The client called her longtime hair stylist, Rosalyn Redwine, and told her that she “couldn’t take it anymore” and was planning to end her life.
Redwine responded immediately.
“Before you kill yourself, you better come into the beauty shop.”
The client came to see Redwine, who did her hair for free that day and also saved her life.
“Getting your hair done always makes you feel better,” Redwine said.
Known as “Roz” to longtime friends and clients, Redwine has worked as a stylist for 44 years and owns Winning Coiffures, a thriving business on East Colfax Avenue, and is an anchor for Denver’s Black Community.
Supporting better mental health in Black communities: Project HairCare trains barbers and stylists
Redwine is one of 26 Denver stylists and barbers who have received special training over the last year through a new program called Project HairCare.
It’s a joint project of the Colorado Black Health Collaborative and the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus, and received a grant from the Caring for Denver Foundation.
The aim of the program is to help stylists and barbers better support their clients’ mental health and encourage people to seek help when necessary.
“The program helped me have a lot more understanding of mental illness,” Redwine said. “We’ve gotten formal training to understand what’s going on when people are in crisis.
“In our work, people share their life stories with us. Some of them have really given up. We are able to talk with them and tell them, ‘Hold on a minute, breathe through the stress, and life will get better.’
“I’ve learned so much,” she said.
Redwine has had a few clients who were suicidal over the years. All made it through what Redwine has come to call “hours of no hope.” She’s found that if people can survive temporary periods of darkness, most can rebound.
Redwine has particularly enjoyed the deep breathing exercises she learned through Project HairCare. The shop owner, mother and grandmother is busy seven days a week since she’s also a pastor for Ministry Bible Church in Denver. She uses deep breathing exercises herself and often recommends them to customers who are stressed or anxious.
From depression to anxiety and substance use, clients often confide in their barbers and stylists
Doctors and psychologists have long known that people feel comfortable opening up about life’s challenges while they’re sitting in a stylist’s chair or visiting a barber shop.
So, medical experts teamed up to bring health care training directly to vital salons and barber shops in the community.
The co-leaders for Project HairCare are Alex Reed, a psychologist with UCHealth A.F. Williams Family Medicine Clinic in Denver’s Central Park neighborhood, and Dr. Terri Richardson, a retired doctor and vice chair of Colorado Black Health Collaborative’s board. Reed is also an associate professor at the CU School of Medicine and is a team psychologist for the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Rapids.
He’s been thrilled with the response to the program, and he and Richardson hope to expand Project HairCare.
“We provide trainings that focus on depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance misuse and mental wellness and well-being,” Reed said. “We give the stylists and barbers tools and handouts so they can talk with their clients about mental health issues.” (Check out the resources and handouts that Project HairCare offers.)
An unanticipated bonus of the program was that along with receiving training, the barbers and stylists loved forming a new community with each other.
“The program became a support group for the barbers and stylists themselves. They shared their own mental health issues,” Reed said. “They provide a sacred space in the community for their clients. Project HairCare, in turn, created a sacred space for them.”
Her salon provides a warm, comforting atmosphere
Redwine, now 65, began learning cosmetology skills back when she was 16 at Denver’s Manual High School. She worked for 16 years at Winning Coiffures, then was able to buy the red-brick building and the business.
“I never would have dreamed that would happen,” said Redwine, who wears a custom black smock with her name embroidered on one side and a colorful design of scissors, a comb and a hair dryer on the other.
Redwine now has nine stylists working for her and has done hair for multiple generations of loyal customers.
She loves coming to the glass-fronted shop that is full of women, plants and warmth.
On one side of the salon, clients sit under dryers beneath portraits of heroic Black women. On the other side, stylists are busy doing hair as gospel music plays on speakers.
“Being here makes me very happy. It gives me peace. It’s my home away from home. Our clients make me laugh and smile,” Redwine said.
She started working at such a young age that she first focused on listening rather than doling out advice. But over the years, she became a mentor and sounding board for many clients.
One customer, Tiana, calls her “mommy.”
“I call her ‘mommy’ in front of my own mommy,” Tiana said with a laugh during a recent visit with her 16-year-old daughter, Jojo.
Tiana said Redwine has counseled her through many phases of life.
“I started coming here at 17. I’m 44 now. I’ve cried many tears in this chair. She listens and hugs me, and sometimes, there’s some prayer,” Tiana said.
Her daughter, Jojo, slips into Redwine’s chair right after her mom. (Her grandmother is also a customer, so Jojo’s a third-generation Winning Coiffures customer.)
Like other young people, who tend to be more open about mental health struggles, Jojo thinks it’s critical to offer help and support.
“I don’t try to solve everything myself. I want to get an adult involved,” Jojo says.
Both mother and daughter think it’s great that Redwine is participating in Project HairCare.
Having endured grief themselves, stylists and barbers can help their customers seek help
While Redwine has a sunny disposition, she’s gone through hard times herself.
She lost her husband to cancer in July of 2020. While the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to close her business for a couple of months in 2020, Redwine said the time at home proved to be an unexpected blessing. She was able to be with her husband around the clock during the last months of his life.
Having gone through grief herself, Redwine is quick to encourage others to get help if they’re not able to move through their depression.
One client is having trouble moving past her husband’s death. She’s isolating herself at home.
“My heart is grieving for her. I’ve been recommending that she get some help. We’re chipping away at it,” Redwine said.
She also said it was valuable for the Project HairCare stylists and barbers to open up to each other.
“One gentleman had a son who had passed away and realized he hadn’t really grieved himself,” Redwine said.
Along with supporting clients, Redwine also has used her newfound skills to create a safer environment near her shop.
Recently, a woman who was experiencing delirium came into the shop. Police soon followed, and Redwine was able to intervene immediately.
“This is a mental health issue,” Redwine told the officers. “It was amazing how they stopped in their tracks. They backed up, and instead of getting arrested, she got help.”
‘We’re right in their ears:’ Stylists and barbers play a vital role in boosting mental health
Health care doesn’t happen just in hospitals or clinics, Redwine said.
“Sure. We need our psychiatrists and our psychologists,” Redwine said. “But a lot of times, people tell us stuff that they’re too embarrassed to tell other people. We’ll hear it first.”
Years ago, the stigma of sharing struggles seemed to be greater. But Redwine is very comfortable these days encouraging clients to seek help when they need it.
“I really enjoyed working with the psychologists,” Redwine said. “My vision for this program is that it needs to travel nationwide, especially in inner cities. People need to be trained so they can help the people around them.
“We’re really close with our customers. We’re right in their ears,” she said.
“Now I’m able to help people more. I’m more patient. I know what to do if there’s a crisis.”