The best entrepreneur I know is a man named Dennis. He is the owner and operator of Klippers Barbershop in Decatur.
I met Dennis during a tumultuous time in my life. As a 13 year old, I was in that awkward stage of life where I not quite a child, but even farther from being an adult. My parents had just gotten divorced. My dad moved out, and my brother and I not only lost our full-time father, but also the only barber we had ever known. So after our hair grew to abominable lengths, my mom piled us in the car in search of a barber. To be honest, I was excited to be going to a real barber. While skilled in many things, my dad often failed to give me a straight and symmetrical edge up. Much to my chagrin, my messed up haircuts made me an easy target for kids at school. So getting a haircut by a professional barber was a big deal. Little did I know how impactful that first professional haircut would be.
Not much has changed in the 16 years since we first stepped into Klippers Barbershop. The walls are still completely covered with posters of Civil Rights leaders, scientists, poets and entrepreneurs of color. Pictures of well-known ones like Harriet Tubman, Dr. King, Malcolm X are interspersed with lesser known individuals like Madam C.J. Walker. There is a small whiteboard with an inspirational and insightful quote of the day. In the far corner of the small shop stands Dennis, a tall, dark-skinned man with broad shoulders. Towering at 6'5", if it weren’t for the black apron, spectacles and clippers that he holds in his hand, you could easily mistake him for a basketball player. The moment you walk in, his booming voice welcomes you, but also commands respect. If they are busy, he instructs you to take a number and take a seat. With a little luck, you don’t have to wait long before it’s your turn.
As soon as I sit in his chair, the outside world disappears. It’s just Dennis and me. We talk about real life - things like family, politics, sports, and entrepreneurship. We exchange knowledge. We bounce ideas off each other. We discuss issues facing the Black community. I share my experiences as an engineer and entrepreneur. Dennis listens intently, asks thoughtful questions and imparts advice. He is a therapist, father-figure, friend and cheerleader. He is the first to commend you when you do something great, but also the first to check you when need checking. He is kind and giving. He gave me free haircuts when I graduated from high school and college, before I went on job interviews, and on my wedding day. He gave me a bicycle for my son. After he is done cutting my hair, he always tells me to give my mom, wife and son a hug. As I leave the shop, I feel that I got more than just a hair cut.
When Dennis opened Klippers Barbershop more than 20 years ago, he strategically chose the location to be in the heart of South DeKalb. At a glance, it’s an area that doesn’t have much going for it. It’s not a wealthy area. The only landmark we have is a run-down mall. It’s made up predominantly of poor and working class Black families. South DeKalb and Candler Road is notorious for 2 things - being featured in rap songs and on the late night news for shootings and robberies. However, Dennis saw all of these disadvantages, yet still decided to setup shop off Candler Road. Why? Because the community needs him. He envisioned that his barbershop would be an establishment that would shine as a beacon of light in the community. That dream is a reality that my brother and I needed when we were children and one we continue to benefit from as adults.
Growing up in South DeKalb, I didn’t have many positive male role models except for Dennis. And since graduating high school, I only go back for 2 reasons - my mom still lives there and to get my haircut by Dennis. There are other barbershops closer to where I live, but I don’t drive the 30 minutes to Klippers for just a haircut. I make the trek because Dennis and I have a relationship that runs much deeper than client and proprietor. He transformed getting a haircut into an incomparable experience.
Dennis came into my life when I thought that I needed just a haircut, and he ended up giving me so much more. He taught me not to run away from my roots, but to embrace them. He taught me how to be a role model as a father, husband, community activist, and entrepreneur. He truly embodies the spirit of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dennis - I get your vision. I believe in it. You’ve inspired me to pick up the torch. That’s why you are the best entrepreneur that I know.