Historically, barbershops and hair salons have served as hubs in the African American community where people go to discuss issues in the community, politics, family, and life issues. Within these establishments there is a sense of community, and it provides opportunities for African Americans to develop ideas and form a sense of identity. African Americans usually build relationships with their stylists where they are comfortable enough to gossip and share personal information. As a result, HIV/AIDS Outreach Programs have begun to use barbershops and hair salons to get through to the African American community. Such unconventional outreach locations are effective in providing prevention efforts that is culturally relevant, non-intrusive, and accommodating for sharing information and learning.
Barbershops are significant in facilitating important discussions and community within the African American population. One great example of this was in the 2002 Motion Picture, “Barbershop”, in which conversation and discussion by African American customers and employees within the shop was the basis of the film. The prominence of conversation/ discussion within barbershops was also highlighted in the book, “Barbershops, Bibles, and BET”, written by Victoria Harris-Lacewell. Lacewell states that, “They talked about White power structures, the relationship of African Americans to the state and to capitalism... critiqued black leaders, discussed political power in the black church, argued about reparations and cheered on African American Olympic athletes.”
Specifically, the purpose of Outreach programs through barbershops and hair salons is to target high risk groups like drug, alcohol users, homosexuals, heterosexuals, and men who have sex with men, to inform them about HIV/AIDS prevention. Some of the professionals that work towards these efforts include: public health experts, behavioral scientists, business owners, hairstylists and barbers. Some of the programs targeted towards HIV/AIDS prevention outreach are: The Down Low Barbershop Project and the Barber and Beautician STD/HIV Peer Education Program with Project StraighTalk. There are several other Outreach programs that use barbershops and hair salons as channels of outreach around the country in states like New York, Nevada, North Carolina, and Vermont.
The Down Low Barbershop Project is located in Seattle and Washington, DC is funded by the Center for Disease Control. The purpose of this project is to train barbers and stylists in Black communities to provide black men with HIV education, condoms, and referrals for free HIV counseling and testing. It is estimated that more than 1,000 people have participated in this program thus far. The Barber & Beautician STD/HIV Peer Education Program with Project StraighTalk began in 1989 with a poll that asked African American barbers and beauticians “what their clients talked about?” The results of the poll showed that 80% of the clients talked about sexual issues which urged Project Straightalk to begin their first training of stylist in HIV Outreach in 1990.
The training of barbers and beauticians in STD/HIV Peer Education is very critical to the success of these Outreach programs. It is important that the stylists are adequately equipped with facts, advice, and resources that are correct and beneficial to their clients. The training for these programs consists of: an overview of program, discussion of their role as educators, teaching of peer education skills and STD/HIV facts, a demonstration of correct prevention method use, instruction on providing client referrals, and role plays. At the end of training, the stylists are given a certificate, resources such as pamphlets and posters, and an “Ask Me About AIDS” Button.
The U.S. is not the only country that has decided to use barbershops and hair salons to target the black community. Similar efforts are taking place in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Canada, to name a few. In Canada, the peer led health promotion initiative called, Operation Hairspray, has begun. The goal of this program is to provide HIV/AIDS outreach for African American and Caribbean hairdressers and clients.
There are several implications related to the success, future, and long-term effect of Barbershop and Hair Salon HIV/AIDS Outreach Programs in the African American Community. These programs are culturally relevant to the African American community and provide outreach in non-intrusive informal setting. Likewise, they are specifically tailored to incorporate social norms and values; this is beneficial to targeted outreach for any group. Some critics argue that quality, content, and intensity varies in different outreach programs, as a result there efficiency is unclear. However, all of these programs provide much needed education, testing information, awareness, and support for African Americans which are all beneficial. Although the long-term effectiveness of these HIV/AIDS outreach programs is not apparent, the initiative that these programs have taken is positive and can ultimately help the African American community and aid in decreasing the number of HIV/AIDS cases.
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