The work of Visionary Youth began in 2012, organized by Kwabena (KB) Mensah, owner of Oasis Barbershops in Lincoln and veteran barber of more than 25 years, and Dr. Lawrence Chatters, clinical therapist and leading local expert on mental health care for minority youth and strategies incorporating diversity, equity and inclusion into public education systems. Born out of the barbershop environment, a hub of the minority community in Lincoln, Visionary Youth was formed to provide culturally relevant programming to youth and families in need that supports minority youth to reach their full potential.
We began with the 1st Annual Free Haircut and Backpack Event in 2012, an opportunity for youth to enter the new school year with a fresh cut, backpack and school supplies along with a connection to their peers and positive adult role models that share their cultural experience. The impact on the confidence, self-efficacy, and motivation of young people involved in the event quickly became apparent and, with the support of a network of Lincoln barbers and community partners, the effort became an annual event that has grown from serving 75 youth to 1000 youth each year.
Recognizing the impact of challenges faced by low income families on the potential of youth to excel, Visionary Youth expanded programming in 2018 to include two additional events each year, the Community Holiday Food Giveaway and the Holiday Gift Giveaway. Held during particularly challenging times of the year for low-income families, the Holiday Food Giveaway and Holiday Gift Giveaway provide youth and their families with support for positive familial experiences and opportunities to celebrate and carry on traditions despite financial challenges. Each of the events to date has served 500-900 families each year.
In 2019, Visionary Youth began development of programming aimed to formalize the informal mentorship and positive impact of the barbershop experience for young people of color in the Mentoring in New Dimensions (MIND) program. A combination barbershop mentoring and peer group counseling program, MIND employs committed barbers trained in trauma-informed youth mentoring best practices and minority therapists committed to decreasing the stigma surrounding counseling and limited access to culturally relatable therapists for minority youth. In 2021, Visionary Youth purchased the MIND Mobile Barbershop, a fully customized 36 ft bus designed specifically for the MIND program and full implementation of the program will begin in 2022.
In 2021, Visionary Youth acquired space for the Visionary Youth Community Hub, directly connected to Oasis Barbershop, and currently being remodeled to open fully in Fall 2022. The VY Community Hub will house staff offices, access for youth and families to information and assistance in connecting to community resources, educational opportunities for youth including STEM and arts learning along with academic tutoring, educational opportunities for families including parenting and financial education and coaching, access to youth counseling through the VY network of minority therapists, and more.