A Barber’s Journey: From Akron to Athens, to Anywhere
Photos by Ashlynn McKee, Photo Assistant
By Zoie Lambert, Blogger
Ten minutes outside of Ohio University is a weathered parking lot with several potholes and a Hometown Inn. Known for its air-conditioning, free Wi-Fi, and floral bedsheets dating back to 1970, the place can be described as unassuming. For an aspiring barber, however, it was a fresh start.
Sealonda Smith, first name pronounced Shuh-lawn-duh better known by her nickname “Smitty” given to her while playing basketball as a kid. She has been a barber for six years, graduating from Beyond Expectations Barber College. She started playing with clippers and going to the barbershop at a young age. Around 21 years old, she knew being a barber made her happy. After becoming a certified barber, she began cutting hair in her hometown of Akron, Ohio but soon realized its limitations; she was barely pulling in $100 a week.
Smitty says that Akron is full of barbershops with loyal customers, and as a newbie, her talents were not being recognized.
Akron’s barber scene was hard to break into but all hope was not lost. Smitty was offered an opportunity when her college peer, Geoff “Razor” West, said he was opening a barbershop on OU’s campus in Athens, Ohio.
Smitty, knowing money would be guaranteed, drove two hours into the green hills surrounding the southeastern Ohio college with RazorWest. They arrived with clippers and a bit of Akron to freshen up the 217-year-old college.
“There aren’t [barbershops] that keep up with fresh cuts. It’s mostly older barbers around here so they’re kind of giving out older styles to the younger kids still. So I feel like we just came down here, brought the urban, city life,” Smitty said.
Hip-hop beats can be heard by those passing by the Bam Bros Barbershop on Court Street. Smitty and RazorWest are stationed at two chairs in the front to help clients, with three folding chairs for waiting on each side. Clippers buzz against each other as they shape two different follicles. Many college students cannot help but peek into the already open doors to hear deep conversations like, “Kendrick Lamar or J.Cole: who is the best rapper?”
As the premature fall breeze enters the shop’s open doors, Smitty reminisces about barbershop culture’s favorite pastimes: the roundtable talk, where every topic is fair game except for religion and politics.
“When Trump and [Hillary] were running, people were trying to figure out who they wanted to be President and people were big on that. It would be a heated conversation at times and you just have to be quiet before it gets out of hand,” Smitty said.
Avoiding divisive conversations allows Smitty to get to know her customers better, some of whom she would not have come in contact with if she stayed in Akron. “If I stayed in Akron, I still wouldn’t be cutting straight hair. Everyone wants a good cut, it doesn’t matter what color they are. They want a nice cut, and if you can deliver that, then that’s what matters,” said Smitty.
During these conflabs, Smitty is making magic with her clippers transitioning the lighter parts of hair into the heavier parts of hair, into a style dubbed, “the fade.” Smitty specializes in fades and crispy lines and can tell a good fade from a bad one. Choppy, uneven, unsymmetrical are some of the words she used to describe a “haircut from hell.”
Though she believes her clippers are paintbrushes and she is Michelangelo, Smitty admits no matter how good your fade or haircut is, flaws are inevitable.
“I take pictures [of haircuts] and I don’t post them because I see flaws,” said Smitty.
However, the critics of her work are overshadowed by her loyal customers and supporters.
“People sit in a chair, smile amazed, ‘Well this is the best cut I’ve ever had.’ And when they say that it just makes you feel good, even if you think that was not the best cut. It made them feel good and that’s what I like about my job,” said Smitty.
RazorWest who opts in for boots instead of Crocs says, “She is a dope barber, a great person to be around,” and she pushes him to do better.
Another one of her biggest supporters was her dad, boxer, Robert Davis, whose record was 32-11. Her white teeth gleam as she smiles and starts to describe him. Davis was not there to see Smitty finish college and move to Athens to pursue her career, but he did give her some advice in her early days of fades and lineups.
“Throughout life, he encouraged me to do what I wanted to do and make sure it’s making me happy,” said Smitty.
Before his death in 2014, Smitty was supposed to cut his hair. Though she had cut it once before, she still missed that special time with him. Smitty, keeping this in mind, now works twice as hard on her craft.
She looks outside with her head tilted towards the sky thinking about her father and planning to continue to allow him to drive her work.
Five years from now she pictures herself outside of Ohio, but other than that she has no definite idea what her future holds.
“My plans change a lot, and I’m just one of those types of people I usually go with the flow. I don’t have any kids so there’s nothing that holds me back from doing anything,” said Smitty.
Sitting in a white folding chair collaged between the Athena Cinema and Bubble Teas on Court Street in uptown Athens, she spots a customer with an overgrown sideburn and says, “I’ll be with you in just a minute.”
She takes out a black barber cape and drapes it around his neck. Smitty cleans off her brushes and clippers, already envisioning what the hair will look like before she even starts.
For more about Smitty follow her @smitty_tha barber on Instagram.
Visit here to book a cut.