Although the Bronx is home to a 30% poverty rate and a high rate of crime, one person is showing kids there are other paths in life.
Charlie McCoy is a cult-survivor who found community in his local barber shop. He’s now partnering with IS 219, 3630 Third Ave., to offer that same support and mentorship to Bronx-based youth, through his foundation, The Grooming Alchemist by Artisan Barber. Currently, the program is focusing on boys, but McCoy has plans to help girls in the future as well.
The Grooming Alchemist has three primary goals: provide mentorship for kids of color, giving them the opportunity to connect with successful Black and Brown artists, entrepreneurs and public figures; offer cult survivors access to apprenticeship opportunities, to support them after leaving high-control groups; and initiate the conversation surrounding mental health for men — who are more than three times more likely to die by suicide then women.
On Nov. 12, McCoy, 38, and a couple of his barbers from the Artisan Barber, his shop in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, stopped by IS 219 where he spoke with students about business while giving several of them free haircuts.
Christos Argyros, an English as Second Language (ESL) teacher at IS 219, is friends with McCoy and helped arrange the event. Knowing that the school is in a low-income area of the South Bronx, Argyros wanted his students to learn that they can be successful and build wealth.
“For me I embrace opportunities in life, and I understand where I’m teaching and those opportunities don’t come too often for them,” Argyros told the Bronx Times.
McCoy was raised by a single mom, Flossy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. His uncle Joe, a barber, was a major influence in his life. Joe taught him the trade and by 13, McCoy was cutting hair.
“I used it as a springboard to make money and eventually it became a career,” McCoy told the Bronx Times.
As his mom was heavily involved with the Jehovah’s Witnesses church, McCoy followed suit. At age 19, they moved to Brooklyn to live at the headquarters of the church. It was there where he met his wife, became an elder and made numerous friends. His life was soon consumed — McCoy was managing a barbershop for L’Oréal and cutting hair at the church.
However, in 2014, he began to have a change in consciousness about what the church taught him.
“I began to question things, which was really unorthodox for an elder,” he said.
A year later, he was excommunicated from the church and has never been back since. According to McCoy, the church brainwashes people and doesn’t let them think freely.
Those next two years were filled with anxiety and depression as he had to leave his wife, mom and whole life behind.
“I basically had to recreate my community from scratch,” he said. “It was one of the roughest things I’ve ever done.”
Fortunately, he was cutting hair and that kept him on the right path. And with a new perspective on life, he opened the Artisan Barber in 2017 and from then on never stopped hustling. Cutting hair was easy, but now he had to manage a business. Soon, his barbershop became a second home and he eventually launched a clothing store in Manhattan, a creative agency and in 2019, his foundation.
Stuck home during the pandemic, he had to time to think. Initially, he wanted to help other ex-Jehovahs, but soon realized it was important to help young kids of color as well. When Argyros invited him to speak to the students he jumped at the opportunity. He saw the impact it had on the children and plans to return to the school on a monthly basis.
His long-term goal is to educate students on how to be businessmen, entrepreneurs, help them see other options and even take them to places in Manhattan, such as private clubs for men like Soho House and the Gentleman’s Factory.
“They can see other minorities in these places doing well,” McCoy said. “They don’t know these places exist.”
McCoy said the goal is to show these young men of color how they can be the best versions of themselves. A lot of children come from underserved areas and for many, it’s difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, he said.
“I want to give the kids a financial literacy course, I want to talk to them about ownership and entrepreneurship,” McCoy said.
Reach Jason Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.