By David Wilfong
NDG Contributing Writer
A little over four years ago an important first conversation took place.
Michell’s Beauty and Barber Salon on N. Beltline Rd. in Irving was the first location of the “Shop Talk ‘’ program, where law enforcement officers go to interact with the community on a face-to-face basis. The goal is to forge personal relationships between the police and the community they serve. Particularly in the African American community, barber shops tend to be a conduit of communication.
Irving Police Officer Jon Plunkett — an African American man himself — spearheaded the program. In the wake of highly publicized incidents where interactions between Black men and the police had ended violently, Plunkett was looking for a way to bridge his profession with his community in a positive way. Growing up in Memphis, Tenn., he said he knows the distrust on the community side. From a law enforcement perspective, he knew that officers from the rookie level on up, needed a clearer window into the community they pledged to serve and protect.
So for the past four years, officers have made a point to stop in and spend time in these barber shops, which have grown to more than 30. Shop Talk has picked up the support of One CommunityUSA, and interest in the program is spilling outside the borders of Irving and into other cities.
In the past month, the program has made a significant reinvestment into its original gathering spot. Mitchell’s Beauty and Barber Salon has been cutting hair at its current location for the past 31 years. It is a recognized business landmark and owner Arron Magee has even received a proclamation from the Mayor’s office lauding his contributions to the city.
But 31 years in business had taken their toll on the shop’s interior. Everything from the ceiling tiles to the appearance of the floors, and especially, the frayed chairs where customers sat were in need of a little touch-up.
One CommunityUSA took on the task of remodeling the shop. Beginning with an estimate of $10,000 they went out looking for donations, emphasizing not only the value of the business to the community itself, but its place in promoting the Shop Talk programming.
By the time the project was finished, the price tag for the upgrades was $14,000.
Enthusiasm for this remodel was contagious. The contractor ended up throwing in $1,000 of his own money, and the property management pledged additional improvements to the exterior of the strip center the shop is located in. To top it all off, a sign-maker even donated a new sign to hang on the outside of the barber shop.
Visitors to Michell’s Beauty and Barber Salon will be greeted by fresh paint, a new ceiling above and floor below. They will take their place in brand new, top-end barber’s chairs, and there are even two new chairs added to accommodate a total of four stations. The old shelves were replaced with new massive tool chests which are the latest trend in barber shop decor. Even the bathroom was refitted with new fixtures.
“The renovation is excellent,” Magee said of the results. “It’s really helping out, giving a lot of people the opportunity to see different things. It’s real nice. Just the brightness of it, the colors. One COmmunity did an excellent job.”
Plunkett said the makeover will not only help Mitchell’s to bring in more business and potentially expand, but it is an outward and visible sign of the commitment from the side of the program and law enforcement.
“We also have quarterly luncheon with the police chief,” Plunkett said. “We provide lunch for all of the shop owners that are in the program. That’s when we have our big meeting there. Now we’ll have little small events, like we may have a Thanksgiving turkey giveaway or something like that. We had a block party here where we had a DJ, dancing and everything else, food, you know. We do all kinds of different events.
“The biggest thing with the program is being able to integrate these minority shops into programs that the police have already. Because before, the minorities weren’t participating in these programs. So now we take the programs to them, to get them to actually participate in them. They feel like the door is open for them, so when they have an issue they can just call us up and say, ‘Hey look, I got this problem.’ So now hey feel they have a voice in the community and a voice in the city also.”
Robert Benitez of One CommunityUSA, who has a background in law enforcement himself, says the program has already yielded results in dealing with incidents on the street. He cited one specific case where a suspect voluntarily surrendered himself to an officer he knew from previous conversations.
“Policing is not just 7-Eleven for a Slurpee, or going to McDonald’s fo a burger,” said Benitez. “This is part of what you need to understand about policing; coming in here and meeting these people. That’s how that expands and changes policing.
“Plus they get tips.When they have a problem they will call the department only because they know that officer, and say ‘Hey, that video you released on that ag(gravated) robbery? Hat guy’s come in he shop. His is his name.’ Now you’ve helped solve major crime.”
One CommunityUSA also fields programs to serve the Latino community through its “UNA Communidad” program, and former prisoners reentering society through its “Pathways to H.O.P.E.” project.