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19-Year-Old Teen Forgoes College For Barbershop Entrepreneur Track With Baltimore Mentor

Next One Up's program is making a difference in the lives of Baltimore boys.

Nineteen-year-old Diallo Gainey is paying it forward by offering free haircuts to mentees in the program he attended in Baltimore.

Gainey is a former member of Next One Up, a nonprofit organization that helped him on his journey to becoming a barber. Now, he’s paying it forward by assisting young men with free haircuts.

In an exclusive interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE, Gainey opened up about his journey, his advice for those wishing to follow in his footsteps, and what it’s like being a young graduate. 

“I started in, I want to say, the sixth grade,” the young businessman said when asked about joining Next One Up. “I found out about the program through one of my good friends. His dad had told my mom about it, and I just showed up, and I just kept coming after that. It helped me with school and my athletics and everything like that.”

Next One Up differs from other student-oriented programs because rather than emphasizing the importance of a college education, the program urges boys to pursue their interests — like Gainey, who hadn’t planned to become a barber. The former football player was set on going to a traditional college to continue playing the sport until Matt Hanna, founder and CEO of Next One Up, intervened. 

“He just talked to me. He talked to me about what I wanted to do after high school,” Gainey shared. “We had a conversation about me going to college because I thought I had to. I was a football player, so I was going to talk my way into being in debt just to play football when there was another path for me. I knew I liked barbering, so what he did was create a path for me.”

The 19-year-old revealed that Hanna helped him enroll in barber school and helped cover his tuition.

Despite his mentor’s encouragement, Gainey’s decision to forgo college did not come easily. But as he gradually developed his barbering skills, he started to realize he could turn his passion into a career.

“I had to think about it for a long time,” Gainey said. “I started watching YouTube videos during COVID. I was still in my junior year of high school, and I wasn’t playing any football. I was just sitting in the house all day, and it just came up on my YouTube feed. I just got interested in watching the videos, and that’s how I started cutting my brother’s hair. And then after that, I realized that I could actually turn this into a business and just work [for] myself and my barber career.”

Gaines now works as a barber at Next One Up’s newest Base Camp facility; mentees of the nonprofit are his biggest customers. Gainey offers free haircuts to the boys who frequent the establishment.

“Growing up, you just think that you have to go to college to become successful, and Next One Up teaches you and tells you that there are other paths you can choose to get you to your goals,” he said.

The positive impact of Gainey’s work is undeniable, and he works to ensure that every young man who graces the establishment has a positive experience.

“A haircut can do a lot for people. That’s one of the big reasons why I became [a barber],” he said. “I like turning nothing into a blossoming flower. When they get into my chair, sometimes, they have bad things going on outside of the world that they don’t really want to talk about. When they get into my chair, it’s like therapy for them. You see that come out after the haircut, you know, they feel good about themselves, and that makes me feel good about myself. Making other people happy.” 

The teen credits humility for his commitment to his work.

“It taught me to be humble. That’s one of my values. Being humble, true to myself, and honest. In the program, we have these classes where we talk about public speaking and have one-minute speeches about yourself, and that helps me a lot in my barber career now.” 

For young people who are unsure about their futures, Gainey offers his advice.

“Talk to the people in your circle—your family, you know, because there are other pathways,” he said. “You don’t have to do this. [Going to college] that’s what people tell you you have to do…there are other options out there. I would say just [do] the research. Most people’s careers don’t even need college to do. A lot of people don’t know that. I would say follow your dreams. I mean, whatever you think you can’t do, you definitely could. There are people in this world that are willing to help you. I feel like there’s more than one way.” 

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