ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Patrick Jenkins has barbering in his blood, starting from the time a neighbor gave him a hair clippers that he proudly wielded on the older men in the neighborhood.
Jenkins was only 12, but he earned a reputation in his southern Louisiana hometown for having a “steady hand.”
“The older guys said, ‘let that little boy cut your hair because he’s got a steady hand,'” says Jenkins, owner of A Better U Beauty and Barber Academy. “They would give me money and would let me drink beer with them.”
Jenkins wears the childhood description on a T-shirt he keeps at the expansive Northeast Heights building he purchased two years ago. It houses the students who attend his beauty and barber academy, as well as a salon where they practice on customers at a discounted rate.
Jenkins has been cutting hair at several locations in Albuquerque since he opened his first shop in 1992, when he was 26.
In the years since, he’s also made time for coaching basketball at the YMCA, acting as first assistant to the bishop at New Hope Full Gospel Baptist Church and occasionally giving motivational talks.
Jenkins has even done a little stand-up comedy.
His routines at the African-American Performing Arts Center, the National Hispanic Cultural Center and other venues are mostly “just stories,” he says.
Some are based on his early years growing up poor as a “water baby” near the Gulf of Mexico. Others are about “people getting haircuts (and) how we are about our hair” or “being on the city bus trying to get home.”
“I love to laugh,” Jenkins says. “I love people. I was voted the most favorite guy in high school in 1983.”
How did you shift from owning a barber shop to starting a school?
“I was a barber for 15 years before I opened the school. It was so difficult finding barbers, and so I took it upon myself to recruit people and train them myself in the shop. Long story short, after going through a few guys, I thought, ‘You know what? If I’m going to do this, I might just as well open a school.’ But I was just talking. I ain’t got that kind of money. I finally went (to the bank), and they gave me $40,000 … and that day I was so excited, I lost my mind. I started with two students, and now we’ve graduated over 300 students. I have 100 barbers working in Albuquerque, and we’ve had 48 barbers that have come out of this school that have their own businesses, from Santa Fe to Socorro. I’m very proud of that.”
What was your childhood like?
“My mom had nine kids. I’m the baby. They (older siblings) said I had the best life, and I thought I had a very poor life. My mama would say, ‘I can’t afford to get you leather shoes.’ She never had money, so my older sisters were always buying things for me. My mama just could never afford to do that. You know, I dealt with it. It made me a better man today.”
What do you do in your free time?
“I love to read, I love studying. I’m a believer. I study a lot of theology. Then I realized I wasn’t getting my vision and my message over to my people. It’s easier when it’s just you, and you know what you have to do. But when you have to translate that message to someone else, sometimes in the translation it gets confused. And so I started studying leadership. Leadership’s been with me all my life. My mama was a great leader in the community. She was a giver, and I love to give. It does something to me when I help people. It took me awhile to realize that.”
Do you have a favorite example of someone you’ve helped?
A student said, ‘Man, I just want you to know, thank you for not giving up on me.’ And it touched me, because he was a difficult student. I went through a lot with him. I had to realize that these young men, a lot of them, they go through so much. They have kids, they have pressure on them. They come here and sometimes they explode, and so we have to deal with that. For me, I didn’t have a father growing up. He wasn’t in my life, so for a long time it bothered me, and I went through a state of depression. I went to get therapy and snapped out of that, and now I help young men. And they look up to me as a father.”
What’s a splurge for you?
“A new pair of shoes.”
Tell me about a dream you have for the future.
“One of my dream ideas is to coach high school (basketball). I’m one of those types of people – I just believe I can do anything. I think it came from my mama. She had a seventh-grade education. She was one of the sharpest women I’ve ever met.”
What’s your perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement and the push for change?
“It’s very hard because I have to live with reality. I know a lot of times I’m judged based on the color of my skin, but I grew up with love. Rodney King said something that sticks in the back of my head when he got beat by those (Los Angeles) police: ‘Can we all get along?’ I have a son that’s 22 years old. I have another son that’s 24 years old, and I would never want that to happen to him. At the same time, I don’t want that to happen to your son. It’s hard, me being a Black person. I tell my students, ‘I can’t change who I am and … and I wouldn’t want you to change who you are.’ A lot of things are going on, but at the end of the day you gotta love people and forgive people and so that’s been my stand. If you start looking at people in the wrong light – it’s hard enough just living, isn’t it?”