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‘A hangout spot with the right people’: NYPD Community Affairs talks shop with youth at Astoria barbershop

Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Mar. 15, 2024 By Gabriele Holtermann

Patrol Borough Queens North Community Affairs is hosting Shop Talk, a mentoring group for teenage boys, at Hell Gate Grooming barber shop at 26-18 21 Street in Astoria.

The young men, who are between the ages of 12 and 18, have been meeting Wednesdays for an open discussion with NYPD community affairs officers, motivational speakers, and business owners. The sessions were organized for the month of March.

The program aims to introduce the juveniles to different career opportunities, invest in the stock market, prepare them for jobs, and teach them life skills like dressing for success or what a proper handshake looks like. The cops also view the relaxed barber shop atmosphere as a safe space and a way to have an open dialogue between law enforcement and young people and to foster the relationship between the two groups.

The program is in its second year, and NYPD Queens North Community Affairs Detective Haaris Hamid, the program’s co-organizer with Police Officers Monestine, Avila, Quealy, and Dibartolo, shared it was a collective idea between him and the Community Affairs team.

Barbershop owner Stephen Barreto, Det. Hamid, Inspector Perry, and P.O. Monestine pose for a photo op. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“When we were brainstorming, we came up with an idea where it’s more comfortable for them, where we have a space for them to openly speak to us and come up with ideas or any type of discussion that they would like to have and also offer them opportunities which they may not get anywhere else, and bring in speakers who have a background other than law enforcement,” Hamid explained.

Hamid said they are also working with a couple of barbershops that offer apprenticeships to those interested.

“When we partner with the barber shop, they do offer at least one person who they’re willing to take on as an apprentice, and we do have a distribution company that’s willing to sponsor that child or the young man with their own with their own barbershop station at the barbershop as well,” Hamid explained.

This week’s guest speakers included NYPD Inspector Victoria Perry, executive officer of the NYPD’s Community Affairs Bureau, former NFL player Tony Richardson, sisters and entrepreneurs Nicole and Hailey Landin of All The Right, a sneaker store in Corona, and clinical psychologist Manuel Magnant.

Det. Hamid Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Perry told QNS the program was a win-win for the community and a way for NYPD Community Affairs to engage young people who might go down the wrong path.

“You have youth that is building relationships with police, but at the same time, you’re learning a skill set that’s going to see them forward in the future,” Perry said about the program. “We want that relationship and the kids to excel.”

Addressing the young people, Perry said that the task of community affairs was to let young people know that they can talk to cops like human beings.

NYPD Inspector Victoria Perry said the program was a win-win for the community and the NYPD. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“I’m from Queens,” Perry said. “When I get take off my [uniform], I’m dressed just like you. When I have my Saturdays, Sundays off, I’m going places just like you. I like basketball games, football games, parties, clubs, bars, restaurants, just like you, and we want to let you know that we’re here.”

Richardson, who played for the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets, among others, said that as a kid, he was overweight and suffered from allergies and a heart murmur. He overcame his childhood struggles with a positive attitude and persistence, began playing football in high school, and received a football scholarship to Auburn University in Alabama.

Richardson, who looks back on a 17-year NFL career, told the teenagers that hard work paid off, that life was about choices, and that they should choose to study instead of giving in to the pressure of friends to hang out and smoke a joint or worse.

“That’s what you guys got to do,” Richardson said. “Because everybody’s going to create pressure in your life. So that pressure hit, and you got to make that decision. It’s tough. It’s tough to say no.”

Richardson reminded the young people that “the goal post might be narrower” because of their zip code but to keep their eyes on the prize.

Besides talking shop, the young men also had a chance to get their hair cut. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“Every single person in life that has made it, they failed miserably a lot of times. You fail, but you understand, I can fix this, and let me change that,” Richardson said.

Nicole and Hailey Landin learned about entrepreneurship from their dad, who opened the store 25 years ago. They shared that it took their dad 14 years to score the Nike account.

“Just because somebody keeps telling you no, that does not mean you have to stop at all,” Nicole Landin said. “Just push harder, push harder, push harder. Maybe one job isn’t good enough. Try a different route, try a different way of doing things. Try to ask anybody and everybody to get you where you need to be.”

Hailey Landin, a self-taught photographer and videographer, said networking was crucial for advancing career-wise.

“I’ve gotten jobs based off of who I know. People will just recommend me to certain things and brands,” Landin said.

Magnant told the teenagers that he turned to psychology because he “hated math” and didn’t want to look at statistics. Magnant works with teenagers because he identifies with the age group.

“It brings me a lot of satisfaction,” Magnat said. “The fact that people can trust the process. Even if situations cannot be fixed, you can at least give some companionship; you can be there, and that is again valuable for teenagers.”

Fourteen-year-old Xavier Nieves lives in the Ravenswood Project. It was Nieves’s first time attending the talk, but he said he would come more often.

The teenagers said Shop Talk is a good learning experience. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“I think this is better for me. Better than staying up in the mix, don’t be getting in trouble,” Nieves said. “It’s like a hangout spot but just with the right people. The right place at the right time.”

Nieves learned that he had options.

“You don’t have to just stick to one thing,” Nieves said. “You could hop from major to major. If you want to be a doctor, but if you lose interest in that, be an artist. Do something beneficial, something that could benefit you in the future.”

Orel Vashdi, 17, from Bayside learned about the program through NYPD P.O. Mateusz Barianowski. He felt it was a good learning experience for everyone who needed to figure out what they wanted to do in the future.

“I think it’s good for your maturity level, too,” said Vashdi, who is considering a career in law enforcement, the military, or business.

For the owner of Hell Gate Grooming, Stephen Barreto, it’s all about giving back to the community, and programs like Shop Talk keep young people off the street.

“At the end of the day, as we all know, the street is no good,” Barreto said. “We just give these young kids the same, you know, motivation to not do the things that we went through because it’s, you know, at the end of the day, it’s just, we don’t want to see these kids ruining their lives.”

Young men interested in joining Shop Talk can contact P.O. Monestine at (917) 288-3587, Det. Nugent at (917) 355-8394, or Det. Hamid at (917) 626-9447.

 

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