With five weeks left until the presidential election, there is a concerted effort underway to get people registered to vote. Shape Up the Vote is a campaign targeting barbershops in an effort to get more African American males engaged in voting. Gee's Clippers in Milwaukee's Bronzeville neighborhood is the first barbershop in the country to inaugurate the initiative.
On Monday, the first 50 people in the door walked away with a free haircut and, if eligible, registered to vote. Owner Gaulien “Gee” Smith says there will be many events like this running up to the election to get the word out about the importance of voting, especially in the African American community.
Nationwide, the U.S. Census found Black voter turnout was 59.6% in 2016 — the lowest since 2000. The voter turnout drop among African Americans last election cycle is one reason Smith turned his barbershop into a voter engagement hub Monday.
"Voting is extremely important. We have to be part of the process. And unfortunately, for a lot of us, we weren't taught that. I know, for me, when I was younger, I never was taken to the polls with my mom or dad, or anyone for that matter, so I was not so much involved or had knowledge of the process," says Smith.
In an effort to change that, Smith offered free cuts to get people to walk through the door and receive information about voter registration. The buzz brought in a man named Antonio. He had never been to the barbershop before but said he was there to support what he saw as an amazing initiative. Sitting in the barber’s chair with a barbershop cape draped in front of him, Antonio has one message for those reading this story: "Get out and vote."
In Milwaukee during the last presidential election, it’s estimated by The New York Times that 93,000 eligible Black voters didn’t cast their ballot. That’s in a state where President Trump won by a razor-thin margin of less than 23,000 votes.