Throughout the course of this year’s presidential campaign, Colin Rodney listened to incessant, animated conversations in his Brooklyn barbershop about politics. He said that, to his astonishment, political discussions among the brothers sitting in his barbershop often eclipsed the topic of sports.
Through those discussions, he said, he found that his own passion for the candidacy of President Obama had become so intense that he decided to look for ways to champion the president’s re-election effort beyond his shop. So Rodney, whose Dons and Divas Unisex Salon is in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, decided to enlist his fellow barbers around New York City to encourage their customers to vote for Obama.
He started what he hopes is a movement that will quickly spread beyond New York City, an organization called Barbers for Obama.
So far, he has recruited nearly 30 barbershops in Brooklyn and another dozen in Harlem. Rodney has had posters printed. Participants in his effort are asked to place them prominently in their establishments. In addition, the barbers agree to conduct voter registration and, of course, to urge customers to vote for the president.
“Obama kept it real with us from the very beginning,” Rodney said, explaining his enthusiasm for the president. “From day one, he told us what he wanted to accomplish. And he’s done 90 percent of that. Romney only complains about Obama and he never talks about his own plans, his own ideas,” he said, speaking of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Rodney says that a political campaign based in the barbershop represents the ultimate in grass-roots organizing.
“In the Black community, the barbershop is a place where brothers talk about all kinds of subjects,” Rodney said, in an interview with BET.com. “You have a bunch of Black men who love to talk about sports. But, this year, politics became one of the main subjects that would come up.”
He added that he was not just content being a participant in the conversations. “I thought it was important to do something, to have a tangible impact in this election.”
With the help of a good friend with graphic design skills, he got the posters printed, carrying the slogan: “Barbers for Obama: The Power Is in Your Hands.” Then, he set up a Barbers for Obama page on Facebook. He works in the barbershop in the day and, in the evenings, he travels to barbershops throughout the city enlisting his colleagues in the campaign.
He said he is aiming for customers of all ages and genders, adding that “female barbers have been very supportive and helpful.” Still, he said he is most eager to motivate young Black men to register and to vote.
“I want to see the young brothers, 18 and up, get involved,” Rodney said. “They weren’t involved in the last election. I want to see more of them get interested and play a role in shaping their own future.”
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(Photo: Jennifer Lepke)