Everyone knows that in the African American community hair salons are almost like second homes to some. Customers can get the latest gossip, news, laughs and more at these neighborhood staples and over time end up building close personal relationships with the owners and workers. Now, Harlem hairdressers are taking advantage of their relationships with clients and using it to spread the word about HIV/AIDS.

Rochelle Walters, a hairdresser for 23 years is using her chair at Hair on Madison to spread information about HIV/AIDS as part of the Hairdressers Against AIDS campaign. The program, sponsored by the L’Oreal Foundation D’ Enterprise in conjunction with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is designed to help hairdressers speak to their clients about the disease. “We become their confidants,” said Walters. “They know we are not going to steer them wrong. We become the other doctor, giving them prescriptions of life knowledge.” Walters and other participating hairdressers will also be handing out pamphlets with detailed information about prevention and testing.

Harlem Councilwoman Inez Dickens, who helped kick off the campaign for World AIDS Day, says she visits her hairdresser every 10 days but only sees her primary care doctor once per year. “They are our therapists. I talk to my hairdresser much more than I should,” said Dickens. Others like celebrity hairdresser Kimmi Hendrix, who has had both a client and close friend pass away from AIDS feel that starting the dialogue in places where people feel safe, like hair salons, is a way to start and continue the dialogue about this disease, “There is a regular dialogue about these issues that needs to take place and the salon is the best place for this conversation because when people walk out of the salon, the conversation continues,” said Hendrix.

What do you think about the campaign?

– Danielle Pointdujour

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