Cecil Jackson gives a haircut in his barber van

Cuts at the Clock

Pilot program offers more than free haircuts

“Who's the better NBA player? LeBron James or Michael Jordan?”

Veteran barber Cecil Jackson asked the client in his chair this age-old question, then answered it himself: "I never liked Jordan, I was an Isiah (Thomas) fan."

From the barber chair, senior Tyreese Oakes chose Jordan and moved the conversation to another topic: social media, as he was planning to post a selfie of his new look on Instagram and tag Grand Valley. The tag was appropriate as the haircut Oakes received was in Jackson's van, which was parked near the Cook Carillon Tower on the Allendale Campus.

Jackson owns a mobile barber van, The Executive Cut, and has traveled to Grand Valley weekly since December to offer free haircuts to students, particularly students with kinky and coily hair, as the closest barbershop that specializes in diverse hair textures is in Grand Rapids.

Cecil Jackson cuts Charles Asamoah's hair in his barber van parked near the Cook Carillon Tower on the Allendale Campus.
Cecil Jackson cuts Charles Asamoah's hair in his barber van parked near the Cook Carillon Tower on the Allendale Campus.
a barber trims the beard of a customer, black and white photo
Tyreese Oakes receives a beard trim from Cecil Jackson in the mobile barber van on the Allendale Campus.

There's more behind this initiative, "Cuts at the Clock," than offering students a convenient service. The faculty and staff behind this unique collaboration said it's about supporting students, offering resources and building community.

"When you go to a Black barber, it's not only about the haircut, it's the conversation. You're building camaraderie with the people in your community," said Phillip Todd, assistant director for the Office of Multicultural Affairs. 

Last fall, Todd connected with Troy Farley, director of the Career Center, and Jakia Marie, assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies and coordinator of African and African American Studies, to find a solution to a problem all three were very familiar with: Black students who need haircuts but may not have easy access to a barber or hairstylist in Allendale. 

Marie talked with her stylist, who works at Reflections Salon in Grand Rapids, and learned about Jackson and his mobile barber van. In late November, the campus partners and Jackson created a plan that initially had Jackson traveling to the Allendale Campus once a week to offer haircuts. Students attend an event or seek services at the Career Center and receive a sticker to validate their haircut voucher. They then take their voucher to OMA to schedule their appointment.

a barber gives a haircut in a barber van parked on the Allendale Campus, photo taken looking into the window
The collaboration started in December with Jackson driving his van, The Executive Cut, to Allendale once weekly. He now takes appointments twice a week on campus.

Jackson, who first picked up a pair of clippers at age 14, said he recognizes a few of his clients from when they used to come to Reflections as young kids.

"I'm coming out here twice a week now," Jackson said. "I know college kids have a hard time finding a barber."

Farley said student engagement at the Career Center has increased but added that's not the main reason for this initiative.

"Years ago, I had a student employee from Joliet, Illinois, and I asked him if he was going to the Career Fair. He said no because he needed a haircut and had to wait until he went home. I learned from him the culture of the barbershop; it's more than a haircut, it's helping to instill mentorship, confidence and camaraderie in students," Farley said.

Amaris Beal laughs while a stylist works on her hair in a salon.
Amaris Beal laughs while a stylist works on her hair at Reflections Salon in Grand Rapids.
A student's hair undergoes a relaxing treatment with steam coming from an iron, black and white photo
Jakia Marie drove a van full of women and people with longer hair to Reflections Salon in March as part of the Cuts at the Clock program.

Marie said she advocated for services for students with longer hair since the start of this pilot program. On a Sunday in late March, Marie drove a van full of students to Reflections Salon for services that take hours like hair relaxing, braiding and twisting. Reflections owner Jerry Wright and stylists were ready for the Sunday crowd. 

"Everyone, including college students, needs pampering," Wright said.

Kaneigha Embery, a first-year student majoring in film and video production, sat at a sink in Reflections waiting for Wright to finish her color treatment. From Flint, Embery said she normally waits until she goes home to visit a salon. She learned about the van to Reflections after attending a "Wing Wednesday" hosted by Marie and others from the African and African American Studies program.

"There are so many different styles going on here," Embery said. "This is really a nice vibe and I enjoyed talking with students I didn't know."

SeLaih Artis sits under a hair dryer with foil on her hair during a treatment
SeLaih Artis sits under a hair dryer and concentrates on her phone at Reflections Salon.

Marie said that type of student connection has always been a goal of Cuts at the Clock. 

"We're seeing new faces in OMA, at Wing Wednesday and the Career Center," Marie said. "This has always been more than about hair. We're meeting the needs of students and growing student support and student engagement.

"It's been nice to watch the students interact with each other and discover things they have in common."

View GVSU Exposure to see more photos from the barber van and hair salon.

Salon owner Jerry Wright works on a client's hair, they are projected in a mirror
Salon owner Jerry Wright works on Aisha Jones's hair at Reflections.


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