How barber Joshua Santiago empowers the community one haircut at a time

Joshua Santiago is the owner of the nonprofit, Empowering Cuts, an organization that travels the country providing free haircuts to the homeless, military veterans, children, and families who are experiencing financial hardships. If anyone understands what it’s like to be in need due to unfortunate circumstances it’s him. Raised on the north side of Philadelphia by his single father, Santiago grew an interest in barbering after his brother took up the trade. As he attended American Beauty Academy for barbering school, his instructor often took the students to the shelter to practice cutting hair and spreading acts of kindness. Who would have guessed that his experience with helping others in need would lead to creating a platform that brings empowerment to the community?

Photo Credit: Empowering Cuts’ mobile barbershop, rehabbed by founder Joshua Santiago.

It wasn’t always easy for Santiago, growing up with parents both actively fighting drug addiction, he often felt he had to fend for himself to survive. Which is why Empowering Cuts is about more then giving someone a trim, but giving people the chance to feel seen and valued, a form of recognition many of them often don’t receive. 

” When I was a kid we grew up really poor to be honest and that was because both my parents were battling addiction. The first time my mom got high was with my dad, because my dad introduced my mom to crack. My dad he was a functional addict, whereas my mom she couldn’t really function without it. “

“So my mom wasn’t in my life. When she gave birth to me in December, it was extremely cold when she gave birth to me and we stayed in an abandoned car for  a couple of days until she made the decision that it wasn’t right that she had me out there. So she ended up giving me up which was the best decision she actually made to be honest, she gave me to my grandma, then my dad got me from my grandma.”

“We grew up really poor because my dad battled addiction and he was the one that had custody of me around that time. So we couldn’t afford haircuts. Sometimes he’ll come across $5 and he’d send this to the Chinese spot where they do the $5 haircuts. But then other times he’ll cut my hair because he didn’t have it. And he wasn’t a barber by trade, so he would like mess me up every single time and it was just embarrassing going in school hair cut like that, to be honest. So my brother which was my role model, everything that he wanted to do is what I wanted to do. Since my dad was giving me jacked up haircuts, my brother was like, “Yo, I think I can do a better job than our dad. “, and from there forward, my brother started cutting my hair, which he was way better than my dad.”

“Me wanting to become a barber at such an early age was because my brother was my role model and everything he did I wanted to do so that’s probably where, you know, the barbering aspect happened.”

To further support the work of Empowered Cuts, please donate to their current GoFundMe