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A Mobile Barbershop Provides a Haven for Black Queer Clients


With rents so high, it’s never been tougher to start a small business in NYC. That can be especially true for new businesses with limited access to capital. Rebekah Robinson has this story on one black and queer barber who has found a solution by giving the salon a creative spin.

REBEKAH ROBINSON, BYLINE: Turning onto Dean Street in the Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn you see some of the usual sights: people strolling talking on their cellphones, kids playing pick-up basketball in the park in the middle of the block, and cars stand parked along each side of the street. Sticking out amongst those cars is what looks like a lemon yellow moving truck,

KENSHY DELVA: I wanted to paint it all black, but everybody was just like no, leave a yellow because it just stands out.

ROBINSON: Kenshy Delva owns the truck called the SheKenKut Mobile Salon

DELVA: my name is Kenshy. So it's kind of a play on my name.

ROBINSON: Delva has built the “salon” into the back of the truck where cargo is normally held. A floor to ceiling glass faces the back, and another window on the passenger side features the shop’s name and logo: a duafe symbol – a traditional African comb that symbolizes femininity, care, and hygiene.

On a recent Friday morning, regular customer Anthony Demetrius settles into the barber chair, and is offered a drink…

Kenshy Delva and Anthony Demetrius: What do you have to offer me? Okay so we have… the lavender was really sweet last week...

ROBINSON: Delva has been cutting Anthony’s hair every other week since last August. They don’t have to talk about his hair–she knows what he wants. The inside of the salon is small but cozy with black and white subway tiles. There’s a gold-framed round mirror that reflects the black and gold barber chair in the middle of the space. On the shelf next to the mirror, a eucalyptus-scented candle is burning.

Anthony says one reason he comes here is because Kenshy can do a sharp line.


ANTHONY DEMETRIUS: And it's, you'd be surprised as to how many barber can do a

fee but they can't just do it. Do like a straight sharp line on your head.

ROBINSON: Delva takes the clippers and runs them along Anthony Demetrius’ temple to create the line design in his hair. He says as Black gay man barbershops have always been a challenge, sometimes even a source of anxiety.

DEMETRIUS: I've been in many, many, many barber shops over the years

where I felt as if I kind of had to switch up a little bit or be like, completely silent, so that my gay doesn't show. Since you know, getting our hair done is just like such a cultural thing for us.

ROBINSON: Until a year ago, Delva was working a corporate job. But she says the job wasn’t creative, and she was bored.

DELVA: I decided to just quit my job to figure out what are some things that I could do to make myself feel like I am not working for somebody else,

ROBINSON: She’d always cut hair, for her friends and family. She always enjoyed it, and thought she might make it a profession. Also, as a black queer femme she hadn’t always felt comfortable in traditional barbershops. Barbers would suggest cuts that weren’t for her. So when she decided to open her own shop, she wanted to create the kind of space she would like to go to. Finding that space was another matter, with New York rents. Then she saw some mobile shops, and was hooked.

DELVA: To have this space means, well, for me means financial security,

creative expression, safety, not only for me, but also for my customers who have like, had bad experiences and like other shops that, you know, like, aren't curated to like the queer, like experience.

ROBINSON: When she opened the mobile salon 2 months ago, Delva had few regular clients. Since then business has been growing steadily,

DELVA: The more people see the truck and are telling other people about the truck, the clients have grown more for sure. I've been seeing a lot more new faces. Like today, I have like three new clients. And I'm excited to meet them.

ROBINSON: And the salon does attract attention, just parked on the street.

TRANAE MORAN: I didn't know what it was. I'm like, What is this? At first, it was just

like a yellow truck with a hole in it. And I'm like, what is that,

ROBINSON: Tranae Moran is a visual artist who lives in the neighborhood. She says she liked the creative take of a barbershop on wheels. And her last few visits to other barbers hadn’t gone so well.

MORAN: and like the cut wasn't bad. But it was it didn't it was a little hard for me. It was like it wasn't. It wasn't very feminine… So I was just like, that's not gonna work.

ROBINSON: So with a referral from social media, she went to Delva’s salon. She liked it so much she brought her son there too.

One challenge that comes with owning a barbershop in a truck is limited access to additional space. So Delva sets up shop next to a public park, customers can wait their turn AT a picnic table, there’s also a public bathroom nearby. Tranae Moran, also appreciates that the business is in full public view.

MORAN: it's just showing that all those kids have gone to the park to play

basketball, handball, whatever, like, just hanging out in a park they’re seeing somebody like in that same space working,

ROBINSON: Isa Abney is another regular at SheKenKut. He works in finance and he says when he comes into the Salon he can drop the front he has to put up during his day job.

ISA ABNEY: I can kind of be my like nerdy black gay self and like with a messy beard and Kenshy’s gonna take me as I am.

ROBINSON: He says coming to the salon is also a way to invest in his community.

ABNEY: I also am like a firm believer in like supporting like black queer

businesses, right? Like you have to create the community that you want, right?

ROBINSON: Delva is modest about her role in the community, and her business is still very new. But so far, she feels she's serving a need and making a living.

DELVA: It means like, I'm not trying to be an influencer or anything, but I also would like to inspire other people to see that it is possible to have different types of ownership. And also see that it is possible to just like, do something different

ROBINSON: Anthony Demetrius is just glad he found Delva. He says he feels vulnerable getting a haircut, with the barber close to his head while the clippers buzzing. To enjoy it he has to feel comfortable, with a barber who understands him and what he likes.

DEMETRIUS: It's kind of like therapy, in a sense, you know, you know, you pay a therapist to make you feel good, and you pay a barber to make you feel good.

ROBINSON: Delva already has her eye on the next location for her salon. For now, it's still across the park at 2299 Dean Street.

Rebekah Robinson, Columbia Radio News.


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