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Can’t Knock the Hustle

This barbershop owner is turning his turbulent past into fuel to create better futures for boys in North Philly.

 

Talib Abdul Mujib, owner of 1617 Barber Shop & Beauty Salon, has been hustling since he was a kid. Mujib spent much of his youth, which was split between Camden and Philadelphia, selling drugs on the street and experiencing firsthand the tension and violence between black men and law enforcement. “A lot of my friends got lost in that war,” he says. “A lot of friends lost their minds in that war. A lot of my friends were incarcerated against that war. And understand, it was a war. Against us and us against ourselves.”

Three prison stints later, he fights to offer young men other options for their futures. His barbershop, located on Cecil B. Moore two blocks from Temple’s campus, opened in 2009. When young men come into his shop looking to learn how to barber, he offers training as well as lessons in business, so that they can leave the shop with the skills to forge a successful future.

Settled into a chair in the backroom of his shop, Mujib fixes the iced out barber pole hanging from a chain around his neck and gestures around the room. “The best place to start is where this all comes from: my mother,” Mujib says. “All of this that you see, this is me; this is all what I was told to do. And in a way, this is none of what I was told because I wouldn’t have ever gotten here if I had only done what I was told by society.”

Mujib grew up with a mother who strongly supported academics. During his time in prison, Mujib took whatever courses were offered to him, including humanities classes, business classes, accounting classes, even dentistry, which Mujib still uses as an excuse to proudly list all the different types of teeth. In the end, it was barbering that really caught his attention. “Barbering gave me independence,” said Mujib. “After working in the prisons for 22 cents an hour I couldn’t have anyone lording over me anymore.”

After his final release in September 2001, Mujib spent time working and saving cash. Then, about ten years ago, he received money from a lawsuit and was able to open 1617 Barber Shop & Beauty Salon and see that dream come to fruition.

“I wanted to get, not necessarily back where I was at, but better than that,” Mujib says. “Not having to worry about the lease and not having to worry about getting shot down dead in the street hustling.”

Mujib sees his responsibilities extending outside of his shop and into the neighborhood. He knows that any outreach to the young men in the community has to offer them something in return. Instead of telling them to get off the corner and put down their guns, outreach needs to include an alternative opportunity. Sometimes they’re people he meets in the neighborhood, sometimes they’re recommended to him through friends and acquaintances, but when boys come into his shop looking to learn how to barber, Mujib takes it a step further. He comes to them not as an employer, but a person they can turn to who understands the choices they’re forced to make.

“I wanna make sure these boys know they don’t gotta go through all that I did to still make it, to still be successful,” Mujib says.

Reflecting on his turbulent upbringing, Mujib now sees the value that learning to work the hustle gave him. He turned those skills into a thriving business, but he knows that, with his help, young men can achieve the same success without experiencing the same hardships.

“For me to have become this entrepreneur, I had to go through this character building thing,” he says. “I look at it that way now because I’m living with the wisdom of it. There had to be a purpose.”

 

Photography by Madasyn Andrews

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