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Uptown barber 'Cutting for a Cure'

Cyril Josh Barker | 4/12/2011, 5:23 p.m.
Uptown barber 'Cutting for a Cure'

Harlem barber Dennis Mitchell, a.k.a. Denny Moe, wants to cut into your business when it comes to your health. A respected barber to the stars and community, Moe is using his business of what is known as the "Black man's country club" to advocate health awareness.

Owner of Denny Moe's Superstar Barbershop for the past four years, Mitchell, 44, has been cutting hair for almost 30 years. His shop, which has 10 barbers and sees anywhere from 200 to 300 customers on weekends, has become a neighborhood staple.

While Mitchell is fully aware of his influence in the community, he decided to put it to good use by raising awareness about health issues that affect the Black community.

But serving as a health advocate is only half the story. Mitchell began his barber career by accident.

Originally from Jamaica, Queens, he went to high school in a small town in North Carolina where he was in ROTC and on his way to an officers' ball one night. He needed a haircut and came across a pair of clippers in his mother's drawer. With no experience, he cut his own hair and began to unfold a hidden talent he never knew he had.

"I got a lot of compliments on my hair," he said. "And that was the start of it. I started cutting hair for a friend of mine and his son."

His skills became famous around the town. Mitchell was in such high demand that other barbershops who could not have him called the barber inspector on him because he was working without a proper license.

As a result, he had to appear in court under the charge of "barbering without a license" and pay a $75 fine. He continued to cut hair door-to-door for a $3 charge. A relative of his who lived in New York offered to pay his way through a six-month barber school program where he would obtain his license.

His first job in New York was a Harlem's Superstar Barbershop under legendary barber Robert Bobby Flowers. Mitchell worked at the shop for 11 years and says he learned the personal side of his craft.

He said, "Bobby taught me how to treat me customers and know who they are. At Superstar, I learned how to be a barber, not just cut hair."

After that, Mitchell stepped into stardom by cutting hair for celebrities and touring for 15 years with popular R&B musical acts of the 1990s. His first celebrity haircut was for rapper Doug E. Fresh. Other high profile clients include Keith Sweat, Bobby Brown, New Edition, Gerald Levert and Montel Jordan. He still keeps in contact and cuts hair for the stars today.

When that ended, he came back to Harlem to work at Levels Barbershop on 125th Street. He again gained so much popularity that neighborhood customers would often call the shop Denny Moe's instead of Levels. Sandra Nixon, his current business partner, asked him if he wanted to open his own shop. The dream has been fulfilled in his eyes.

"I should've done this a long time ago," he said. "My vision is everything I thought it would be."

Mitchell decided to start Cutting for Cure, a health event in June that incorporates health awareness and cutting hair. With the help of several community health partners, Mitchell provides free health screenings for diabetes, cancer, cholesterol and HIV. The event will last 48 hours and will also have entertainment.

Diagnosed with Type II diabetes earlier this year, Mitchell said that he also lost several family members and friends to cancer.

"I chose health because I wanted to help President Obama with health care reform," he said. "Cancer runs in my family. I didn't choose it; it chose me. It's in my life and I have to do as much as I can."

For more information about Cutting for a Cure, log onto www.cuttingforacure.us.