Who to Watch: O'Neil Curtis
Beyond the barbershop, you can find O'Neil Curtis mentoring youth on barbering at local high schools, on the basketball court, in meeting rooms, and in front of a library of children's books.
O’Neil Curtis grew up in Baton Rouge’s Mall City where he directly experienced the impact of the 1980s crack epidemic, seeing how poverty, addiction, violence, incarceration, trauma and community disinvestment, impacted friends, family, neighbors. As a child, he moved frequently, changing schools regularly. He credits his Merrydale Elementary second grade teacher as well as meeting his father at age 12 with changing his life’s trajectory. Curtis had dreams of being a barber and entrepreneur from an early age. In the 11th grade, he began a barber school through a dual enrollment program offered at Glen Oaks High. Three years after graduating he opened his own barbershop which has been in operation at 449 North Acadian for 17 years.
At 40 years old, Curtis is the owner of O’Neil’s Barber & Beauty Salon, Truck Driver and owner of Always on Time Transportation Co. He is a mentor, father, and founder of Line4Line, a creative literacy nonprofit that uses books with art to excite, empower, and get kids interested in reading and learning.
Meet O’Neil Curtis, one of The Drum’s eight persons to watch in 2022.
Moves made since 2019: In 2019, Curtis established Always on Time Transportation Company; Received Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation’s Angel Award in 2019; Founded the Angel Coalition to begin work on the Youth City Lab a youth-centered program space made up of Line4Line, Big Buddy, Front Yard Bike and Humanities Amped; Started an in-school high school barber-entrepreneur class at Capitol High and expanded in 2021 to Thrive Academy. In Summer of 2020, Line4Line started free summer programming for children which transitioned in the fall to be in-person remote learning program for working parents. Since 2019 O’Neil and his team of barbers have given out more than 2,000 haircuts to boys ages 3-15 for reading; given more than 500 supply filled backpacks to families as part of the annual back to school giveaway; collected and rehomed more than 6,000 books to families, community groups and schools. Worked with the Conscious Kid, an education, research, and policy organization that supports families and educators in taking action to disrupt racism, inequity, and bias to give more than 2,500 books celebrating BIPOC stories into every East Baton Rouge Parish public elementary school. In 2021, started a creative literacy program that currently takes place at Merrydale Elementary; engaged more than 200 youth in mentoring programs and hosted a summer youth employment job training program. Established a youth bowling program and the Line4Line Clippers, a youth basketball league, led by his team of barbers. Kept barbershop open throughout.
What to expect in 2022 from you: Keeping the work going, expanding my trucking business, and providing support to people and kids who need it most. Continue to cut hair. Launching a Line4Line mobile program that will provide free books, creative learning at community outreach events, and bring the Haircut for Reading program to students in our local schools. Creating programs that respond to the need of our immediate community. Bringing opportunities into areas of our city that have been neglected. Completing renovation of the Youth City Lab on Government Street which will include a Line4Line barbershop, community lending library, and program space.
Personal resolution for 2022: To try to help as many kids as a way to stop street violence
Life/business motto: Be honest to myself, help as many people as I can, create provide opportunities for youth to thrive.
Business resolution: Keep expanding work, keep getting things done
What is your #1 priority right now: My daughter, O’Nya. I want to make sure she graduates from high school with a scholarship to go to college.
Best advice you’ve ever received: Keep at it, even when people tell you that you can’t do it. Don’t give up, stay motivated and keep a good attitude no matter what’s going on around you. Trust yourself.
What do you want people to remember/know most about you? That I am an honest and caring person, and if anyone needs help I am here.
Role Models: Jesus Christ, my father, my big brother David Curtis
What has been a deciding moment or an experience that pushed you forward--especially during the coronavirus pandemic? Individuals telling me the world would shut down, yet because I had experienced so much hardship early in my life I knew how to survive and pivot and make things work..
What music are you listening/dancing to? J. Cole
What are you reading? 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, The Art of Respect by J. Prince Jr. and Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki.
What’s entertaining you? Working out, boxing, watching documentaries, spending time with my daughter.
Social media: @oneilsbarbershop
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