In a nondescript business park tucked between an auto shop and a garden nursery, Rev. Andre Crockett is building what he hopes will become a hub for Rochester's black community.
African-Americans make up the fastest-growing racial group in Rochester, Minn. And in a city that just 10 years ago was almost 90 percent white, it doesn't have the kind of black-owned businesses and neighborhoods you'd find in larger metropolitan communities — many of which were borne out of segregation and racial covenants but help build community today.
So, Crockett has built a barbershop that is part gathering place, part social service provider.
While some of the African-American people coming to Rochester were recruited by Mayo Clinic and other institutions, Crockett said others have fled the inner cities of Milwaukee and Chicago, looking for a fresh start. He wants the shop to serve both.
Alongside high-end grooming products are children's books, shoes and professional clothing he plans to give to clients who need it. Barbers will be trained not just in cutting hair, but in helping men check their blood pressure and prepare for jobs, and in helping children read.
"From working in social services for over 17 years, I've realized there's a huge disconnect," Crockett told MPR News host Tom Crann. "We're rich in services, but we don't always know how to get the services to the right people."
Barbershop Social Services will have its grand opening next month.
To hear more of Crockett's conversation with Tom, click play on the audio player above.