Bushwick students put business, cosmetology training to the test pampering community

Students at Bushwick Leaders High School offered free barber services as part of their license training on April 12.
Good Shepherd Services.

A group of Bushwick high school students dolled out more than 15 free haircuts and manicures to members of the local community as part of their barbers’ license training on April 12.

The cosmetology-business workshop at Bushwick Leaders High School is run by Good Shepard Services, an organization that works with over 30,000 families in struggling neighborhoods across New York through community building and job capacitation programs.

The barbers’ program aims to give high schoolers crucial job placement skills and provide working opportunities so they have a better chance at succeeding after graduation.

In 2020, the employment rate for young adults who had completed high school was 69 percent, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. That same year, just 57 percent of those who hadn’t completed high school were employed to work.

Since then, the percentage of teens working summer jobs has fallen from nearly 52 percent to just over 30 percent — and from 43 percent to 27.5 percent throughout the non-summer months, according to studies from the career and education ranking site Zippia. In 2020, 1.336 million teens between the ages of 16 and 19 had full-time jobs with a median weekly salary of $497 dollars, but by April of that year, about 1.9 million teens lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have a lot of students who have a passion for some part of cosmetology,” said Master Barber Kenyatta Freeman, 38, who teaches the program at Bushwick Leaders.

Apart from technique like waxing, eyelash design and hair coloring, she teaches aspects of the business such as customer service and “to be compassionate and empathetic to the public.”

Freeman started working with hair at just seven years old. She was 16 when she got her first job at a salon, and decided to get her professional license at 25.

“I didn’t have a program like this when I was in high school,” said Freeman. “I was really interested in playing a part in being a teacher that can get to high school kids when opportunities are needed.”

Some of her students are already benefiting economically from the program.

“I had a senior in the class for a while and now she is already taking appointments in her neighborhood or with some students from the school,” Freeman said. “They would ask her if she can do their hair on the weekends. She reminded me of myself because thanks to these skills that I learned at a young age, I was able to make money and they’ve followed me all throughout my life.”

Many young adults in New York struggle to find meaningful work, according to polls. A study from the University of California found that 48 percent of young adults struggled with mental health in mid-2021, and more than a third of those were unable to access mental health therapy.

“A lot of these kids have potential and they’re able to take this very far,” Freeman said. “We try to target the children that are not really drawn into a different way of learning with something that they’re more interested in and they get to be themselves and, in the world of cosmetology, you’re able to be yourself as well as help other people.”