Michael R. Hooks grew up in a single-parent home. His mother never had a job and never owned a house or a car. Hooks says his family was a product of the welfare system, and he recalls being surrounded by people who barely scraped by.
“As a young kid, I can remember vividly not having the things I needed to start the school year, (so) I didn’t want to go to school,” says Hooks, now 48.
These memories — along with many factors — are what drove Hooks to start giving free haircuts to students before the first day of school 14 years ago. Already the owner of Michael’s Hair Salon, Hooks saw it as a small way he could help the community in a way he knew how. Haircuts soon turned into giving away backpacks, which turned into filling packs with school supplies, which turned into a communitywide family resource fair.
In August, Hooks will hold his 14th annual Back-to-School Free Haircut Day as well as his third annual Family Resource Fair. Last year, more than 1,000 participants and about 60 agencies were involved in the Family Resource Fair. Free dental exams, immunizations, physicals and vision screenings were offered in the past. This year, Hooks hopes to teach people about the Affordable Care Act, offer CPR certification, teach people urban farming and how to cook healthy meals on a low-income budget.
In many ways Hooks still identifies with the reluctant elementary-school student who goes to class in hand-me-down clothes, unsure where he’ll eat dinner and just wanting enough paper and pencils to get through the day.
“When you’re young, you’re vulnerable, and if there’s no one there to care for you, anything could happen to you,” Hooks says.
“We don’t ask for parents who don’t work or parents that use drugs — as a kid, we don’t ask for those things, but as a kid there’s nothing we can do about them. But if you can come along and give those kids — those people — a hand, a new way of looking at life, a better understanding — ultimately that’s what I believe (in).”
Despite the local fame Hooks has experienced, he still hates the spotlight. In fact, when people first approached him years ago to interview him, Hooks turned them down.
“I never wanted the focus to be on me,” Hooks says. “I don’t think people take into account that, yeah, I’m the focus, but there are so many people behind me, so many people that believed in me, … people who help out. I couldn’t do any of these things without those people.”
Whether it’s the people who help him, the people he helps, or the people who look to him for encouragement and advice, Hooks is motivated by them all.
That’s what Hooks loves about his job — the people, the opportunity to connect with people and to bring people together in a meaningful way.
Cutting hair or running a snow removal business might not sound like the most glamorous job, but Hooks counts his businesses as a major success.
“Success is not where you are in life, it’s what you had to go through to get where you are,” he says. “It’s not about trying to match yourself up to anybody else. It’s about taking what life has given you and making the very most of it.” LEL
By Lydia Laythe