Images via The Streets Barber
Anthony Hamilton also known as the singing barber was quoted for saying: “Being a barber is about taking care of the people”.
What does it take to take care of the people in 2016? Do you need a skill? Do you need to have a particular tendency for altruism? What does it actually take?
When I started Who Cares!? Chronicles, my aim was to feature and document all the great corporate social responsibility practices and also to feature the people that created them and put them into motion. I soon realized that these people; Chief Care Officers could not only be found in corporations but also in our communities, in our schools and in our streets.
People that place caring practices into motion in our cities. People that innovate by implementing regular social movements that change the shape of our communities and could potentially change the face of our streets and even our countries.
In the corporate arena, Chief Care Officers can surf the various media platforms of the entity in which they work to promote their good deeds and their impact. Alas, more often than not; good corporate practices barely make it to the annual report. Fortunately, things are changing.
Who cares aims to be an easy to use and practical platform for the corporate world: by providing a database of great corporate practices and by supporting the duplication of these very practices. Who cares also aims to be a resource for the general public: providing curated and created content which can inspire and lead to sensible actions and consumer choices.
In our very streets, every day, we have community heroes achieving tremendous impact: providing relief and volunteering their time.
Whether it is families offering to host refugees in their homes in Germany, teachers in India that choose to provide education on makeshift chalkboard on the streets of New Delhi or individuals turning part of their homes into after-school centers offering free classes and meals to underprivileged children; Chief Care Officers are found everywhere.
A year ago while cruising my social media feed, I came across one of the most inspiring community Chief Care Officers, Nasir Sobhani. His work, his dedication, his impact and his ability to build a bridge between individuals is undeniable.
Inspired by his personal battle with drug addiction and his Baha’i faith, Nasir Sobhani, “The Streets Barber,” skateboards around the city of Melbourne giving free cuts to homeless people on his days off. Nasir’s impact goes far beyond providing free haircuts to the homeless, he also spends time talking to them with the hopes of inspiring them to start fresh.
Nasir is a global citizen, born in Canada of Persian origins; he has lived in Japan, Canada and Australia. His venture and mission as a Streets Barber has also allowed him to travel and provide haircuts around the world.
The notion of caring in 2016 and the various forms of caring we are currently seeing develop in our world are worthy of being acknowledged, featured, promoted and hopefully duplicated. His answers to the questions I asked him to write this article are as inspiring as his work is.
NG: So having lived in Japan, Canada and Australia, would you say that people care more in some continents or that people care differently?
TSB: I think humans are humans, right? We all have a sense of compassion, regardless. Caring differently? I don’t think compassion comes differently with culture. The root is just compassion. I think the way you express it may be different, but the stem of it is all the same. So no, I don’t think people care differently from culture to culture.
NG: Do you think that there is a different cultural approach to caring, say from Canada to Australia for example?
TSB: They are commonwealth countries, (laugh) – There are some ignorant people all over the place, people that would simply say, “Oh they are a homeless person, that’s their fault, just go get a job!” But then there are people in both countries that are doing so much to help people out. I guess Melbourne has more of a community feel to it, as opposed to where I was living in Vancouver, back in Canada. I think the suburbs in Melbourne are pretty close knit with a stronger sense of community as opposed to the suburbs in Vancouver. The suburbs in Vancouver are much bigger, so people here in Melbourne are much more involved in the community. I also feel that the homeless situation in Vancouver is triple if not quadruple than the homeless situation in Melbourne. The drugs are very different as well; they have crack-cocaine in Vancouver which is not at all prevalent here in Melbourne. Once again, going back to your first question, people are still the same in both countries. They still care. The cultural caring approach in a commonwealth country, I don’t think is much different. Maybe the cultural caring approach in Japan would be different; maybe but I left Japan when I was a kid so I could not really compare.
NG: Is the reaction to your work different depending on the area?
TSB: Not really, I went to NY, I cut hair on Time Square. I was in Russia; cutting hair in the cold streets of St Petersburg. People are always flabbergasted at first, taking photos, they are in awe or they are wondering what’s actually going on. Other times, people are like; “man, I love this” “let me support this, let me give you money”. Actually, I had a sweet old lady once, she got mad at me and said; “Who’s picking up this hair afterwards”. She was a very sweet old lady, she had no idea, and she thought I was just cutting hair for my friends but she was really cute about it. Generally speaking, the reaction to my work is very supportive and loving. I think in Russia people were the most happy, they were so inspired and amazed by this. I think I got the most love in Russia but I also came there with the all Streets Barber alias and there was a lot of hype about what I did. Here in Melbourne, I just go into the alleys and the real raw parts of the city. It’s not for show. I try to avoid going into the city mainly because there is so much traffic there and I feel like people will think it’s a spectacle more than the deed that I am actually trying to do. The reaction to my work all around is very supportive and encouraging.
NG: Would you like your movement to grow, if so how would you like it to grow?
TSB: Of course I would like movement to grow! It’s not just my movement, it’s not like I am the only person who’s helping people out. I always want people to know this. I have hairdressers and barbers come up to me and say how can I help you? You don’t have to help me; you want to help people out. As humans we are supposed to help each other always, no matter what your talent is. You can be an artist, you can be a dentist, you can be a reiki therapist, you can be whatever you want, just offer your services to whoever needs it. You can spend maybe an hour each week, doing something for someone else. It won’t hurt you, if anything you’ll benefit.
Good deeds happen all around the world. I do believe there are people that deserve far more recognition for their deeds, far more than I do.
Personally, in regards to the Streets Barber’s movement: I would like to have a team of established Streets Barbers all around the world. I would like to establish a group of people in each country and city that would go out once a week and take turns in giving makeovers to the less fortunate. That’s my future plan.
NG: Have you been approached by corporations that could support your mission?
TSB: Not really, I did not yet get help from corporations that could help financially or anything. I have had a few companies offer me hair products. I’ve had a few people give me supplies and tools, which is amazing but I wish that a company or a corporation or anybody could really support me, traveling, doing what I want to do around the world and help establish the streets barber movement globally but I have not yet been blessed with that opportunity. That is something that I would love to reach.
NG: Since you have been in so many different cities, would you say that homelessness has the same roots, is it affected by urban living or other factors?
TSB: Homelessness has the same roots, I would say to a small degree, in the sense that the homeless have nothing else to fall back on, and they are left with very little. However, I do feel that the homeless situation in Australia is a little bit different than the homeless situation in Russia. I would say that some homeless in Australia don’t even have a fair start from the beginning. In Australia, some homeless people come from really broken homes or suffer from a drug addiction from a very early age. In Russia, sometimes they just went to prison and once you are labeled a criminal in Russia, it’s really hard to get back on your feet. I found that there is not the same issue with substance abuse in Russia as there is in Australia. The outcome is essentially the same; they had very little to fall back on and ended up in a really rough situation. Homelessness is always a very interesting topic and I am starting to realize it more and more each day when I am going around cutting hair. Everyone has a different story and it’s amazing that when you take the time to understand one person’s story, it really helps you change your opinion about the homeless situation. I am just giving you my insight but there are a thousand or a million other insights on the topic.
NG: How does technology and social media help you with your work and does it impact it?
TSB: Well technology is key, starting with the fact that can I have cordless clippers which is a very big thing because I can I just cut hair anywhere. I cut hair in the Philippines on a fishing boat, which was cool. I also cut hair on a deserted island, for some of the locals…The work that I am doing with the technology that we have now has been very beneficial. Social media has definitely helped spread the word as well. It’s funny, I was not really a social media person and I did not have Facebook or Instagram. I only got Instagram so that I could build a portfolio to become a barber so that I could get a job in barber shop. One day, I shared a story of what I did and soon after I put my story up, people started to show some love and then a couple news reports were written and then it boomed. Once it boomed, it just got recognized, it was amazing. So, yes, Social media definitely helped spread this movement, it has also helped me travel the world doing what I do. I guess, I am blessed with social media but it is also a little funny, people would say to me “wow, you have so many followers, you have so many likes!” but at the end of the day, that’s just fake to me. I will be sitting with that one person talking, I am sitting with you one-on-one talking. Who cares about the amount of followers or the amount of likes that I get; it’s all, a little…Well, I don’t know how to say it. I don’t want to say superficial because there are a lot of people that are actually taking time to read the stories and that are very engaging but that’s not the real world. The real world is the fact that the people are on the streets suffering, that’s real, a like isn’t. The like isn’t going to do anything, yes, maybe it will spread the word and people will feel inspired but that’s just a start and people can feel that until they do something about it. Social media has definitely helped pave the way to inspire others but that’s all it can do, now that’s up to people individually to feel that inspiration to continue on and wanting to do something for someone. I am grateful for the social media impact but it’s never been just for social media impact it’s been more for inspiring people, for the fact that people actually want to help out and do something or they feel inspired to do something.
NG: Is there a spiritual dimension to your work?
TSB: Absolutely, you know my faith is the Baha’i faith
, my religion. It essentially says: “To serve humanity is to serve god” so if we want to serve god, if we love god then we have to serve humanity and we have to love humanity. Our desire to want to help people; is what truly makes us a Baha’i. It is very clear in the Baha’i faith that in order to live the life of Baha’i you really need to help people out. It’s not really a religion of words; it is more of a religion of actions: using your talents by any means necessary to help society is very encouraged and that’s basically what I do. I am using something that I love doing to help society and in return I am benefiting so much from the experiences, the opportunities to serve, the stories, overall just the fun of it. The Baha’i faith says that “To make a sacrifice is to receive a gift”, people think I am sacrificing my time but the gifts I am receiving from all the times that I have gone out are limitless, and they are priceless.
NG: How long have you been doing this for?TSB: I have been doing this for a year and half.
NG: I believe that your impact stretches beyond what the eyes can see; don’t you think you have started a philosophy of giving that could extend to other professions and countries?
TSB: Yes, absolutely, I have had people approach me here in Australia. A dentist came up to me and said, “I would like to come out with you and just offer free dental advice” that’s amazing. I also had a chef that said “I want to come out and cook great food for these people”. Anybody, with any talent – like I said in the last question, if you got any talent use it by any means necessary. If we can do it in Australia, we can do it anywhere else in the world. I really want to emphasize that I have not started any philosophy; I am just doing what we are supposed to do as humans and we (as humans) have been doing this since day one. I am the dust on your shoe, Nora, (laugh) you know what I mean. This philosophy of helping others was not created by the streets barber, it’s been going on since day one, and I am just following through. If anything, I am a follower of this philosophy.
NG: Do you think tomorrow we could see the movement expand and see manicures and massages being given to homeless people?
TSB: sure, why the heck not? We could even have people come up to homeless people and tell them jokes, we could play music for homeless people, you know. There are so many ways or opportunities of helping out, not just homeless people, you know anyone that needs it. I think that in regards to the beauty side of service and making people feel good; manicures and massages and haircuts, dental advice, spray tans, I don’t know (laugh) anything that could make someone feel good and clean and fresh and sexy is definitely something that would be beneficial to someone who feels the exact opposite, people that are begging people for money and sitting in their filth. Yes, I think that it is a cool idea.
NG: Would you mind sharing one or two of your most meaningful exchange or encounters?
TSB: One time this guy, he was a heroin dealer. I did not know that he was a heroin dealer at the time; I was giving him a shave and he said; “can you stop for a second, I need to make a sale?” I just said all right, and I was kind of confused and then next thing you know, he is going into his bag, giving out a syringe with some heroin. I was so mad, I was thinking to myself, “what the hell am I doing wasting my time trying to help out this drug dealer?”
I am trying to help out with addictions and here I am giving a shave to a guy who is supplying and enabling these addictions. Anyways, I continued on with what I was doing, trying not to get mad, trying not to judge and staying focused on what I had started. I left and kept thinking; I wish I had not done that. Funny enough, a month later, I see the same guy and he goes: “ hey Nas, you know lots has happened since that face shave you gave me, I quit dealing heroin” He continued by saying that he really wanted to start being a better father for his kids. I was really amazed by that. I am not saying it happened because of the face shave; he did say that a lot had happened since then. He told me how he almost got arrested and series of event that led to turn his life around. The fact that I saw someone, whom I thought so wrong of and within a month time, had changed and performed a complete turnaround; it was such an inspiring thing to me. It confirmed that there is hope for everyone.
NG: How can Who Cares Chronicles and the Conscious community help you in your mission?
TSB: Well, if there are any sponsors or anything that could help me with my travels. I want to go India and go to the slums; I want to go to the favelas in Brazil. I want to go to some tribes in Africa, refugee camps all around the world. I want to do that, it’s never been about becoming a famous barber it’s really about inspiring people. People see this guy that has been trained in a first world country and that his giving proper hair designs and cuts and can do this to people all around the world, I would love that; I want to start this global movement and make it way bigger than it is. Other than that, the community can help by serving others, that’s another way to help; it doesn’t have to be supplying me but if people feel like they are not at a stage that they can do something for someone and they still want to help out, and they feel that their contributions would be to help me then yes, this is what my life revolves around so yes, if you feel like you can help others than do it, if you want me to do a part for you, I will do it for you, I will work twice as hard. That’s basically it.
NG: Have you seen other initiatives that inspire you?
TSB: Absolutely, there are many initiatives around the world that inspire me. There are people that are doing far greater things, than I could ever imagine doing that have inspired me. My parents have inspired me, they both left Iran when they were young and met in the Philippines because they were both doing philanthropic work. They dedicated their lives from an early age to serve humanity. Going back to the philosophy of helping others, it’s been evident since day one in my life. Generally, everyone is inspiring me; you have to look at the positive. The glass isn’t half full; the glass is three quarters full, even if it’s half full you have to think of it even more than above. Exaggerate if you have to, fake it until you make it. I would say that one of the most inspiring for me is Abdul Baha, who is the son of the prophet founder of the Baha’i faith. He was a very beautiful human being who dedicated his life to service and giving people his life essentially. The stories that I would hear of him since I was a child were very remarkable and inspiring. There is a great Baha’i song and it goes “follow me, be like me, be as I am” it’s a song I grew up to and it always inspired me.
Photographer Lee Jeffries has spent extensive time taking photos of homeless people for his series entitled Lost Angels. He has said that the time he spends working in the streets is always the happiest, simply because homeless people are the most authentic people he has ever met.
In the documentary Homeless in Los Angeles, Taylor Golonka and Sergei Zelinsky are trying to shed light on what it means to be homeless in Los Angeles.
Homelessness as the Streets Barber explains it is multidimensional and the causes are multiple (loss of income, living in poverty, limited affordable housing, violence, substance abuse or mental illness…)
By choosing to engage with the homeless, The Streets Barber is doing something we can all learn from. His goal is to inspire, he does all that and more. With his work he reminds us of our oneness that we are not so different from the men and women living in the streets. He reminds us that we are part of the same human family and that if we may sometimes feel discomfort it’s simply because homelessness doesn’t feel right. A simple act of kindness can be so helpful to those living in the streets and it may not necessarily be in the form of a coin, a few words of acknowledgment, a conversation and as Lee Jeffries puts it a moment of authenticity may just be the best thing we as humans can share.
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FROM THE EDITOR
At Conscious, we are inspired by stories that cause us to think differently and think big-picture and so we set out to tell stories with the help of leaders and influencers within the social good community. You can read more stories like this when you join as a member.