Black Mainers struggling to find barbers, stylists familiar with styling Black hair
The head coach of men’s basketball at the University of Maine said he talks about the lack of access to Black hair care when he is recruiting new players.
BANGOR, Maine — The 2020 Census Bureau reported that Black people make up 12.4 percent of Maine’s total population. The state’s low Black population affects access to self-care needs, as simple as hair care.
Finding proper hair care for Black and Brown people is a struggle—a struggle that University of Maine Men’s Basketball Head Coach Chris Markwood knows all too well.
“I think in Maine you’re always kind of searching it out,” Markwood said.
Markwood spent most of his childhood growing up in Portland. He said as a kid, he was fortunate enough to have a few barbershops in the city that had skilled barbers who could give him a nice cut, but the accessibility and the options were “few and far between.”
When Markwood attended college at UMaine, he said he cut his own hair in his dorm room, because there was not a barber in the Orono area that he could go to.
Now, as a head coach, Markwood recruits basketball players from all over the country. The lack of access to Black hair care is a conversation that he has with his players, Markwood said.
“I think it’s something that we touch on pretty early in the process because it tends to come up,” Marwood said. “People are wondering, ‘Am I going to be able to find a barber in this area.'”
The desire to look presentable and feel good about yourself is no different from one person to the next, whether it’s a Black college basketball player, a hardworking Black mother with children, or a Black businessman working in corporate America.
Stylist Angela Okafur has lived in Maine for the past 10 years. She owns the Tropical Tastes and Styles hair braiding shop in Bangor.
Okafur said clients are always relieved when they find out she has a braid shop in the area.
Her clients spend hundreds of dollars on gas and roundtrip plane tickets traveling hours away to Portland, Boston, and even to New York just to find someone who is skilled and comfortable with styling Black hair, Okafur said.
Often, she gets bookings from expecting mothers who need their hair braided before they go into labor or from women who have survived abuse and want to restore themselves, Okafur said.
Because there are only three to four stylists in Bangor who offer hair care services that cater to Black women, Okafur sometimes extends her work week to meet the need.
“A lady reached out to me, and she was like her son was going for a very serious procedure and she was like all he asked of was to get his hair done,” Okafur said. “I had to do the hair on a day I don’t work.”
There is only one barber school in Maine, which is located in Augusta. Barber Jake Stanley said when he attended the school, he was only taught to cut Black hair verbally, and hands-on learning was limited.
Stanley is an independent barber contractor at Brick City Barber Co. He said he learned to cut Black hair by cutting hair for discounted prices after being honest with Black clients about his then lack of experience.
“If you’re working and you’re trying to make money and you’re trying to support yourself and you’re trying to feed your family, you have to be versatile,” Stanley said. “And not only cutting fades. You know, being able to cut everybody’s hair.”
Jordan Guy is also a barber at Brick City Barber Co. He said he thinks the biggest reason finding stylists and barbers who can work with African-American hair is difficult is because of Maine’s small population of Black people.
In addition to there simply being fewer Black people in the state, Guy said he doesn’t believe there is a true willingness for Mainers to create more spaces for diversity.
“I think it’s a shame,” Guy said. “I’m not going to say that areas of Maine are stuck in kind of old habits or old school habits, but I do think there needs to be a willingness to adapt and kind of draw more people to those areas, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a priority.”
Guy said the lack of willingness to grow smaller cities in Maine and increase access to the needs of the Black community that is present makes culture in certain areas hard to change and improve.
According to Okafur, if Black people can’t find simple things that they need, they tend to pick up and move elsewhere.
“If you’re not able to get what you need to feel good about yourself or for your children to feel good about themselves, chances are they’re gonna start looking at alternatives,” Okafur said. “So this is very crucial and important. Not just for community building but also to, you know, retaining people here, which is what we really need in this area.”
Stanley said he doesn’t blame Black men for being hesitant or unwilling to risk getting haircuts from new barbers who may not be experienced with cutting their hair texture. He said everyone is welcome at Brick City Barber Co., and the barbers in-house do their best to be a reliable option.
Markwood said there are more options now than there were when he was in school. He’s now able to refer his players to two barbers that he trusts.
If you’re looking for Black hair care options, see the suggested list below to find barbers and stylists in the Bangor area.
Brick City Barber Co.
88 S. Main St., Brewer, ME 04412
Jet, Jake Stanley, and Jordan Guy
5 Star Clippers
89 Central St., Bangor, ME 04401
Call or text to book an appointment: 337-255-0041
Tropical Tastes and Styles
347 Harlow St., Bangor, ME 04401
Message on Instagram to book an appointment @suzest14
The Good Hair Room-Hot Heads Salon
391 N. Main St., Brewer, ME 04412
Katelynn Demmons: Booking is available on Instagram through the link in the bio
Traveling to Portland? Here’s a suggested option for braid styles