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Program helps turn lives around, one cut at a time

Donald Weaks teaches barbering to Shica Shell as she cuts her son Jayden’s hair.

Program helps turn lives around, one cut at a time
August 18
13:23 2021

By John Railey

Donald Weaks talks to Shica Shell as she cuts her son Jayden’s hair, breathing new life into an old tradition. 

“Basically, the barbershop is the corner store, the place to gather and exchange stories,” Weaks said recently.

What’s different is that Weaks, an ex-offender, is trying to help other ex-offenders through barbering. 

Shell, who’s seen her own share of legal troubles, is starting to learn the trade from Weaks. He is participating in Project M.O.O.R.E. (Mentoring Our Own and Rejuvenating the Environment), located in a frame house just off Martin Luther King Drive. Through the initiative, youth can gather, learn, and dream, charting plans for careers with on-site training in music, barbering and cosmetology.

The project is the revamped brainchild of David M. Moore, well-known in Winston-Salem for his Southside Rides, which puts newly-released offenders, like he once was, to work in its car body shop. Now he’s expanding his scope, trying to reach youth before they make the costly mistakes he and so many others made. The project is financially supported by Winston-Salem State University’s Center for the Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM).

CSEM Associate Director Alvin Atkinson said, “Project M.O.O.R.E. incorporates a key principle of effective mentoring and that is ‘a relationship with a caring adult.’ It also provides a learning environment in which the life experiences of the mentors make them the best teachers for youth who are susceptible to dropping out of school or choosing criminal behavior. The result is a winning combination for the mentor, the mentee and their families and the entire community.”

Weaks has set up his chair at Project M.O.O.R.E. In addition to teaching students, preparing them for barber schools, he also caters to customers at this prime location just blocks away from the WSSU campus. “People need some kind of trade to be able to survive,” Weaks said. With barbering, he said, “You can be your own boss. It’s up to you to make money. It’s about taking it to the next level if you really want.”

Shell wants to do that. She’s worked minimum-wage jobs and as a hospital housekeeper. “You can’t make it like that,” she said. “I’m trying to move up. I don’t want to work for anybody else. I want to work for myself. Jayden, who’s 8, asked me why couldn’t I be my own boss?”

She’s 27. Weaks is 49. As he teaches her, they talk about the challenges of going straight. “I’ve been down that same road,” he said. He did time in prison for drug convictions and one of being a habitual felon. He met David Moore when he was in prison and took one of Moore’s courses on auto body repair. Weaks has been out since 2014. “Where I’m at now, prison is just a speck in my life,” he said. “I’ve come a long way with the support of family and friends.”

Shell grew up in Winston. Her mother has a strong faith, she said, “but I went a different route.” She started getting in trouble at 17, she said, when she was at Reynolds High School. She took some cosmetology classes at Reynolds, graduated, and took some classes at Forsyth Technical Community College. She also incurred drug charges and has done time in jail.

She met David Moore when she bought a car from Southside Rides. “He’s cool. He’s the type of person, he’s going to keep you on the right track.”

Moore told her about the barber program. “I want to be positive. Being on the streets ain’t getting me nowhere but in trouble,” Shell said.

Weaks said he tries to impart lessons to her about staying straight “the best way I can. Get away from people who are doing you no good. A lot of people want to see you crash.”

He said Shell has a passion for barbering. “Once you get these initial lessons right, then in barber school you’ll already have a step ahead,” he said. “I tell her, ‘Don’t be scared, it’s only hair. If you think you’re messing up, always ask questions, I’m right here.’”

Shell is candid about the struggle to stay out of trouble and become a barber. “It’s hard. I ain’t going to lie to you. But I’m going to make it. I’m not going to let my son down. I will be a boss.”

Weaks told her, “Keep pushing. It will happen.”

John Railey, raileyjb@nullgmail.com, is the writer-in-residence for CSEM, www.wssu.edu/csem.

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