Yesterday I went to see the play, Barbershop Chronicles by Inua Ellams. The play’s central theme was how the barbershop acts as a social hub for black men all over the globe. The blurb uses this apt description to define this space:
‘Newsroom, political platform, local hot spot, confession box, preacher-pulpit and football stadium. For generations, African men have gathered in barber shops to discuss the world.’
As the action played out on the stage, I began to think how important physical spaces are for human beings, men especially, in fostering communication and allowing for meaningful dialogue to take place. I pay particular attention to men here as typically, they often struggle to express vulnerability and sensitivity. This piece of drama did the very thing which I think all art should do; provoke a response, start a conversation.
After the show my friend and I leisurely strolled along the Southbank. With the both of us being teachers, we discussed how crucial we felt it was for schools to create spaces where young men feel safe enough to express themselves without fear of ridicule or attacks against their ‘manhood’. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone to know that men talk far less about their fears and insecurities. As the issue of mental health gets more focus in the media, I hope that we can begin to have open and honest dialogue in our communities and be vulnerable with one another so that our young men do not feel they have to carry their burdens alone.
The play’s closing scene ended with a young man in the barber’s chair asking what it means to be a strong black man. He was eagerly searching for substance and direction as to his identity. He felt safe enough in this space to do so. During this tender scene I was prompted to contemplate just how important it is for us to continue to carve out these spaces: in our churches, schools, sports clubs and other places where we find groups of young men. Ellams’s play certainly provoked a response from me and sparked an internal dialogue. I am keen to be the one who starts to fashion this space within the school where I teach, however, with more demands being made on our time as teachers the one question remains: how can I sustain this and ensure my own overall sense of wellbeing? As we seek to carry one man’s burdens, our own load needs to be supported.
‘He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.’ The Hollies
Barbershop Chronicles is currently showing at the National Theatre, Southbank.