Why I Shaved My Beard for Black History Month

Photo by Jerome Shaw
Going from Beard Gang to Baby Face for the 2016 "We Are Black History" photo series.

Any prepubescent teen worth his weight in raging hormones can attest to the pride felt when those first few whiskers begin to break through the surface of his face. From the peach fuzz above my lip to the curly hairs of my chinny chin chin, the day I could finally grow a beard was one I cherished dearly. It was an outward mark of my manhood that I wore proudly.

Over the years I’ve sported everything from a chinstrap to a goatee, but my go-to cut has been a full beard. Even if my facial foliage would never reach James Harden or Rick Ross proportions, my five o’clock shadow game has always been strong. Save for the great shaving incident of 2012 where my clipper guards were accidentally set too low, you’d be hard-pressed to find a recent photo of me without my signature scruff.

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That was until the afternoon of January 31, 2016, which would have been Jackie Robinson’s 97th birthday. As part of the Style Influencers Group’s second annual “We Are Black History” campaign, I, along with several other accomplished men of color, were gathered in a Queens, NY studio to recreate iconic images of historical Black figures. I was to be Robinson, the pioneering second baseman who broke color lines and records as the first African American to play major league baseball.

Embodying Jackie’s spirit on film was an honor, but truly recreating the famed athlete’s baby-faced profile would mean making a tough choice: Do I sacrifice my own personal grooming for the chance at making an iconic image or just settle for “close enough?”

“It’s just hair,” I replied when stylist Kristina Taylor asked if I’d consider shaving off my beard for the shoot. “Just cut it all off.”

Groomer Akeesha Edwards was surprised by my statement and leaned in closer to make sure she heard me correctly. “If I’m going to be Jackie, I got to have the clean cut,” I confirmed. “Besides, my hair grows back quickly anyway.”

As the clippers buzzed past my cheeks and down my jawline, I watched as my reflection transformed from the familiar one that looked back at me every morning to one I had not laid eyes on for years. Gone were the curly black hairs that had long silhouetted my face and in their place remained only my bare melanin, which seemed to glow thanks to a spritz of African Pride Hair, Scalp & Skin Oil Mist.

While Akeesha brushed off the freshly shorn hairs from my shoulders, she commented how I looked 10 years younger than when I first sat down. If true, that would put me at about the same age Jackie was when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. As I grabbed the blue fitted from the stylist and placed it on my head to complete my outfit, I looked in the mirror and knew immediately that I had made the right choice because in that moment I knew that I was Jackie Robinson and We Are Black History.

Check out exclusive behind the scenes footage from the Style Influencers Group’s “We Are Black History” 2016 photo shoot, presented by African Pride. Click here for a reminder of last year’s all-woman photo shoot, before visiting StyleInfluencersGroup.com to view this year’s campaign.

WRBH Final from Joseph Chea on Vimeo.

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