I was working as a counselor in a group home after I graduated college—it was the first job that gave me a chance. I was doing residential counseling, and some of the kids got into a fight. I tried to restrain them, to keep the peace, and in doing so I tripped and fell. I guess you’d call it an occupational injury; I ended up with three bulging discs in my lumbar spine, and it became a pretty substantial disability.
I think this injury was meant to happen, because it got me thinking more seriously about a job change. As a counselor I had always loved working with people and helping them. I felt good about it, but I also felt like I was supposed to do something more. I’m a creative person, and I didn’t feel fulfilled creatively. I’d always been interested in cosmetology; as a young boy I used to watch my mom do hair for people outside our house in the Bronx, and it became a real passion for me. I had heard about the Beyoncé Cosmetology Center at the Phoenix House Career Academy in Brooklyn, and I knew you had to have a substance abuse problem or another disability in order to qualify. As I was struggling with my back problem, I applied, and I got in—I was their first student without a drug history.
It was such an eye-opener, starting school at the Cosmetology Center. I mean, I had seen drugs and drug use in my neighborhood and with the kids I had worked with as a counselor, but for the first time I saw adults, my own peers, who were overcoming their addictions and starting new lives. These were people who had stories, amazing personalities—you’d never have guessed that drug addiction had been such a huge part of their pasts. They were friendly, kind-hearted, and passionate about the things they wanted to accomplish. These people, my fellow students at the Center, became my friends for life.
The cosmetology program was extremely helpful, practical, and thorough. The teachers were amazing, and they really helped me become prepared, comfortable, and confident for the state board exam. They gave us the skills we need to make careers out of this; they took us to hair shows and taught us how to get ready for the state board exam—which, I’m proud to say, I recently passed!
When Neal Farinah, who is Beyoncé’s stylist, visited the Cosmetology Center, he thought I had potential and told me to give him a call when I graduated. Of course I did, but at that time he was in the process of building his new salon, so I didn’t hear from him at first. But I was determined. Eventually I heard that he was coming back to the Center to give a talk, so even though I had graduated by that point I went back to see his presentation. Afterwards, I re-introduced myself, gave him my card, and that was that! He called me in for an interview and I got the job.
Neal was a great mentor to me, and he taught me a lot during my time at his salon. I went from an Assistant to a Junior Stylist, and within two months he gave me my own chair in the salon. It was a wonderful experience, and it made me realize that, despite all the stresses of the trade, this is what I was meant to do. I learned so much from Neal—but unfortunately my work with him was short-lived. My mom is going through an illness, and she needed me at home, so I eventually had to leave Neal’s salon. But that didn’t stop me from pursuing this career and getting my license; these days I’ve been taking care of my mom as well as doing hair as a freelancer. Plus, Neal has always said that if I want to come back, my chair is waiting for me.
For now, my future is wide open. I plan to continue freelancing, and I’m about to start my training in massage therapy. My goal is to open up my own salon/spa someday, integrating cosmetology with holistic self-healing—helping people help themselves. This wouldn’t be possible without the time that I spent at the Beyoncé Cosmetology Center, but now I can confidently say that anything is possible if you strive for it and if you work hard enough. I have a passion for this field, for the career that I want, and now I have the tools to make it happen.