On the final day of Black History Month, a local barber shop is celebrated for serving as a place for community gatherings.

“Not only are we Heads of State, but we care about the state of your mind. So when people come here, we’re very empathetic to them with what the cold world has to bring. Every single day, people go through a lot of things. People have bills to pay, they got their kids, and they got their jobs. When they come here, we want them to relax,” said Dwayne Giles, barber, Heads of State.

Dwayne Giles said for 14 years, members of the community have come to Heads of State in downtown Erie, but for decades, the Black community has found comfort in gathering in local barber shops.

“It was always a place of refuge where you have people to congregate and to mobilize, educate, uplift and plan — and that’s no different. It’s a key cog in our society because we don’t have many options where we can network and come together as people,” Giles added.

“The barbershop is almost like church. It should be safe and a happy place, and that’s what this is,” said David McLaurin, client.

McLaurin added that a safe space like this is needed in the Erie community. Giles, who sees generations of families from a variety of backgrounds, agrees.

“Erie needs this because you don’t have many outlets for people of color, you know? There are not many places for them to go. There are not many things that are built specifically for Black people or people in the inner city,” Giles said.

“The world needs a place where you can come and vibe and be yourself and just talk because there’s a lot of places where people are holding back,” McLaurin added. “They make you look fresh, you look nice when you go out of here and the barbers are pretty good.”

Heads of State also engage in community outreach — each year they provide Thanksgiving meals for families in need.

Giles said that at Heads of State, they work to instill values. They’re involved in youth sports programs and encourage education and nonviolent behavior.

“We use this as a platform to be able to inspire kids and let them know they have hope. There is a way out. You don’t have to do that. There are other things you. You can believe in yourself,” Giles added.

Giles also said that for him, it’s all about making people feel good about themselves.

“They get in that chair and they look in that mirror and they’re smiling, it makes my day,” Giles continued. “A person can be having a bad day and then turn around and in that 30 minutes or 45 minutes or an hour they had could set their whole day right. I’m thankful to be able to do that for somebody.”

Barbers at Heads of State said they are working on creating a “Dress for Success” event to help prepare people for upcoming job interviews.