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Rising Stars: Meet Joshua Santiago

Today we’d like to introduce you to Joshua Santiago.

Hi Joshua, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
(2015) When I enrolled into barber school, my barber instructor (Mr.Howard) would take the whole class to shelters to practice how to cut hair because none of us had experience. His method was we’re going give back to the homeless but at the same time, you guys get to learn how to cut hair. Honestly, the feeling of being able to provide a free haircut to someone that was currently homeless meant more to me then to actually receive money for it, so at that point I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. I also knew that homelessness didn’t just reside in my hometown of Philadelphia so I took it a pond myself to travel the country providing these free services to these underserved communities. (2017) The name Empoweringcuts was founded and (2020) we became an official Nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.

During the pandemic, we purchased a 32 foot mobile home created a GoFundMe account with a goal to only reach $20,000. We surpassed our goal raising over $70,000. In less than three months. The mobile barbershop is now complete. Before I became who I am today, I had it rough. I was a kid trying to find my way always feeling like I had to fend for myself because I didn’t have anyone. My mother was absent, been on drugs 30 plus years, homeless, and prostituting till this day. My father was a functional addict. My role model was my big brother but he was in the streets so taking after him led me down a dark path. Since I was neglected, I would do anything for attention which resulted in me getting expelled from middle school sent to a disciplinary school. In trouble with the law since the age of 13 all the way till the age of 25 so the past five years of my life (I’m 30) has been such a beautiful journey and I wouldn’t trade the position nor mindset I have today for anything.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Just like anything else, it can be very discouraging at times especially when your doing everything alone but it’s these beautiful people that I meet that keep me grounded.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I was working for Uber until I made the decision to take on my mission full time about a month ago. It was a leap of faith but I knew if I wanted to grow my organization to the next level, I had to at least dedicate 40 plus hours a week on the things that get poured into the organization that people don’t seem like the daily networking. What sets me apart from any other barber that provides free haircuts for individuals that’s currently experiencing homelessness is the fact that it’s deeper than just a haircut. What I mean by that is the conversations I have with them are life-changing I have been able to help countless individuals into treatment centers and reconnected them with family that they haven’t seen in years.

What would you say have been one of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
You never know what others went through to be in where there at in life today. What I mean by that is I recently met this guy that homelessness is surrounded around him having a drug addiction. The first time he ever got high (heroin) was at the age of nine with his mother. He’s now 30 but looks like he’s 50 years old and doesn’t really know any better because he didn’t have a normal childhood. Never judge a book by its cover.

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