Brian “Frog” Britt has a childhood story that’s not easy to share. Once hearing it, one might grasp how resilience and faith guided him towards becoming the first Black man in Wisconsin to own and operate a barber college.
Inspire Barber College, located inside the East Towne Mall in Madison, opening this fall. It can accommodate up to 50 students ages 16 and up. While any can sign up, Britt admits he’s mostly targeting disconnected youth, or those society has turned their back on.
“I’m really doing this as an alternative program for the youth,” said 41-year-old Britt. “Many of these kids in alternative schools won’t play basketball professionally or don’t want to become engineers. But most of them are really good with working with their hands.
“When they guys are getting out of prison, they can’t receive financial aid, and not having financial aid limits them from going into the trade of barbering. So, they end up cutting hair illegally in the shops or in the house. And I want to help change that,” Britt added.
Britt has been in their shoes before and wants his successes in life to serve as a vessel of hope and inspiration for others.
By Any Means Necessary
Born into poverty, Britt was raised on the mean streets of Chicago. An apartment inside the Ida B. Wells Housing Project was home. The refrigerator, decorated with a bullet hole from a random shooting, was often empty, except for cheese and sandwich spread. So, Britt, the only son — and therefore, man of the house — slang drugs to help feed his three sisters and mother.
Decaying bodies lay in trash cans like banana peels around the playground where he shot hoops with neighborhood kids. Gang members chose whether you lived or died, day to day.
“Schools were getting shot up more than the streets,” he recalled. “The gangs took over the schools. Honestly, every day I had to run home because they were shooting up the school.”
While at home, the family’s kitchen served two purposes: to eat and style hair. Britt’s mother was a beautician. Astute to detail, and a love for drawing, Britt – who earned the nickname Frog for his large eyes – started cutting hair in the sixth grade.
“I picked up my first pair of clippers and my mom’s eyebrow pencil and started tracing designs for cuts,” Britt said. “I wore out a few of those eyebrow pencils and my mom wasn’t too happy. Back in the day everyone wanted the Nike sign or a basketball with Clyde Drexler, Magic Johnson or Dominique Wilkins’ numbers.”
Still, money wasn’t enough to keep the family together. Britt was sent to live with his grandmother where Sundays were dedicated to church. He ran away, to be closer to his mother, but found acceptance in gang life. By 13, Britt was arrested for selling heroine and was sent to the Arthur J. Audy Home, the largest juvenile jail in the world. He refers to it as a “gladiator school” because he had to fight daily to keep meals he was served.
From Prison to Praise
Smoking weed, stealing cars and selling cocaine caught up with Britt. At 21, he was sent to prison for five years. While serving time, he used his haircutting skills on the inmates. Some of the older prisoners would read the bible to him while in the barber chair. Britt was listening.
“They told me I had a God-given talent that I shouldn’t waste,” he said. “Before I knew it, gospel got me through prison. I would go to the law library and listen to Yolanda Adams and Kirk Franklin because I didn’t really know anything about the bible. I started going to bible readings on the unit and everything began to resonate. Then I began to realize I can be so much more.”
By the time Britt was released, he rejoined his family, who was now living in Wisconsin. He had no reason to return to Chicago because his running crew were all dead. Homeless, an old Chevy Malibu Wagon was home for Britt and his mother. Steadfast on turning his life around, he eventually earned a barber license from Madison Area Technical College, joined a church and found housing.
He crafted his trade by working as an apprentice for the legendary Taylor “Smitty” Smith, the first Black barber in Madison.
Using His God-Given Talents
Today, Britt is living life on purpose. He’s a minister in training at Mt. Zion Church. He is also the official barber for the Badger football team. And, he’s even changed his childhood nickname to mean “Forever Relying on God.”
Faith and confidence sparked his entrepreneur spirit, allowing him to open his own barber shop, including his current business, Inspire Barber and Beauty Salon which he opened in the fall of 2017. Sadly, several of his clients have fallen victim to senseless street racing and gun violence.
“I’ve been watching this epidemic with the kids out here stealing cars and shooting,” Britt said. “It’s been really hitting home because some of them are my clients or my clients’ kids who are getting shot or killed. We need an outlet for them. … Then it came to me, what better person to do it than the person who’s been through it.”
Funding will help Britt open this one-of-a-kind barber college. The curriculum will include nine weeks of studying theory before hitting the clinic floor. Master educators will also be on hand to teach classes in critical thinking and life-skills; money management; and how to open a bank account. Once students begin cutting hair, they will be allowed to keep cash tips.
“I want these students to be inspired,” said Britt, who has more than 10 students enrolled by press time. “I want them to be able to graduate and go out into the world and do what needs to be done, like paying taxes and opening up their own shops.”