South Bay barbershop opens unique dialogue on race relations

Staff members at San Jose State University and a barber shop owner have partnered up in a project to help minority students stay in college and to stay safe.

The group meets every other Wednesday for life lessons and dialogue.

They gather at Barbers Inc. in downtown San Jose. The students talk about current trending topics including the two recent police killings in Tulsa and Charlotte.

"We can't seem to escape a black person, usually male, getting killed by police and making national news. It's almost impossible," says Jahmal Williams is assistant director of tutorial services for San Jose State.

He came up with the idea of getting students together at a barber shop— a safe space to have frank conversations.

"Why does it have to be violent when it comes to us we're looked at as a threat," says one student as they gathered in a circle to talk.

The group is made up of San Jose State students, from freshman to seniors.

They ask complex questions, such as why the suspect of the terrorist attacks in New York and New Jersey is alive, but a black man whose car broke down in Tulsa was killed by police.
"Are you saying we're worse than a terrorist? " asked a student in the group.

"It makes you angry, it makes you sad. It makes you want to do something. It makes you anxious to see change," says Danny McLeane, a senior at San Jose State.

The students receive a free haircut while finding ways to be part of the solution.

"It kills me that we sit here and complain about the police but we're not part of the criminal justice process, making laws or becoming officers," says David Armstead, a senior at San Jose State.

Two weeks ago, the students met with San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia, campus police chief and six officers.

They say it was a productive dialogue about fears of the black community and the fears of police.

The students also reacted to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's support of stop and frisk. They say it only promotes police bias.

"Whether you're innocent or not, you're just going to be stopped and checked, which is not going to be a good mindset for the young people growing up," said Shishay Sebhatu,  a San Jose State junior.
They say change takes time. But there is hope. The babershop talks can help find answer

"Taking the responsibility into our own hands because we're more than capable," says Danny McLane. The group plans to meet with San Jose Police again to continue the dialogue.