Tucked away in a private North Philadelphia grooming salon, a barber continues the craft he’s worked at for 25 years. But now, Prentice Boone — also known as P. Michael on Instagram — has turned his shop into the Junior Barber Academy to teach children how to cut hair.
“I started the [training] because I, as a young man, grew up wanting to cut hair, but I didn’t have anyone to show me how,” Boone said.
Neijae Graham-Henries, a 7-year-old girl, is his youngest student. Her teenage brother saw Boone’s Instagram post about the training, and, when he lost interest, she stepped up.
“Well, my mom told me about it, and I just wanted to do it,” Neijae said. “So, I tried it, and it seemed fun.”
She and four teenage boys are in the midst of the six-week course at Boone’s barbershop.
“For her being so young, to have the understanding of how to hold the clippers, to listen to what I’m telling her and to actually do it, I’m really proud of her,” Boone said of Neijae.
Jaime Graham, her mother, sits in class and takes notes. She has been very supportive.
“It’s extremely important for her to learn a trade early on because I want her to be self-sufficient,” Graham said. “Her prices are a little high right now. [She’s charging] $100.”
Learning he could cut it
For nearly three decades, Boone has cut hair for family and friends, NBA athletes and business professionals. He also gives free hair cuts to homeless men and children whose families cannot afford to pay.
“I didn’t get into it to make money,” Boone explained. “I got into because it was a need.”
Growing up, there was not always enough money in his family to get his hair cut — and that meant he would be teased a lot. So, Boone took it upon himself to change his scruffy look. He was 12 when he picked up the clippers of a friend’s dad and cut his own hair.
His mother found the cash he’d earned from cutting hair, he said, and was shocked and doubtful in turn.
” ‘You out there selling drugs? That’s how you got that money?’ ” Boone remembered his mother saying. “I’m like, ‘Mom, I’m not even thinking about selling drugs.’ ”
His mother made him cut his hair again while she watched. After seeing his skill, she bought Boone a pair of clippers for Christmas.
Once he turned 18, Boone paid his own way through a private barber school. He passed the practical sections, but failed the theory test. He was discouraged — and, for about 14 years, he cut hair without a license.
It was fatherhood — Boone has three children — that motivated him to return to school and get his license.
“The power was going back to school, learning all the things that a barber can do,” Boone said. “And when I learned that a barber can do facials and can do more things than just cut hair, I started adding those things to my shop.
“I started adding those things to my menu. And I started making myself more money because I also educated myself on other things behind barbering.”
Boone also sells his own beard-grooming products and wrote a children’s book, “Fred’s First Hair Cut,” about a little dinosaur named Fred. After years of cutting children’s hair, he realized that some kids were initially terrified of the experience. Many of his young clients had never been in a barbershop, and the sounds of the clippers would scare them.
“I always thought about it from the kid’s perspective,” Boone said. “Like, what is he going through? At the end [of the book], I give the parents a note saying, ‘Bring your child in the barbershop in the beginning before you’re going to get their hair cut. Let them get familiar with the environment. That way, they know who’s going to cut their hair, they can see how the shop looks, it’s not scary, and they can be comfortable with the whole process.’ ”
Imagination plays a part
One of Boone’s students has seen haircuts all of his life — his 17-year-old son, Haalim.
“I feel like it’s been my path to be able to cut hair,” Haalim said. “I’ve been born in a barbershop, and I grew up in a barbershop, I’ve been in here my whole life. So why not start cutting hair?”
After six weeks, the students in Boone’s training won’t be getting certifications because they’re too young. But they are learning about safety and hygiene, getting hands-on experience with the clippers, practicing how to properly and neatly do “the shape-up” — or sharpening a client’s hair line.
“I also teach them about imagination,” Boone continued. “That’s one of the biggest parts of being a barber. I look at a person’s hair when they come in, before they get a haircut. I can see the process. I see them with a haircut. So, I want those kids to see the same thing I see.
“That’s important because if you dive into a haircut — one mistake — that’s it. You can’t glue hair back together.”
Next, the junior barbers are moving their clippers around the ear to the back of their plastic foam mannequin heads. The week after that, they’ll learn to wash their client’s hair. And, in their final week, they will cut the hair of a real person.
Boone hopes his students can join him and give more free haircuts to children in need this summer.