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CHICAGO-Abdul Karim, owner of the Hyde Park Barber Studio, scoffs at the notion that Barack Obama is an elitist. Before opening his small business a year and a half ago, Karim, along with most of his barbers, worked at another shop in town where the senator’s been getting trims for well over a decade. They all know him from their years cutting heads there and describe him as quite the opposite.

“Barack has such a low-key, down-to-earth demeanor,” says Karim, 40, who has known Obama for about 15 years. “He’s approachable, easy to talk to, and you can relate to him. But he’s always been special. You know when you meet a regular guy, but at the same time you know this guy is somebody? Barack’s like that.”

Barber Darryl Morgan, 41, remembers talking sports with Obama and joking around when he came in for haircuts. “After he announced his candidacy for president, I told him I wanted to be head of security and to have an office in the Lincoln bedroom. He just told me I was silly,” he says with a laugh. But Morgan gets serious when talk turns to Obama’s policy. “I need a break right now, and I believe his plan and his policies are going to do that for a lot of people. If he wins, it’s going to change the world.”

With the shop’s TV tuned in to CNN, barber Naseem Abdul-Majid says that Obama’s campaign has been a hot topic in the shop for the past several months. “You hear all different sides in the barbershop,” he says while clipping a customer’s hair. “Do we really think Barack is going to do something that’s going to make a change, for example. We talk about, if he becomes president, what we expect, what will we get, and if it’s really going to be good for us. It’s going to very interesting.”

Karim feels confident that Obama will win the election, and says that the prospect holds special meaning for the young Black men. “It’s going to put an image of hope in front of the Afro-American male that we have never seen before,” he says. “I think that young man who may have had aspirations to be an NBA player or some type of entertainer may now think, ‘Maybe I can be president of the United States.’ Before he may not have had such a grandiose aspiration.”

Sitting in the barber chair, 19-year-old Bradford Black says Obama has already inspired him. “I was a Senate page three years ago and had the opportunity to work with him in the Senate,” says Black, a student at the University of Chicago studying political science. “It’s been huge to have a role model like him who has gone so far, and who really went from the bottom up. It just shows that anything’s possible.”