A Frankfort, Kentucky, Kiwanian uses his barbershop to build community and help area kids.
Story and photos by Alton Strupp
A thick Saturday morning fog rolls off the Kentucky River as the sweet smell of fermenting bourbon fills the air. It’s just after 7 a.m. in Frankfort, Kentucky, a stone’s throw from the famed Buffalo Trace Distillery, and the buzz of a barber’s clippers is already running steady.
“For me, a haircut is more than just a haircut,” says master barber and Kiwanis member Moe Shands. “It’s a way of life. If you give someone a good haircut, it makes them feel good about themselves. A man can come in here and be down and out, get a new haircut and change his whole persona.”
Shands, whose small frame is overshadowed by a large grin and boisterous personality, has been a barber in the community for more than 10 years. He has watched from behind his barber chair as boys have grown into young men, looking to be a role model to each that has taken a seat.
Clientele, like Ben Blackburn, 20, have been coming to Moe Shands Barber Shop for haircuts since they were young teens. “He’s like family for real. It’s more than just getting a haircut,” Blackburn says.
Over the years, Blackburn has had his own struggles at times, but Shands’ barbershop has always been a positive environment.
“I’ve been coming since I was 12, and I’ve been getting in a lot of trouble in my life,” Blackburn says. “But he’s always been a positive role model for me. Sometimes I listen, sometimes I don’t, but he’s always right.”
Around the barbershop there’s a common catchphrase: “Come in and get your head right.”
For young men like Blackburn, this phrase often has a double meaning.
“That’s equal. He gets my hair right just as much as he gets my head right,” he says.
Throughout the community, Shands feels there’s a shortage of black male and male role models for the youth. He was approached in 2015 by Frankfort Kiwanis member Ed Poe, who noticed Shands’ positive influence on the shop’s customers and invited the him to a meeting.
“I went to three Kiwanis meetings, and I could tell they weren’t just talking it. They were doing it,” Shands says. “Dealing with the youth that I cut is such a big part of who I am. I feel like I can inspire them to be more than what they see.”
Shands himself grew up one of seven children on a small farm in Nicholasville, Kentucky. His mother and stepfather, as well as his father, instilled discipline, waking Moe and his siblings at 5 a.m. for breakfast before helping neighbors with hay, cattle and tobacco.
“Sharing is caring. That’s what Kiwanis means,” Shands says. “I can still remember those big breakfasts and lunches that (the neighbors) would make for all of us when we’d help them. It was cool as a kid, knowing you were out working for people, but they were taking care of you at the same time.”
He may have learned the value of hard work from the farm, but he learned the art of cutting hair from his cousin, Gary Overstreet.
“He used to have a line of kids in the kitchen,” Shands says. “He was a big role model, not just for me, but the generations ahead of me.”
Overstreet, an active Army serviceman and father of four, was lost to a motorcycle accident when Shands was just 15. The elder cousin’s life left lasting imprints on Moe, who later would spend six years in the U.S. Marines and eventually take up the clippers full-time. Shands still wears a camo barbers bib today in support of servicemen.
“I’m military every day,” Shands says. “It gave me the ethic to know that I can adapt and overcome almost any situation. I really try to put that in kids. Even when you have obstacles in your way, everything can be overcome.”
For Shands, foundation is key. “I got here because I worked hard and my parents put that foundation in me. Foundation is religion and your morals. Your belief in what is right,” Shands says. “If you put hard work in, you can be successful at anything you want in life.”
He often puts in 12-hour work days in his shop, rarely stopping to take a break from a constant stream of customers. He gives thanks to God and his wife of 20 years, Mia Shands, for her support.
“She’s the one that inspired me to go to barber school,” he says. “She’s helped me make my name bigger than I ever thought it would be.”
Much like what Shands saw in his first Kiwanis club meetings, he looks to walk the walk to support the ethics he imparts to his clients—from giving marriage advice to young men like Willie Smither, who sat for a cut the day before his wedding, to instilling work ethic among those who have yet to think that far ahead.
“What can I do for you today, little man?” Shands asks as T.J. Shuck climbs up into the chair. “How are you paying for this? Do you have a job?”
“My mom’s paying for it. I don’t have a job!” The eight-year-old responds with confusion.
“Well, I guess you better start doing some chores,” says Shands.
This story originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Kiwanis magazine.