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How a haircut could help save Detroit’s future

Learning a handshake

On just about any given Tuesday in Northwest Detroit, there’s a whole lot more going on in one barbershop than the typical haircut. Jay’s Fades, while handling what you would expect … the occasional shaves and coif adjustments … is also the base for a volunteer program.

The Better Detroit Youth Movement (BDYM) is made up of students of nearly all ages working together to improve the quality of life and learning for Detroit youth.

Outside of J'FadesIn a nondescript storefront on Livernois between Six and Seven Mile roads, dozens of positive young people gather to discuss, go through problem-solving exercises and hear how they can do more with their lives, as well as give back more to the community in tangible ways.

“What we are doing here is more than just a salon, said Harlan “Jay” Bivens, co-director of BDYM, owner of Jay’s Fades and a community activist/supporter. “It’s a movement to make the City of Detroit better. This is more of a community engagement center than anything else.”

The BDYM organizers run a tight ship. Each meeting begins with everyone in the room introducing themselves with a 30-second “elevator pitch.” The goal here, as Bivens puts it, is to “build confidence so the young people are not shy when they have an opportunity to explain who they are and what they want from someone.”  A stopwatch is running on each attendee and when time is up, time is up. This format keeps anyone from getting long-winded.

Later, with consensus from the group, there’s a chance for a two-minute pitch on a particular idea or “ask” for assistance of the group, followed by a one-minute Q&A session.

Mercedes Clausen attended a meeting recently after hearing Jay talk about the BDYM on the radio. Her pitch was for #HashtagLunchbag.  The event, founded in California and coming to Detroit August 11, looks to deliver a hearty and balanced meal to local homeless.

“This gives me a chance to get the word out and get some help for what we’re bringing to the city,” Clausen said.

One of the exercises the youth participated in was breaking up into small groups of four or five to solve a problem. They were thrown into an imaginary scenario and asked to work together to come up with a solution.

In one case, the group is stranded on a life raft following a plane crash. The twist is all of the survivors can’t fit on the potentially life-saving craft. Taking all sorts of factors into consideration, they had to decide which of them would be left off of the boat.

HandshakesDuring another session, Co-Director William Pointer went through the logistics of a proper handshake. It seems elementary, but many young people, and adults for that matter, don’t know the mechanics of something we all do nearly every day.

Detroit isn’t alone in this effort. Similar movements are changing lives in Greater California, Pontiac and Maryland. Each of them shares the goal of empowering young people to action.

Kenneth Morrison is co-director of “DewMore Initiative” in Baltimore, the youth movement group in that city. He and a group of 10 young people between 15- and 19-years-old from Maryland visited BDYM recently. They were on what they call an “Art Injustice Tour” to five cities this summer. Their project, along with Better Baltimore Youth Movement, looks at how art and community can impact social change.

“We love Detroit and what BDYM is doing,” Morrison said. “”his gives our young people (who are all performance artists) a chance to fill their passion. Although there are many miles between Detroit and Baltimore, we see the same faces and same social challenges facing both cities.”

Morrison says they are working with Jay to bring the “DewMore Initiative” to Detroit sometime soon. In return, Jay is helping the Baltimore group implement some of BDYM’s successes.

Recently, BDYM held a team-building fund raiser at Painting with a Twist in Ferndale. The group gets very creative in expanding the horizons of supports and the increasingly engaged young people.

Detroit high school student Erica made a pitch at a recent meeting for her Makeover Challenge. The goal of her effort is to teach young people how to dress for success and develop confidence.

“This is a chance for me to learn and get support for something I believe in,” she told the group. She stood flat-footed and made her appeal flawlessly, as well as answered some pretty tough questions from the crowd.

Another student talked about a grassroots effort to reopen Highland Park’s MacGregor Library. The sessions provide valuable feedback, guidance and support for the projects.

In addition to the barbershop gatherings, BDYM is involved in several other initiatives, including F.A.M.E. (Fashion, Art, Music & Education).  This program uses the power and beauty of the arts to rally the community and engage children in productive, positive activities. F.A.M.E. is being developed as an after-school program for Detroit high school students.

If you have a little time, talent or treasure to share, BDYM could use a helping hand. You can visit its Facebook page, its website at or call 248-961-6419.

Founder Bivens sees promise in the next generation of Detroiters as he works with the various BDYM projects and speaks in front of groups near and far.

“Working together today, we can build brighter futures for our young generation,” he said.

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