By Collin Brooks
Learn it, earn it and return it.
That was the phrase that Craig Charles uttered before he cut the ribbon to open the only Barber College within a 90-mile radius of Johnson City in Crown Cutz Academy at 809 North Roan Street.
Charles’ motto helped him turn his dream into a reality in his new barber college down the road from Northside Elementary School.
The Tri-Cities has five cosmetology schools, but no barber schools, which was constantly brought to Charles’ attention when people in his chair were asking him how they could get into the business.
“Everyone can’t get a four year degree,” Charles said. “But as long as you can do something vocational, then you are making steps in the right direction. If you teach someone a skill, then they can use that for the rest of their lives.”
Charles returned to Johnson City in 2004 after graduating from East Tennessee State University in 2000, his stay at the university included a football career that saw him enjoy some of the Buccaneers fondest days.
But you won’t hear those stories from him, he is only concerned about what he can do now to help the area around him.
“We are who we are because of others,” Charles said. “Once you’re tangible and people see you working hard, it makes it easy for others to know that they can achieve their dreams. So it was important for me to work my way up and let people see that I’ve done it the right way. I hope that can inspire people to see that they can do anything they are willing to work hard for.”
That was the message that was often dished out to DeVaun Miller, who spent the second 12 years of his life receving haircuts from Charles. Miller said the persistent guidance from his barber and mentor helped direct him to things that he may not have been destined for otherwise.
“Growing up, I didn’t notice how much the barber shop influenced me. There were a lot of things that Craig said to me while I was in his (barber’s) chair that guided me away from trouble and kept me from doing the wrong thing,” Miller said. “Without him, I don’t know where I would be. He has really guided me in the right direction. He is more than just my barber, he is someone that I look up to and get inspiration from.”
Miller said that he has also been guided to allowing others to learn what was voiced to him while he was getting a hair cut. He wants to be the one delivering the hair cut and the wisdom, as hopes to open his own barbershop when he gets done with the program.
“It gives me an avenue to open up other jobs for other people,” Miller said. “I grew up a little bit less fortunate than other kids. I didn’t get Christmases and stuff. So my 10-year plan, is once I get my own shop, I want to go around to each elementary school and pick five kids and give them a Christmas of a lifetime.
“If I can just touch one student and let them know that they don’t have to go down the wrong path to get money, all my work will be worth it.”
This avenue will also help him become a father that he didn’t have growing up, while also providing him with a flexible schedule to look after his two children in 1-year old son Onyx and 2-year old daughter Nina-K.
Seeing Miller succeed will bring the same sort of smile to Charles’ face that he has for others, but he said that the importance of allowing others to learn from your successes is a driving force for him.
“You have to pay it forward, you can’t keep it to yourself, you always have to pass it on,” Charles said. “What you put out into the universe is going to come back to you.”
Chalres’ client sitting in his chair on this day was 73-year old Bob Graves. During this session, as questions were bounced from an unassuming reporter, it was Graves providing the barbershop talk.
“That’s awesome,” said Graves of Charles’ motto as he sat in the chair receiving a haircut. “I think what he is doing here, preparing these young kids to go out…That is where your legacy comes, in paying things forward.”
Graves has been relying on Craig for his haircuts for almost two years now and this time he ended our conversation with some history that was relayed to him by his father.
“My dad said that you needed to find four important people in your life. Your doctor, your banker, your auto-mechanic and your barber,” Graves said through a smile pointing to Charles. “Get a good four and you’re going to be set for life.”
It appears a lot of people have checked one of those off their list with Charles.