CONWAY, Ark. – Once a month and sometimes even once a week men find themselves at the barbershop. In the Black community, the barbershop is a place to get a fresh cut and much more.

“Barbershops have historically been recognized as a place to make change, to have conversations if it’s about sports or everyday life,” Lorenzo Lewis said.

Lewis is the founder of The Confess Project, America’s first mental health barbershop movement. The organization trains barbers to be mental health advocates.

“We partner with Harvard University. They recognize that barbers can truly be mental health and suicide prevention gatekeepers,” Lewis said.

Statistics show that only one in three African Americans who need mental health care actually receive it. And most prefer to be treated by someone who looks like them, which is difficult when Black psychologists only make up about four percent of the psychology workforce.

Lewis said he discovered the need for more black mental health advocates when he suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness and landed in jail. He said The Confess Project works toward shattering the stigma surrounding mental health and wants to eliminate the idea that Black men have to always be strong.

“We’re here to help Black men see that they can be vulnerable, that they can be whole, that they can be celebrated and this is an opportunity for them to see their lives thrive in many ways,” Lewis said.

While The Confess Project was founded in Arkansas, its reach goes much further. Since 2016, the program has trained more than 1,000 barbers in over 40 cities across multiple states. One of those barbers is Christopher Hitch at Picture Perfect Barbershop in Conway.

“That is really something that goes on in the black community, mental health issues, and it being such a serious topic and we just wanted to be a part of it to play our part and just help where we could,” Hitch said.

Because of the nonprofit’s great work, Rainwater, Holt & Sexton honored The Confess Project with the Difference Makers Award and a $1,000 donation.