MILWAUKEE — A re-launched Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) initiative hopes to cut crime with the help of hair stylists and barbers. The "Stylists and Substance" initiative helps train those in the grooming industry to understand mental health, identify potential conflicts and provide resources to their clients.
"We can empower barbers and stylists as public safety ambassadors," said Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson.
Shops that participate in the program can apply for a mini grant. Anyone interested can reach out to the Office of Violence Prevention.
Latoya Heard, a cosmetologist at Beauty Masters, already participated in the program. She primarily works with young girls, and said she's heard it all.
"One girl told me she jumped out of the window one time to sneak out to a party," heard recalled. "A lot of times they tell me about what they don't like about being their age or troubles at school."
The trust between her and her clients puts her in a unique position to have an impact on her lives. That's why she decided to participate in "Stylists and Substance."
"That relationship of trust, they will believe what I'm telling them. If I say 'I took a class, I go the experts, the resources, this is for you,' they'll believe it," Heard said.
The program was previously focused on mental health, but now OVP is adding in elements of deescalation and help for those experiencing conflict.
"We will add some additional information around deescalation tips, but also additional resources if people are experiencing conflict and they need assistance," said OVP Director Arnita Holliman.
Heard said what she learned from the program has already been helpful for clients at her salon.
"It opened our minds to different types of mental illnesses and different signs of it," she said. "It gave me a physical list of resources they can call. There's therapists, there's housing resources and stuff like that."
She hopes her fellow Milwaukee barbers and stylists will also participate in the training to help make a happier and healthier community.
"Definitely step in, mainly because you don't have to be a person in a uniform or of a certain authority to help in your community. We are all a part of the community, which means it's all of our responsibilities to help," Heard said.