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Interview with Kevin Davis

Davis, Kevin
Green, Johnny
Date of Interview: 
African American community, Charlotte, NC; Oaklawn Barbershop; barber training; drug trafficking; education; high-school dropout; high school equivalency; youth employment; African Americans and labor; African Americans and family life; career aspirations
A barber at Oaklawn Barbershop in Charlotte, NC, Kevin Davis talks about how he came to enter the trade and his training. He shares insights into the daily routines of work in a barbershop and discusses the challenges he faced and the choices he made from adolescence to adulthood. Davis discusses the financial hardships his family experienced that required him to work as a teenager and eventually pressured him to drop out of high school. Davis mentions his earlier considerations of making a living through illegal means, but he says that he's attained stability through hard work and education. He discusses the importance of education for young men and women and talks about his own future plans for college and career aspirations.
Charlotte, 1980-1992
Interview Setting: 
Oaklawn Barbershop, Charlotte, NC
Levine Museum of the New South, Local History Series
JG (Johnny Green): Oral History report. Of the New South. Interviewer, Johnny Green. Interviewee, Kevin Davis. Hey, how you been doing man?
KD (Kevin Davis): Doing just fine.
JG: All right. How long you been cutting hair?
KD: Officially, about, I'd say about three and a half years.
JG: Hum. Would you say it was hard? Getting, getting through the schooling and all that, you know, just to get to where you're at now?
KD: No. Once I think about, you know, think about it a little bit, it wasn't that hard, man. When I was going to school, you know, at the time, it seemed like it was going to be a long thing, but it went by pretty fast, you know.
JG: Hum.
KD: It did take me about nine months.
JG: Well, that's for the whole thing, like--?
KD: Yeah, I only went to school for nine months to get certified.
JG: What's certified? What you mean?
KD: To become a barber apprentice I had to go to school for nine months. After I did my nine months, I had to take a test. After I passed the test, I could work where--. I went to--. I worked in a shop, you know. You can work in a shop being official. And I've been working in the shop now for about three and a half years I'd say.
JG: So when you's coming up, you know, you just didn't decide you wanted to be a barber. I mean, you know, what, what, what did you want to be before you became a barber.
KD: [Laughter] At first I wanted to be a truck driver, and I decided, once I decided I wanted to go the--, I wanted to be an ROTC. Then I wanted to be in the Army, the Army Reserves. A little--, a lot of, a lot of different things, man. I never really officially decided, you know, right off from the bat what I was going to be. But now, you know, as, as that life's gone, gone by, you know, I kind of realized it was time to get serious, you know, and things are happening. [RECORDING INTERRUPTED THEN RESUMED]
JG: So, you ain't never attempted to or (importing) or like drug selling or, you know, anything like that?
KD: To be honest with you?
JG: Yeah. Honest.
KD: Yes, I have.
JG: Oh you have?
KD: It's passed my mind. I believe it's, you know, gone through a lot of people's minds. You know what I'm saying? [Unidentified voices] Once you come to that--. So what is happening, I think--. At the time I was trying to take the easy way out. I thought that's the best way, you know, the quickest, easy way. And, and to risk--. After I learned my lesson, I realized, hey, everything I got now is legitimate, man. I could have got, you know--. I was trying to get illegally. I got the same thing now, legitimate. See what I'm saying?
JG: Yeah.
KD: And it didn't take me as long as I thought it would take.
JG: Oh.
KD: I've got just as many things now as I thought I would have then.
JG: Oh, so, so, so the barbershop's been good to you, huh?
KD: Yeah, it's good. It's pretty decent, man. I enjoy it, you know.
JG: What part of, what part of town did you grow up on?
KD: Over in north Charlotte. Over near Parkwood, (Derita), Hawthorne Lane. Over there, over there, in that area ( ).
JG: Huh. Did you start off cutting like neighborhood hair and stuff like that?
KD: No. I never have--. I've not cut a head a day in my life. Never.
JG: Oh. So, so, you just, you just went, went to school to learn. You wasn't cutting before?
KD: I never had cut a head of hair a day in my life prior to the time, man. Prior to going to school, I never even touched a head a day in my life.
JG: Yeah.
KD: You know, it's nothing. Anybody can do it, man. Just put your mind to it. See what, what initially had happened somebody had told me that I couldn't do something. That's the kind of person I am. I don't like nobody to tell me what I couldn't do. I never liked anybody to tell me what I can not do. You know, you can't do this and you can't do that.
JG: Yeah.
KD: So, you know, I was, I was going into it anyway, but somebody just came out and told me, said, "You can't do this," you know. "You ain't got the initiative, you ain't got the drive, you ain't got the go." That's not me.
JG: Oh, and you proved them wrong, huh?
KD: Yeah, I proved them wrong. I proved a lot of people wrong. But I didn't, I didn't do it to prove nothing to nobody. Like I said, it was for myself, at first. It was for myself. Then that person told me that I could or could not do it. You know, it helped a lot, you know. This is what I wanted to do.
JG: So, when you was coming up, did you have a lot of people like downing you and putting you down and stuff like that?
KD: Yeah. I had a lot of people downing me and putting me down, telling me what I couldn't do. [Unidentified voices] What's wrong with you ( ).
JG: So would you say now--.
KD: Would I what?
JG: So would you say now that, you know, you're doing the right thing, or what?
KD: Yeah.
JG: How long you think you going to be in--?
KD: God bless--, I don't know man. You know, I'm going to school, now. Going to school.
JG: What's your major in? What you studying?
KD: I'm going to high school to get my high school equivalency, my high school diploma. And once I finish doing it, I'm going to go to college.
JG: All right. All right.
KD: I'm going to get me a loan, too.
JG: What you think--.
KD: (So I'm going all right.)
JG: What you think, if I may ask, what you think altered you from getting your diploma when you was like--?
KD: Huh?
JG: What altered you when you was like eighteen from getting your diploma, you know, through, through, high school or something like that?
KD: Financial means.
JG: Financial? [Unidentified voices]
KD: Yeah, a lot of financial strains.
JG: [Laughter]
KD: Seriously. And, see, when I was growing up man, my mom, man, we were going through a lot of financial problems. And we had--. I've got like--. We had four kids--. My mom had four kids, so there were six people living in the house, and at the time, the only person was working was my dad. He couldn't afford to take care of all those people.
JG: Hum.
KD: So, I dropped out of school when I was like, I think I was sixteen, seventeen years old. Sixteen, I think. I'm pretty sure it was sixteen because I was in the eleventh grade.
JG: Hum.
KD: And I just dropped out of school. My mom, you know, they needed help.
JG: Hum, so it wasn't, so it wasn't a choice? It was more something you had to do?
KD: Yeah, it was pretty much something I almost had to do.
JG: Do you regret doing it?
KD: Yeah. I regret it a lot. Man, I miss school. Man, I like school, now. I enjoy school. I really missed school.
JG: Do you think society has changed much from, you know, back then to now, so far as the school dropouts and the, and the kill--, killing rate and so forth?
KD: The killing rate has gone up a lot. But as far as education and people trying to get an education, no. It hadn't changed much, man.
JG: Oh.
KD: I mean you (churn out) of a lot of college graduates, you know. They get degrees and they go to school, and they don't get jobs in their field.
JG: Um-hum. So, so, you enjoy cutting, cutting hair?
KD: Yeah, yeah, I like it a lot.
JG: Think you going to be doing it for, for, for--?
KD: A while?
JG: A while?
KD: Nope.
JG: No?
KD: [Sound indicating negative response]
JG: Until you finish, finish school?
KD: Until I finish school.
JG: Oh.
KD: Until I finish school.
JG: Would you say you had, would you say you had a good upbringing?
KD: Yeah, I had a great upbringing, man. I love, I love my parents. You know what I'm saying? See, they, they, put responsibility on me, and I was like--. Like I was telling you, when I was sixteen I was paying rent at the house, man. When I was living with my mom, I had to pay rent. I paid thirty dollars a week, you know, rent and going to work. And I was trying to go to school, but it got to the point, man, where, you know, I couldn't handle it, man.
JG: What did you work at, when you's, when you's working when you were sixteen?
KD: My first job I was working at Harris Teeter.
JG: Uh-huh. That's a, that's a well-known place for youngsters to go.
KD: Yeah, for teenagers. Yeah. You know, and no experience whatsoever, but once you think about it, did you need any experience to put some groceries in the bags? [Laughter]
JG: [Laughter ] Nah. Not really. You get along--? You ever been, you ever been tempted, or you know, about, you know, quitting your job here or cutting hair or whatever?
KD: None whatsoever.
JG: No problems?
KD: No problems. I've, I've worked at quite a few different barbershops. I've worked at about three different barbershops. And it takes a while to know people, you know what I'm saying? Once you get the feel and know people and know what they're about, how they think, and how they function, you're used to your surroundings. You know what I'm saying?
JG: Yeah.
KD: You don't want to leave that spot. And after while, you know, I got used to the barbershop, pretty much.
JG: Yeah. Would you, would you like say encourage, you know, young brothers to go, go into the field of cutting hair?
KD: Yeah. It's a good field to go into. It's a good field. It's what you make out of it. It's what you put into it you can get out of it. That's how it is. What I mean by that let's say, the time you put into it. If you come to work on time, you know, just come to work. That's how it was going to barber college. All I had to do to was go to barber college. Just go to school. That's all I had to do was be there and show up. You know, you'll get some money.
JG: What do you think about the, this area? In particular, you know?
KD: Area in particular?
JG: And what comes in and out of here? What do, you know--?
KD: Huh?
JG: What do you think about the area around here? Do you, do you, do you think it will, you know--? Think a lot of--? Like what I mean, it's like a lot of kids in the hood that know how to cut and all that.
KD: Yeah. There's a lot of, there's a lot of young guys that are cutting their own hair (these days). It's a lot of them. I noticed that. And, but yet still, they, have to--.
JG: What?
KD: After they mess their [Laughter] own hair up, they come back to us. [Laughter]
JG: [Laughter] All those that ain't experimenting.
KD: Yeah. That's what it turns out to be in the end, you know what I'm saying? You know, it's a, it's a, it's the only way you learn, man. It's trial and error, too. I've messed up heads, too, myself, you know. And, you know, you'll continue to mess up some heads some days.
JG: [Laughter]
KD: Sometimes you don't feel that good, you know what I'm saying?
JG: How do you feel when you're cutting somebody's hair and you mess around and nick them? [Laughter] You try to hear them [Laughter] wipe, wiping up, [Laughter] wipe, wipe the blood away? [Laughter]
KD: You don't show them the mirror that day. [Laughter] You all right. [Laughter]
JG: Oh, you don't tell them that that--. [Laughter]
KD: Naw, you're supposed to tell them, though. You're supposed to tell them, though. You're supposed to. And, you know, you're supposed to tell them.
JG: Yeah, but--.
KD: It's very seldom--. The only ones that are, that you, that are easy to nick I say the little jigaboos. They're real easy to nick because of their skin's real soft around their ears right here. Real soft around here, and their ears, too, so soft. But I don't--. Very seldom nick them, though.
JG: Huh.
KD: Little kids, you nick them. And whether you nick them or don't just give them a shave and they think--.
JG: Yeah. What would you say the hardest head you ever cut? I mean, you know, you ever had a hard time with--?
KD: A little kid?
JG: Little, little kids?
KD: Children. Yeah, little kids, probably--.
JG: Have you ever had somebody--? Have you ever had somebody come in with a big fro and say cut this down?
KD: Sure. That's natural, man. This is a barbershop. [Laughter]
JG: I mean a big picked-out fro.
KD: Yeah, yeah. I, this guy that came over here, man, he hadn't had a haircut for a year. I'm serious. A bush. [Laughter] A real bush.
JG: Do, do you be like eager to cut it? Because see, I know most barbers, you know, they be wanting to cut that.
KD: Yeah, yeah. You do.
JG: They be wanting, you know, the challenge.
KD: Yeah, yeah. You're right, they do. And especially like if somebody say, "Give me a regular haircut. I want you to cut all the hair off. Just cut it all off."
JG: Oh, oh, so you kind of have fun with it? [Laughter]
KD: You have fun with it. Yeah.
JG: Yeah. You got any brothers and sisters?
KD: Yeah. I have two brothers and one sister.
JG: Oh.
KD: And none of them has, has finished school. Well, my one brother, he has a GED.
KD: My other, my youngest brother, he, he attempted to finish school but, you know, everybody has their own little quirks and things happen. You know what I'm saying? Nobody's alike. Things happen. And everybody handling something different, you know, differently.
JG: How do you get along with your co-workers, you know what I'm saying?
KD: How do I get along with them?
JG: Yeah.
KD: You know, I get along all right with them.
JG: I mean, you know, there, there might be some ups and down, you know?
KD: Yeah. Sure there's ups and downs. Ups and downs in anything you do. If you--. Oh well. There's ups and downs to everything in life. Ain't nobody's alike. Nobody thinks alike. Know what I'm saying? I might think that you were--. You might think that you're right, and I might think that I'm right, you know what I'm saying?
JG: Um-hum.
KD: It's going to be like that, but that's still--. We're in a business place, see. And how, and how we carry ourselves between each other, you know. In public everybody seeing how we react to each other. Understand what I'm saying?
JG: Yeah.
KD: And, we, we try to do things in a nonchalant way. If anything we ever disagree with each other we do it after hours and talk about it. See what I'm saying?
JG: Yeah. You think communication take, takes a big, big part in, you know, in owning a barbershop?
KD: Say what now?
JG: Communication, do you think it take, takes a big part?
KD: Yeah.
JG: And you know, like talking, talking to the customers and, you know, getting to know them?
KD: Yeah. Yeah. A lot.
JG: It helps a lot?
KD: Yeah. It helps a lot. A whole lot. Because after awhile, you know, you get to people, and they think of you as like, you're like their brother, and you're in a situation. You know, they tell you a lot of things, man, a lot of stupid things. And you're like their family. You know what I'm saying?
JG: Yeah.
KD: You'd be, you'd be amazed by some of the things you hear in a barbershop. You'd be amazed.
JG: What's, what are, what are some of y'all's busiest days?
KD: The busiest, busiest hours we have are Friday and Saturday. Saturday is the most. Saturday is the most ( ).
JG: You, you ever have anybody like, like waiting on you like sitting out before y'all open?
KD: Yeah.
JG: When y'all come in.
KD: Yeah, yeah, we do. A lot of guys come in like sometimes at six o'clock in the barbershop, and the barbershop might open at eight o'clock, you know.
JG: Hum.
KD: It's ( ) 7:30.
JG: How do you feel about, how do you feel about some of these, some of these kids, you know around, you know, that can't, can't afford haircuts? You know, their moms, you know, they, less fortunate, you know--?
KD: Well--.
JG: How do you feel about that?
KD: Well, to be honest with you, they, they get a haircut once a month or sometimes they go let the neighborhood kid to cut their hair for two to three dollars, you know. Sometimes, you do, you know, you give in a little bit, saying that I you know, hey, I can understand that certain things happen. You know what I'm saying? And, but, more, more than likely they go to one of their kids in the neighborhood.
JG: You cut your own hair?
KD: Yeah.
JG: Is that not hard?
KD: No, it's not at all--.
JG: They teach you how to cut your own hair in barber school?
KD: No. OK, this is not my--, a hard haircut, a regular haircut, you know. There's nothing to it, but, a fade or something like that--. I had a fade and cut it off. Problem was I couldn't cut a fade. I couldn't cut my own fade. You know what I'm saying? Don't mess with a fade.
JG: Uh-huh. Do you have one of your workers cut it?
KD: Yeah. When they get the chance. They be so busy, it's hard ( ).
JG: So, y'all get free, free haircuts auto--, automatically. Y'all get free haircuts?
KD: Yes, yeah.
JG: What kind of, what kind of customers do you like have most, mostly come in here like drug dealers, old men, whatever--? What, what mostly come in? Well, mainly give you big, big business.
KD: Well, it varies. It varies a lot. It varies a lot. At one time we had a lot of drug dealers come in here, until they all got locked up. [Laughter]
JG: [Laughter]
KD: You know what I'm saying?
JG: They was big tippers, huh?
KD: Yeah. And now I'd say we have in the summer time, we have a lot of little kids coming in here to get a haircut. [Pause] You know, it just varies, man, and it's all different kinds, (stripes) of people. All different kinds.
JG: Do you want to own a barbershop someday? I mean, I mean not that it's your goal, I'm just saying--?
KD: Yeah. I'd like to own a barbershop. Initially what my plans are I'd like to one day own a funeral home.
JG: Funeral home?
KD: Yeah.
JG: Why is that? [Laughter]
KD: You take advantage of your surroundings, like everybody. You try to think ahead and take advantage of your surroundings. It'd be all right, if--. I mean there's a lot of the brothers, man. They killing each other, they killing each other. And it's like with AIDS man. There's AIDS out there, and people still go out and have one-night stands. The brothers turn around and killing each other. They got, you know, Stop, Stop the Killing signs, man. The brothers are not heeding to it, man. They're not even listening to it. Just take advantage of the surroundings.
JG: Are you married?
KD: Yeah. Yeah, I'm married.
JG: How long you been married?
KD: About five months, six months.
JG: Do you have any kids?
KD: None whatsoever, man. None whatsoever. I'd like to have some. I'm in the process of making at least one. [Laughter]
JG: [Laughter] Oh, so you're working on it, huh?
KD: Yeah, I'm working on it. Just one.
JG: Sons? Girls? What?
KD: One boy, that's all I want, man. I pray for one little boy. That's all I'm saying. One little boy, that's all I want. One strong enough for sports. So--. [Telephone rings] Excuse me. Hello. Oaklawn Barbershop.
JG: What, what advise do you think you can give to young brothers and sisters out there, you know? Just a little something, you know, that you think that will help them.
KD: Stay in school. Most definitely stay in school.
JG: [Laughter]
KD: I'm telling you, and stick to it regardless of what happens, man. Regardless. It might seem like a long thing you have to do, but it's not. It, it, it will be over before you know it and once you reach your destination or your goal, you'll be look back and realize it wasn't as hard as I thought it was. It's not as hard as it seems, man. It just looks hard on a piece of paper--.
JG: Yeah.
KD: Just wrote down all these little things you got to do, but its not as hard as it seems.
JG: All right, I, I'd like to thank you, thank you, thank you for your time and everything you know.
KD: All right. God bless you, dude.
JG: All right. Peace.