting ‘justified’; Lightfoot focuses on treatment of protesters
- Police union accuses ‘media bias’ of painting police shooting as unjustified
- Neighborhood recalls ‘quiet’ South Shore barber who died in police shooting
- Authorities identify man fatally shot by CPD officer in South Shore
- Violent protest over police-involved shooting a warning shot
Manny Ramos and Carlos Ballesteros are corps members in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.