bk_school_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

Casting Couch Productions and the African-American Performing Arts Community Theatre (AAPACT) spent time this past season working with kids, mainly from the Miami-Dade County area, to build their self-esteem and provide the tools they need to succeed in adulthood.

On Sunday, Casting Couch Productions and AAPACT hosted their last event for the season, “Grooming Gents.” Despite sounding more like a play staged at a barbershop, the event welcomed more than 50 young boys to the “hip-hop barbershop,” the Chop Shop, where barbers quickly and skillfully gave the young men free haircuts for the new school year.

Volunteers from Gap Inc. also were on hand to pass out school supplies and bookbags.

“I think that it just raises awareness and it’s known that, if your appearance looks great, you have more confidence,” said Erika Cevallos, general manager of the Banana Republic on Eighth and Collins Avenue, which is owned by Gap, Inc. “We’re trying to rebuild their self-esteem and help them, whatever their situation may be.”


Similarly, the Chop Shop Barbershop, expanding in the Overtown area, has a barbershop at the Overtown Youth Center. Special arrangements were made to open its doors last Sunday and have three of its barbers provide the same services they offer to famous rappers, sports players and local celebrities.

“I always say, ‘If a child feels he or she looks better, then they might behave better’,” said Grooming Gents organizer and host of Casting Couch TV, Keith Harrell. “On their first day of school, they go looking good and they dress well. You rarely have behavioral problems the first week.”

This season Harrell managed to sponsor such events as a tour of Miami International Airport as well as a tour of the Miami Children’s Museum. Harrell is also teaching young boys and girls about green initiatives and ways to promote a greener lifestyle.


“The ultimate goal is to bring awareness that our kids need to come together,” Harrell said about his goals for future events such as Grooming Gents. “As far as black men and youth, we’re trying to get that bond.” Next season will include more tours, and Harrell hopes to add a tea party allowing young girls to learn positive life lessons from influential women within the Miami-Dade County community and beyond.

Another major presence at Grooming Gents last weekend was Harrell’s Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc. fraternity. Macio Pickett of the Miami Alumni Chapter’s Guide Right Program brought one of his charges, Don Damus.

“I’m looking forward to do way better and hope to go to a really good college and be successful,” said Damus, soon a senior at Hialeah High School, on his plans for the new school year. “I’m also looking forward to having a good time during my last year of freedom, before going to the big world out there.” 

That “big world” after college includes law school, if Damus has his way. His ultimate goal for his senior year, other than having fun, getting straight A’s and graduating, is to receive a scholarship to Florida International University or the University of Central Florida. 

“It shows that there are individuals and organizations out there that see a need and give back,” said Pickett about Grooming Gents. “Hopefully, the impact on the kids, once they get their hair cut, is that they feel better about themselves. That will transition into giving them confidence to feel like they’re getting a fresh start and have a chance for a new beginning this year to do better.”

Fresh starts, new beginnings, and doing better was the theme echoed from adults and kids alike for this coming school year.  Soon-to-be high school freshman Benny Rivers said he is looking forward to “good teachers,” and, soon-to-be sixth-grader Eli Seymour said he is looking forward to “making new friends and the challenging tests.”

With Grooming Gents, Harrell summarized, “We’re trying to create that sense of ‘know yourself, be aware of yourself’.”