There are few places in America where Black men can be totally honest. Society often treats Black men like a threat, and too often our community teaches us that expressing anything other than strength is sucka behavior, so we keep our guards up. “Protect yourself at all times,” is often our mantra.

We’ve been wearing masks long before COVID made it mandatory. 

There is one place where bare-faced transparency from Black men has always been accepted and encouraged, though…

“The barbershop is one of the few places in America where we can be ourselves,” former behavioral health professional Lorenzo Lewis says. 

Recognizing both this fact and the dearth of Black psychologists – as of 2020, only 4% of the 41,000 U.S. psychologists were Black – and effective treatment options available for Black men, Lewis founded The Confess Project to address these issues head-on.

Lorenzo Lewis Barbershop
Lorenzo Lewis, founder of The Confess Project. Credit: Max-El Saffold

“There was a clear disconnect between the providers and Black patients,” he recalls of his time as a practitioner. “Hard to be connected to a system that don’t look like us.”

Launched in 2016, TCP looks to strengthen the culture of mental health among Black men and boys by arming barbers with knowledge-based resources to assist clients in need. 

Black barber involved in The Confess Project for mental health
Credit: Max-El Saffold

Their concept is novel but uncomplicated, schooling barbers via a training program based on the pillars of active listening, validation, stigma reduction and communication. These skills “can all work in real time during a haircut,” Lewis adds. TCP also provides additional resources and crisis support to ensure barbers have the tools to help clients in potentially dire situations.

In late 2020, Harvard University researchers conducted a study on the potential effectiveness of TCP’s approach to mental health advocacy, finding that “greater support of barbers as trained gatekeepers could indeed become a game-changer” because barbers “can engage communities at their grassroots levels … that in some cases can mean the difference between life and death.”

So far, TCP has trained nearly 1,500 barbers across 16 states, and relocated its headquarters to Atlanta earlier this year. The geographical move is the latest step towards the ultimate goal of eliminating the stigma around mental health and creating more safe spaces for Black men and boys.

The Confess Project training for Black barbers
Credit: Max-El Saffold

“Atlanta sets the trends for the country. We hope to use the momentum to scale and show others how to participate,” Lewis explains. “We’re working to develop (TCP) into a rigorous training program that can be replicated across America and, hopefully, globally one day.

“We want Black men everywhere to feel seen, heard and celebrated.”