Gee’s Clippers barbershop in Milwaukee is kicking off the New Year with a “Real Men Real Talk” event today that coincides with Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Gaulien Smith, owner of Gee’s Clippers, is going into his sixth year of hosting the “Real Men Real Talk” program, which is a Black male-centered focus group that focuses on mentorship, forming connections, and building community in Milwaukee. Located at 2200 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Dr. and hosted on every third Monday of the month, from 5-7:30 p.m., their first event of the year will coincide with MLK day celebrations. With sponsors and community partners like Tasha Colbert with the Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative, these conversational events are building on a larger African American tradition of providing mental health assistance and culturally specific care for highly impacted groups.
“We call it a throwback to what barbershops were because the culture of the barbershop has always been something for Black men,” said Kwabena Nixon, author, public speaker, poet, and CEO of Be Inspired Works, who will be the event facilitator. “I use my platform to inspire my people and to gather my people and, if anything else, just change the narrative out there of what we should do versus what we can do, will do, and are doing.”
Nixon holds many titles in Milwaukee which includes a weekly radio show called “On the Porch with Kwa” where he and other community leaders discuss meaningful topics ranging from mental and physical health to entrepreneurship and financial literacy.
Nixon describes the role of the barber in the Black community as a cultural “therapist” for some men. “He’s going to hear everything that is going on and he’s going to chime in on what’s going on,” Nixon says. “He may have been cutting a young man’s hair since he was 5 years old, and now he’s 30, so he’s watched people come and go and he’s watched people grow.”
Real Men Real Talk is a space to provide or receive mentorship and build lasting relationships that maintain their significance outside of these meetings, especially for young boys who may not have close male role models in their lives. Nixon shares his experiences facilitating these talks, “we really focus on restoration, let’s sit in a circle and build on some things”.
“I feel like it’s a certain responsibility that I have,” Smith tells Madison365. “I try my best to use my shop for individuals to grow in many ways and have true life experiences.”
Smith’s mission to create this space builds on this history of collective healing through community interactions. His barbershop is one of the largest in the Midwest, with over 30 barbers operating out of the shop. In partnership with Froedtert Health, Smith’s holistic approach to community care is included in a network of weekly healthcare clinics, held on Fridays within the barbershop, that allow people to have access to important tests such as prostate and diabetes checks, or resources for high blood pressure, hypertension, and many more chronic health concerns that predominantly affect low to no income and underinsured communities.
Real Men Real Talk is free and open to people of all races and ages. No registration is required, however, the topics presented are influenced by the lived experiences of Black men, and therefore discussion participation may be advised for younger children. As a facilitator, Nixon highlights his goals for inspiring intergenerational conversations that seek to heal and uplift black men, from childhood into adolescence and through adulthood.
“The youngest person could be 17 and the oldest could be 75, and within that circle, I’m there to keep the conversation going and you have some amazing moments where men and boys are really opening up”. He goes on to tell Madison365, “When you get these people in a room, there’s a reconnection. Now let’s talk”.