The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that one in four people experience mental illness at some point in their life. For Black people around the world those stats are even more staggering. Research indicates that Black/African Americans are 20% more likely to suffer from psychological distress compared to their white counterparts. Within the Black community, mental health conversations and discussing experiences with conditions like anxiety and depression is still taboo, especially for Black men. The media often depicts Black men as aggressive and violent with few representations of them being vulnerable. These perceptions of how Black men should behave likely play a role in why the mental health stigma persists within the Black community. Black men are expected to be stoic and strong 24/7, which can lead to increased feelings of anger, resentment and isolation. Public figures like Charlamagne Tha God, who wrote a book on his experiences with anxiety, are outspoken advocates for Black mental wellbeing and are starting to open up more conversations about Black mental health. Eric “Kleankut” Dixon is a celebrity barber and mental health advocate who uses his barbershop as an outlet for Black men within the community. Eric sat down to discuss why he started his barbershop, his experiences contracting a rare condition, and the transformative power of therapy.
Janice Gassam: Could you share with the Forbes readers a little bit about you, your background and what made you decide to open up your own barbershop?
Eric “Kleankut” Dixon: Well, I was born and raised in Maryland—P.G. County, Maryland, by way of [Washington] D.C. I grew up here and…I’ve always been an artist…and then eventually I became a barber. Unfortunately, I got into barbering because of an infection I got from an inexperienced barber. It affected my scalp really bad. It caused dissecting cellulitis, it’s a rare germ from uncleaned tools…it was a bad experience so I learned to cut my own hair…which led to me becoming really good at it…it became a passion over time. I love working for myself and I love the art form of cutting hair…the best part of it is to be able to have the ability to make people feel good…and look good.
Gassam: How do you feel your barbershop creates a safe space for Black men to feel comfortable communicating?
Dixon: For someone to come to a barber and allow the barber to cut them, there’s a trust factor that you’re already building with your barber. Then, once you build that trust…it’s a place where men go where they can actually be free and take out their stress…whether it’s from a job, home, family…being able to go somewhere and really unwind…learn from others and even be the one to give knowledge to other people.
Gassam: The life of an entrepreneur is very stressful, so what are some forms of self-care that you utilize and what are some self-care practices that Black men should be taking advantage of more?
Dixon: Well…I go to a therapy myself. Just…to keep me focused. It’s always good to unpack. Some things you can’t just talk about with anybody. A therapist is able to dig deep into discovering who you are…so you can be better mentally…I definitely go to my therapist. Honestly, my job can be hard on the body a little bit. I go and I get great massages. I love it! It takes all the tension out of you…also for me, I’m an artist. I like to draw; I like to paint…I love music. I have different playlists for different moods. It relaxes me. I’m starting to read a lot more books as well.
Gassam: How do you use your platform to serve within your community?
Dixon: Now that I’ve realized that I can be a part of helping someone, what I’m doing currently is I am in class to become a Certified Advocate. So, I can be able to assist properly…I know a few therapists that are in the area…having conversations with therapists to have a better understanding of how I can help…being able to connect with other therapists so I can actually have an idea of where I can send Black men who are seeking help…I want to get the information on cost and how to seek the right therapist. Me being that person where, me being transparent about myself and being able to guide someone in the right direction.
Gassam: What are some resources you would recommend for someone reading this interview who wants to speak with a therapist but who has never had one before?
Dixon: I’m having a conversation and trying to figure out how can we help and make therapy more accessible and more affordable as well…there’s Therapy for Black Men…there’s [also] therapy via the web where you can talk to a Black therapist in other states. I know a few folks who do therapy sessions over the computer…what I want to do is get a group of therapists who are interested in creating something that is more accessible and affordable for people…when it comes to searching for a therapist, sometimes certain therapists…you’re not going to feel comfortable with…it’s important to feel like you can be comfortable…that’s the key. Being able to vibe well with that therapist. If you don’t, then it’s okay…that’s one of the main things you have to have with your therapist—being able to get a good vibe and be comfortable.
To learn more about Erik “Kleankut” Dixon, click here.
This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.