Barbers and stylists have the trust of the people in their neighborhoods. Important conversations of the day are often discussed, and debated, in barbershops. So, it makes sense that we make barbershops and salons a place where health conversations and interventions can take place.

For many communities, trust is more important than science and credentials. A doctor may give great health advice, but someone in the community with no degree but a lot of trust might be “overriding” the doctor’s advice. What if our neighborhood barbers and stylists could be health partners?

My colleagues and I leveraged our relationships with medical systems and local public health departments to train a cadre of Black barbers and stylists via simulation training with healthcare professionals to help more barbers and stylists complete state requirements to become certified community health workers (CHW). By embedding CHWs within Black barbershops and salons, we are more likely to have sustained engagement with medical and public health systems incorporating hyper-local services into their reimbursement models.

We desired community health workers to maintain roots in their neighborhoods where they have established a deep fund of good will, trust, trustworthiness, and street credibility needed to help healthcare professionals navigate local cultural nuances. Our equity-framed approach to community engagement provided the fulcrum needed to advance the recognition and garner the support that CHWs demand to help improve care coordination in the community.

This health equity partnership amplified the voices of neighborhood influencers as credible sources of health information, adding value to our healthcare delivery system collaborators. Far too many Black people live sicker and die younger due to being poorly served, underserved, and never-served by the systems responsible for health promotion and disease prevention. Our partnership flipped the script: We brought health services to the people in their neighborhood.

Our initial success was focused on chronic disease management. With miniaturized diagnostic tools, healthcare professionals no longer need to be tethered to a hospital or clinic in order to bring quality healthcare to communities of color. This critical lesson became self-evident when COVID-19 hung in the air like smoke.