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McCoy’s Barber College gives 60 years of service to the community

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Photo credit: Melanie L. Brown for Steed Media

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Bernadine Rideau and I am the owner-director of McCoy Barber College, which has been in existence for over 60 years. It was started by Fleetwood McCoy in the ’40s and my family, the Rideau family, took it over in 1965. It has only had three owners during its tenure. We’ve been at this location since the late ’60s and we’ve been serving the community since that time have graduated hundreds of students who have gone on to accomplish really great things. When I talk about why someone comes here, they come because they know that they can establish their own business. They use skills that a lot of them nowadays already have and they can learn how to become entrepreneurs. It has served Black men especially, especially Black men that have had problem, have been incarcerated.  I’ve had a number of students that have come to McCoy and have worked through their issues and have gone on to become very productive citizens. I got students now that get back to me, they’re sending students to college.

What is a barber’s mission?

The mission of being a barber I’d say not just to make someone look good but to help them along the way. It’s like a ministry. You become teachers on your own once you get out of school because you have young men, young boys that come to you and you are an influence to them as a barber. When you are a barber with integrity you use your chair as a place where someone can trust you like the bartender. You know the old story about where you go and talk to the bartender and tell him all your woes. Well, a lot of times that can happen in the barber shop and it’s like the African village.  You come there and gather and there are times that you can go into the barber shop and it was just lively because they are discussing the things of importance and of non-importance. It is a place where in some cases where boys learn how to be men. It can be a trans formative situation and as I said if you are a barber with integrity you take that very seriously.

How important is it for a man to have a distinctive look?

Contrary to popular opinion that women are hardest to satisfy I want to correct that notion because men let me tell you, men are some of the most particular human beings on the face of God’s green earth, especially today’s man. In the old days they weren’t as particular. You gave them a good haircut and they were pretty much satisfied.  Nowadays they want everything perfect. Even coming to school you have men that’ll come in here ‘I want you to give me somebody that’s going to do it right.’  I said well you’re in a school it’s students they will do the best that they can. ‘Well want your best. I don’t point out my students as good, better, or best. I will give you someone that I think can take care of you and that is all that I can do. If you want more than that then you need to go to a professional barber. That is an example to me of how particular men are about their haircuts.

Name three ways that a barber stays informed of style and trends.

It use to be that the only way you kept up within the industry was when you saw fellow barbers and saw what they were doing. Some 20 years ago we started one of the alumni started a competition within the Proud La Beauty Show and it showcased professional barbers and student barbers and as that got moving now we got competitions all over the place. We have Facebook, we have Instagram. There’s a big following on Instagram with hair cut styles from all over the country, it’s not just locally anymore. I always said that the internet, if used well was going to bring our community together more than anything. And it has especially within the barbering community because we hear from barbers not just the country, we hear from all over the world.  We hear from barbers in the UK, in Australia. You go on Instagram and the Hispanic population, the styles that they’re doing it’s just remarkable what you’ll find when you go especially on Instagram. Facebook is a little more compartmentalized. You know you belong to certain group, it’s like we have a group, The Alumni Association, where whenever one of my former students post something I put it on the alumni page. Now they’re beginning to do that themselves. It’s bringing us together in a way but it’s also showing as tradesman and I must say I maybe a little bias but I think our graduates are some of the best barbers in the country.

Name two types of advice you give to your students.

You know one thing I’ve learned from teaching and from watching my parents I think one of the biggest piece of advice I give to a student is respect your money. Every person that sits in a chair represents your money, represents your livelihood, and if you do not respect your money you gonna come up short on your money. I also tell them I went to a workshop once and the instructor said I want you to look to the right and look to your left. One of you are not going to finish this course, and I didn’t finish the course. I tell my students that because just because you walk into these doors don’t mean you’re going to stay. It takes a certain amount of decisiveness on your part that this is what you wanna do and if you don’t make it, I mean maybe it was not for you and sometimes it is not for you and you need to understand that and sometimes you’re not ready but you need to know that. I know when a student is ready because they are doing everything that they are suppose to do. We have a student recently who has come back and before that student was not ready…

Name some of your famous clients or most successful students.

I am very proud to say this school has produced pillars in this industry. Chicago at one time was the mecca for the hair industry. One of those was Ernest Daurham.  He would manufacture the Leisure Curl and he’s a graduate of our school. When the school was down on 31st street Ernie use to go to barber school. When he was not in barber school he would go across the street to Dunbar High School and do cosmetology school. He did cosmetology school and barber school simultaneously.  Then he went home to the gardens and he mixed up his chemicals in the bath tub and that’s how he began his empire for Leisure Curl. Then Dawn Tatum, she’s the young woman that started thee Professional and Student competition within the Proud so I looked to her as being one of those who really put the push and put barbers in the forefront. Cosmetologist have been doing it for years but she really put barbers out there and said ‘Ok we got skills too, we can showcase’ and that’s how barbering is on the trend that it is on today. I got a young man in Schaumburg. His name is Robert Vaughn. He is one of the contract barbers for the Chicago Bears and he’s been doing that for a number of years. I’ve got another young man, he calls himself “Mr. Official” and his a Palestinian. He works out west and he’s really putting out his brand. Right now we have a young man that he sent over here that is going to school. We have another young, he has become a regular barber stylist for Empire, Chicago Fire, Chicago PD. He also worked on Terminator. He got his start when he came to school he knew he wanted to work on film and his first film project was Barber Shop. I have another, we have Chazap Barber College which is the brother to Ernie Daurham. Larry’s Barber College I have to say is probably our most enterprising of the recent students that have gone on. He not only has a number of school locations, he also teaches in the penal system.

What type of community outreach do you provide?

One of our ways we did a back to school event and it turned a lot better than I had hoped.  I reached out to alumni to come in and help out that day. What we do on a regular basis now we recognize our seniors on Mondays and Tuesdays and we have discount haircuts for our seniors and our veterans we recognize them everyday.  They get a discount haircut any day that they come in and show us their military id.  We have in the past given out scholarships. We haven’t done that recently for some reason, we don’t do financial aid so our tuition is a pay as you go program. Right now it’s $3,000 tuition for 1500 hours, with the books it’s a little extra. We got it so you can pay $75 a week.

What are the three most important things to know about being a new barber in the business?

You know to be in this business you have to have passion. Barbering is like a sport. I tell the students sometimes like Michael Jordan he didn’t get paid his worth because he had a passion for what he was doing. By having the passion for what he was doing he ultimately got that and more for he was worth, so that’s the dedication you have to have and see what you do. I can stand behind this chair and cut hair and not get paid because I love what I’m doing, but I want to get paid and you will get paid. You have to understand that you have to give service to clients.You can be the best barber in the world but if you don’t appreciate what you’re doing and who you’re working with they can do some where else, which means you have to understand about time. Time is so important. If you’re suppose to be in the shop at 9 o’clock you suppose to be ready to work at 9 o’clock. Eventually you’re going to loose clientele because they’re going to go to someone that is going to respect their time, respect their money. And the other part of that for me is don’t live out of your pocket.  Manage your money. You are an independent contractor so you have to learn how to as I always say ‘You got to give Ceasar what is due Ceasar.’ In that because you do not get a paycheck in the same way that a corporate job get so there is nobody taking out your taxes or social security. You are responsible for doing that for yourself. You need to learn how to manage your money. Get somebody that will help you do that.

Three favorite brands of barber products?

Now over the years my favorite product is your equipment because your equipment is your life and blood. I started off with the Oster product and they moved to Wisconsin from Mississippi and the product was not the same so I started using the Andis product. Now Wahls, they have always been for me a home based equipment but they have a shaver. They’re developing some outliners that have become pretty good. They’re reliable. There’s an interesting story about clippers that I found out over the years. One of our former students who passed recently did a lot of the barber posters that you see in barber shops. He worked with Wahls and he use to tell the story of the clipper company and it was like the chicken or the egg story, who came first? And it seems they all emulated from one source and that was Wahls, but Andis and Oster became the most popular within the professional side of the industry. Now Wahls it launched right because his influence has built that market up and they are the company that gives the industry more tension. Oster kind of overlooks us now and Andis they sometimey but for clippers I still work with my Andis product because they are the reliable. They will last you the longest. For us we have two things that we do at this school is we teach you how to cut with no guards.  There’s no plastic on your clippers when you’re cutting in this school and that is because that is the traditional way of cutting hair. If you know how to cut a head of hair without a guard you can be a master barber. You can’t fully call yourself a barber if you can’t use razors. Razors are important too to be a master barber.