Editor’s Note: During the months leading up to the 2016 Presidential election, Hidden City contributor Theresa Stigale lead a team of volunteer photographers from the Philadelphia Photo League to document nearly 40 Black-owned barbershops around the city. The project was part of a voter education initiative of Sharp Insight, a Knight Foundation-funded program established to increase civic engagement and improve the quality of life in Philadelphia’s African American neighborhoods.
Sharp Insight offers resources and training to barbers, specifically encouraging them to discuss important topics with customers: employment opportunities, housing assistance, and GED programs, with the emphasis during the 2016 election on voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts. The program was founded by Duerward “Woody” Beale, director of YOACAP (Youth Outreach Adolescent Community Awareness Program.) YOACAP partnered with Power 99FM and IHeartMedia Philadelphia, which contributed classroom space, air-time, and exposure to a large audience.
Barber shops have a long, rich tradition as a gathering place for socializing and public discourse among black men. Barbers play a key role as neighborhood public figures who offer services in a welcoming and safe communal space, while sharing news, commentary, advice, and insight. The majority of barbers who participate in the Sharp Insight program are established community leaders who coach sports teams, mentor kids, and organize food and school supply drives.
Step inside Philly’s Black barbershops with photographer Theresa Stigale and take a seat.