African Americans’ Shop Talk

Miamian creates serious dialogue in between haircuts

Jefferson Noel was at the barbershop for his routine haircut when he came up with an idea that would help the Black community.

In the middle of a heated argument about basketball, Noel said he decided that barbershops should become platforms for more constructive discussions.

“I was like you know what, this is an interesting argument,” said Noel. “But I was thinking, ‘what would be more interesting’. What if we had the same passion about something that mattered?”

So, Noel started a series of barbershop conversations called Barbershop Speaks, where community leaders, residents and people of all ages could come together to express their opinions and spread information.

For over a year, Barbershop Speaks has covered topics such as politics, race, education and women empowerment in Liberty City, North Miami Beach, North Miami and Opa-locka.

Opa-locka City Commissioner Matthew Pigatt, who has participated in several of the events, said that Noel has accomplished an important achievement in his city.

“I applaud Jeff for creating a platform for people in the community that is preeminent in our community,” said Pigatt. “Barbershops and beauty salons are places that our people will come to discuss many topics that aren’t that so positive. However, Jeff was able to focus on issues that are important on a platform that is comfortable.”

Pigatt also added that as a city official, community engagement is the most difficult obstacle, and he admires Noel for his ability to crack the code.

To get the forums going, Noel said he contacts the owners of the popular barbershops in the area, and they create a strategy for community building.

“The barbershop is an interesting place in the community because that’s a place…it doesn’t discriminate on who you are,” he said. “Whether you are old or young, rich or poor, Haitian, America, white—no matter what the case, the barbershop accepts you, and puts you all in one room.”

The last event, in August, at a shop in North Miami, put a panel of educators such as Miami-Dade County Public Schools board member Steve Gallon III and assistant principal of North Miami High School, Diana Loubeau and Miami residents in one room.

“The goal of that dialogue was to dispel all of the negative ideas that all of the people in the community have about education, but also to understand educational policy from an administrative level, ” Noel said.

Born to Haitian-immigrant parents in North Miami, Noel said he sees education as an important step in his path to success.

Right on track, Noel, 23, graduated from Florida International University on Saturday, Dec. 16. Next he plans to pursue his master’s degree with hopes of becoming a professor and an international motivational speaker.

He already sees himself as a community educator who is “passionate about empowering individuals to lead a purpose-filled life.”

Through Barbershop Speaks, Noel has given inspirational pep talks at local high schools and at FIU and created a scholarship fund for high school seniors. He also self-published his first book on public speaking in Novem ber titled, “Powerful Presenting: How to Overcome One of the Nation’s Greatest Fears.”

Noel said after his speeches, people from the audience would contact him for tips on how to become better speakers, so he decided to put all his advice in a book.

“Public speaking is one of the greatest fears that people have. More people are afraid of the stage than they are of the cemetery,” he said. “So I figured if I could help people with that craft, I could help them not only socially, but it will help them financially and academically.”

Older sister Makisha Noel said that her brother always had the drive to help other people.

“He is not afraid to be there for people and even be a voice for other people,” she said. “He has refined his thoughts and made it his mission to help other people.”

For the next Barbershop Speaks, Noel will explore financial literacy with direction from a financial professional from New York Life. The event tooks place at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 22, at Fweago Cutz, 11651 NE Second Ave. in Miami. He continued the financial series of talks and expanding them to shops in Little Haiti.