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Gracie Church hosts free haircuts for all

By Sadef Ali Kully

A free haircut session for men and women was held Monday afternoon at the historic Grace Church in downtown Jamaica.

Laughter came from the church’s basement while dozens of men and women waited to get their hair cut by a barber or hairstylist as the R&B group SVW’s song “Weak” played in the background.

Cassandra McDaniels, 23, was in the middle of her haircut when her stylist, Crystal Starr, had to stop. Starr, from Black Starr Unisex Salon in Hollis, rushed out to get hair supplies from one of the hair-supply stores on Jamaica Avenue. Everyone was teasing McDaniels, saying Starr was never coming back, but McDaniels had the last laugh when Starr returned with hair supplies in hand.

“She can do whatever she wants to do,” McDaniels said. “I am so stressed out — my home, my kids. I don’t have time for anything.”

McDaniels was sitting next to 38-year-old Earl Jones, who lives at the Y and is currently unemployed.

“I need a haircut so the police don’t bother me. It’s not Thanksgiving for me anymore. I’m sorry,” Jones said.

Charles Atiles of the promotions company Atiles & Associates came up with the idea after being inspired by a viral video showing an Australian barber giving free haircuts to the homeless. He then took the concept to Culture Collaborative Jamaica Executive Director Tyra Emerson.

Emerson connected with The Rev. Darryl James at Grace Church, who provided the basement in Grace Church at 90th Ave. near Parsons Blvd.

“The barbers did not hesitate—we have four different barbershops here. We’ve got Community Board 12 and the [Greater Jamaica Development Corp.] on board to help get the word out,” Emerson said.

Two Latino men, who could not speak English, walked in with disheveled, long hair. After their haircuts, both walked out smiling from ear to ear, one with a faux mohawk and another with a buzz cut. They left the church with their shopping cart to search the garbage cans for recyclables along Parsons Boulevard

James said the church was planning a traditional Thanksgiving meal in their soup kitchen for the holidays.

“We have been doing this 23 years and we get anywhere from 150 to 250 people and another 50 people who volunteer.”

The Grace Episcopal Church and its graveyard were designated as a historic site as the oldest church in southeast Queens in 1967 by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skully@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4546.

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