Kelvin Howard, barber and owner of Kutz by Kelvin barbershop in Capitol Heights, Maryland

January 17, 2017

Becoming a barber was a very personal choice for Kelvin Howard, barber and owner of Kutz by Kelvin barbershop in Capitol Heights, Maryland.  He first thought about becoming a barber when his oldest son, then five, kept crying when getting his haircut.  Unhappy with his son’s tears, he said to himself, “If I can do it, I can get it right.”

Now, Kelvin is making a different impact on peoples’ lives, educating and inspiring his clients to take charge of their health through his participation in the Maryland Center for Health Equity’s (M-CHE) Health Advocates In-Reach and Research (HAIR) Program. “If you get the word out, and you get two people to take action, then you’re having an impact,” said Kelvin.

About Kutz by Kelvin

A native of North Carolina, Kelvin spent 22 years in the military proudly serving his country. While he was still in the military, stationed at the White House, Kelvin began to think about life after service.  He decided to become a business owner.  Kutz by Kelvin opened in 2011 with just one barber, and when Kelvin retired from the military in 2014, he was ready to give 100 percent of his time to the barbershop. Today, the shop boasts a team of eight barbers and serves over 400 clients each month, including professional basketball and football players among its diverse clientele.  Kutz is so loved, that some clients travel up to one hour to get a haircut. “We love doing this. The barbers are serious about their craft, and they love what they do,” he said about his barbers. “I don’t like being a barber, I love doing this. I love serving the community and seeing the smile on people’s face when they get a haircut,” Kelvin said.

Kutz, HAIR, and Colorectal Cancer Screening

Fridays in October were designated as "Pink Friday." Every Friday throughout the month, all of the barbers at Kutz by Kelvin wore shirts to bring awareness to breast cancer and support those affected by the disease.

“What does hair have to do with colorectal cancer?”

That was Kelvin’s initial reaction when the M-CHE first contacted him about the HAIR program to promote colorectal cancer screening (CRC) in barbershops. But after learning more about how barbershops can be used as health promotion venues and the unique risks African American men face for developing and suffering from CRC, Kelvin and the other barbers in Kutz by Kelvin have become enthusiastic advocates. The opportunity to do outreach to the community motivated Kelvin to get involved, “because a lot of African American men, we have a pride thing about us, being a man. We don’t want to go through that procedure, don’t even want to talk about [it], they don’t even go to the doctor,” he said. “We don’t do good with maintenance. ‘I’m good, I’m good’,” is what one often hears, he says.

“But you really don’t know what’s going on inside of you because you haven’t been to the doctor.” That is the message that he now wants to promote. 

Getting Personal to Educate and Advocate

Promoting colorectal cancer screening is personal for Kelvin. “A real dear friend of mine, he got diagnosed with colorectal cancer stage 3 five years ago,” he notes, before adding, “He was 41 years old.” Although not yet 45 years of age, the recommended age for African Americans to get screened, the information he acquired through the HAIR program convinced Kelvin to act. Kelvin tried to convince his doctor to refer him to be screened. When his doctor refused to give him a referral, he insisted “I’m going to get it done regardless, either at the VA hospital or a civilian hospital.” He did, and it’s a good thing. “My doctor didn’t want to recommend me going until I was age 45, but I’m glad I did go because they did find one polyp, and if I had waited two more years, it probably could have been worse,” he said.  Now he is more motivated than ever to spread the word about screening and advocating for yourself.

After observing that “a lot of guys in their mind, it’s just a bad experience,” Kelvin has been sharing his personal experience.  “It’s actually not [bad]. It was only a 20 minute procedure, and the technology now isn’t what it used to be.” The materials that M-CHE and the Cigna Foundation provide help start the conversation about colorectal cancer screening. “Teaming up with the University of Maryland to get the word out is having a big impact on barbershops and salons,” he said.

Still, some clients resist the information.  “A lot of them they look at me and they’re like, I’m good you know what I’m saying.”  But Kelvin still shares the message because of the people who say “yeah I need to get it done.” Kelvin recalls two of his clients who got screened after he talked to them, and later thanked him for sharing the information. One client was especially grateful, because he had not been to the doctor in five years, and during his procedure he had two polyps removed.  These are the people for whom Kelvin keeps doing this, educating, informing, and potentially saving lives, one haircut at a time.

To learn more about Kutz by Kelvin, visit their Facebook page.