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Cleveland Barbershop Offers Free Blood Pressure Screenings

Barbershops tend to be vital hubs of conversation and information in the communities they serve, but one West Side Cleveland barbershop is also becoming a hub for health.

Barbershop customers come in for a haircut—and maybe some friendly banter about last night’s Cavs game, but when Phillip Parker came to Urban Kutz for a trim, he also got some good news.

"So, your blood pressure is perfect. The goal is less than 120 and less than 180," a Cleveland State medical student told Parker.

Every so often, the Old Brooklyn barbershop offers free blood pressure screenings for its customers.

Parker admits that it’s been a while since he’s gotten his blood pressure checked.

"Oh, it’s been some years, so that’s real convenient for me," Parker said. 

"They think they’re just coming in getting their hair cut," said Teresa Russell. "But a lot of times people have to wait to get a haircut—15-20 minutes, so it kind of works perfectly and we’re just here like, ‘Hey, do you want to get your blood pressure taken?’" 

Russell is one of the volunteer Cleveland State University medical students conducting the screenings.

"People can be hesitant to go to a doctor because they don’t know that the doctor has their best interests at heart," said Russell. "So, that’s why it’s really important to bring health screenings to a place where people are comfortable, like barbershops because people are already here. They’re comfortable with their barber. They’re comfortable with their friends here."

A 2017 study by the American Heart Association indicated that about 59 percent of African American males have high blood pressure. Compare that to white and Hispanic males— less than 50 percent of both demographics have high blood pressure.

So who is the mastermind behind bringing health into the mix at a place where sports, music and politics dominate the discussion? That would be Waverly Willis, the owner of Urban Kutz.

"My clients were starting to disappear," Willis said. "When I would run into their wives or children or their girlfriend, I would ask, ‘What happened to Joe?’ And they would tell me that he passed away from a stroke or a heart attack, something to that."

Willis wanted to help, partially because he has his own history of blood pressure problems.

"I lost 200 lbs in the last couple of years. I was able to get off of the high blood pressure medication, which was one of my goals," Willis said.

Willis started the blood pressure program a few years ago by asking medical professionals he knew personally to lend a hand, but recently he partnered with Cleveland’s American Heart Association to make the process more formal. Brenda Parks is the multicultural initiatives director.

"It’s an ideal location for people to come and to learn mainly because they trust their barber. And because they trust their barber, they’re more likely to explain or share information that they wouldn’t normally share with anyone else," Parks said.

"There’s actually been a couple occasions that guys came in for a basic service, haircut, line-up or whatever," Willis recalled, "and we were checking their blood pressures and a couple times the gentleman’s blood pressure was so high, so elevated that we told them to skip the haircut and go to the emergency room."

Willis also founded the Urban Barber Association, a network of Cleveland area barbershops and salons working together to educate customers on community issues. Through this association, Willis put business competition aside and spread this idea around.

"I don’t want it to be strange to know that you can get your blood pressure taken at a barbershop. There’s more barbershops than hospitals. There’s more barbershops than urgent cares. So why not use these small satellites as beacons of hope and a resource center in our community," Willis said. 

With Willis' help, four other barbershops and salons in Cleveland provide blood pressure screenings. He hopes to double that number next year.






Gabriel Kramer is a reporter/producer and the host of “NewsDepth,” Ideastream Public Media's news show for kids.