Leadership Within the Barbershop:
The Importance of Mentorship
Interview with Dr. Lumumba Quow, DPB, and Dr. Sundiata Morris, DPB



Dr. Lumumba Quow, DPB
Dr. Sundiata Morris, DPB

Leaders are the pillar of the community and it takes a special person to have the drive and tenacity to up live that responsibility. it takes a village to raise a child, it is that keeps the world going around and around because we care about all the lives that are broken.

CUT MY CITY Is designed to put an inspirational and motivational energy in the communities, for the people to develop a desire to deal with themselves. This is where we go into the communities giving free haircuts weekly for the homeless, less fortunate families, disabled vets, and the elderly. We will be promoting literacy and resources that will provide information to uplift and give individuals a sense of pride within themselves while they are being cleaned up. Reading material will also be provided as well as live readings to assure understanding to impact oneself. A bag per child will be full of resources that will not only strengthen his or her mind but will give a start in development and also motivate their lifestyles and embrace their differences.

Interview with The Barbers: Dr. Lumumba Quow, DPB, and, Dr. Sundiata Morris, DPB


Read the Interview Transcript

Hugh Ballou: Greetings everyone. It’s Hugh Ballou with The Nonprofit Exchange. It’s a show we’ve done for eight years; this is episode #310. We have some amazing guests today. I have known these gentlemen for a while. Since the last time we talked, they have raised the bar on their performance and are inspiring a lot of people. I like my guests to tell you who they are. A little bit about your background. What is the message you want them to walk away with today? Lumumba, please tell us who you are, your background, and what you want people to experience today.

Dr. Lumumba Quow: My name is Lumumba Quow. I am originally from Trinidad and Tobago. My background is I was ex-military in the United States Navy. I have been a barber my entire life. I am now a doctor in the profession of barbery, where I help people with hair loss issues.

I am a great community leader as well. Community leadership is my biggest thing right now because my mom was once that person back home. She took care of the community. Without community leaders, there would be fewer leaders in the world. My background has put me up to this point, where I can literally help people, give back to people, and show people how to give back to people because of my lifelong experiences.

I really would like to inspire you all, to let you know how to unite, how to come together as one, and how to help each other. The way we can do that is the things I fail on, you are better at. To be able to help me with that so I can make my better, great. It’s just a matter of unity and coming together as one. This is my support on community leadership and leadership in nonprofits.

Hugh: So great. Sundiata, how about you?

Dr. Sundiata Morris: I’m Dr. Sundiata Morris. I’m a professional barber, life coach, and author. I have been in the profession for over 25 years. One of the biggest things to bring today is impacting people. My biggest job is to see people improve in every way they can possibly improve when it comes to mind, body, and soul. It’s important that if we can improve the way we think, we can improve as individuals and make better decisions as people. We can start coming together. The plan I have will coincide with the plan Dr. Lumumba has. We will merge together to become better people.

Hugh: Love it. We’re all in the South. You came from somewhere else, but I grew up in the South. You’re in North Carolina. I’m a Tarheel by birth. We have our own twist to the language of English: We say, “None of us is as smart as all of us.” This thing of collaborating and working together magnifies that. As you all know, I’m a conductor. When an instrumentalist plays in an orchestra, they don’t give up their skill. They enhance their skill working with others. They do things we can’t do by ourselves.

Before I forget, I want to tell people about your website. It is CutMyCity.org. Tell people what they’ll find when they go there.

Dr. Lumumba: You can go to the Gallery and see what’s been done. You can donate monetary gains there. It pretty much has a history of everything we’ve done over the years, showing the actual work that has been done. For some reason, we love putting pictures of the people who have contributed their time. People love to see themselves, to see they were a part of a great organization. This site was based on the fact of our foundation within the barber and beauty industry that we are in right now. We are in this forever. This is my life. This is what I do. We saw a need for giving those services for people.

Dr. Sundiata: One thing I enjoy is we were able to collaborate with thousands of barbers from different states and countries. They will fly in to go to the areas where attention was needed with single moms and less fortunate kids. That was a big part of how we came together with Cut My City. That’s what makes it more glorifying for me.

Hugh: There’s more than you in this movement?

Dr. Sundiata: Definitely.

Dr. Lumumba: Yes, it’s a community.

Hugh: What do people experience when you do your work? What does it look like? It’s more than cutting hair, isn’t it?

Dr. Lumumba: Yes. We saw a need for where a single mom or dad would come into a barber shop and want to get their kids haircuts for going back to school. They couldn’t really afford to pay for that child. After the pandemic, prices of haircuts have gotten outrageous for a person getting that service. You have a single mom with four or five kids who needs hair services from haircuts to girls getting their hair done. She can’t afford it after buying books and getting the kids prepared for school.

We created this organization as the moving part that Dr. Sundiata and myself saw to put us in the business. We need to create this thing. People can help people to give free haircuts back to kids, the needy, the disabled, the veterans, the elderly. These people can’t do it. A haircut gives a person a sense of pride. It brings out the person. It makes that person feel who they really are. It gives you armor and strength. It brings so much joy to see the happy faces when we do these events. To see the parents cry and the kids happy, they feel like they are in a playland. “Oh, Mom, it’s so beautiful here.” We have haircuts. We have community leaders giving kids stuff for back to school and aftercare programs. Different things of that nature. It’s very intense. I feel so good. I love it.

Dr. Sundiata: The beautiful side of Cut My City now is we won’t be doing it for just one day again. We will be doing it at least four times a month. We will take off on the weekends and go into the areas to help all of the kids. A lot of times, we have issues with transportation, where the kids couldn’t make it to where we were. We decided to create the transportation for them. We put the barber business on a bus and are taking it to them now. We will still be able to give them the resources. We will also be providing a literacy program. They will also be able to get a slight physical to make sure their health is on top of their game.

Hugh: I’m hearing several themes. Helping them have access to healthcare, which they may not have. Helping them get to where the help is. Giving them a feeling of satisfaction and pride that they have a better appearance. You mentioned mentorship in the information you gave me. The other piece is you have inspired the community to step up and help with school supplies. It’s not just about haircuts; it’s about a movement, it’s about self-care, it’s about reaching people where we live. We send money abroad for poor communities when there are poor communities in our neighborhood.

Dr. Lumumba: The mentorship starts at the barber shop. The barber shop is the cornerstone of every community. If the mom or dad needed some information, they came to the barber shop. The barber is their person who really understands this community to give the right guidance to that child.

Within the mentorship, we have done it for so many years where we created a kids’ book called A Place for Sunny. That book is now tied into the program to have the mentorship where the parent can read to the child. It’s to help the child and also help the parent. That’s a big need.

Hugh: Tell us about the book, would you?

Dr. Sundiata: The book is to encourage people to embrace their differences. A lot of us grew up with dealing with different trauma. We dealt with bullying. We dealt with being teased. We dealt with so many different things. A lot of times, the parent was always too busy to give the truth as to how they dealt with it. In my experiences, I was one of those kids who my mother sent me to the barber shop. I was able to pull some things from adult barbers who were there. I thought it would be a great story to share with people who didn’t have the opportunity to see themselves and learn how to deal with their personal strengths by being around another young brother or person who can give them guidance about being better as an individual. A Place for Sunny represents the light within.

Hugh: For what ages is this book targeted?

Dr. Sundiata: Being that we all have challenges we don’t deal with until we become adults, I would say from 1-35. We have a cartoon there, but anybody can read this book and see themselves within Sunny.

Hugh: Wow. That is awesome. They can find the book on the website?

Dr. Sundiata: Yes. We have a website called APlaceForSunny.com. We also have an email address, APlaceForSunny@gmail.com. We are looking to put that book in every child’s hands. It’s about the impact we want to continually drive into the community. We want to help younger people dealing with their trauma. We are working on a workbook, where they can jot down notes for what they see in the book that will help them progress individually.

Hugh: There is a place to donate support on CutMyCity.org. We were talking about memory earlier. It’s good, but it’s short. If somebody wanted to buy a handful of books to give away, that could be one way to support. You’re in the Fayetteville, North Carolina area. You don’t just work in Fayetteville, do you?

Dr. Sundiata: No, we work in Fayetteville.

Hugh: Your projects, how far do you go out with your projects?

Dr. Lumumba: Our projects are international. As we travel, we take it with us. We go to different countries and touch land, like St. Thomas, Trinidad, Tobago, Jamaica. We are getting ready to head to London in the next week or two. We will be working possibly with the Chelsea soccer team with kids who have lesser need. This is something that has really transformed from one thing to another. It started right here in Fayetteville. We did Hope Mills. We did the surrounding areas.

We created a big event at the Crown Colosseum, where we sold it out and gave everybody in the community, over 10,000 kids or more, free haircuts, backpacks, and school supplies. We brought artists from all over to perform live. We had 42 vendors that were set up in the arena, giving back sneakers, clothing, everything that a person could possibly need. Aftercare programs. Healthcare providers were there. A lot of kids have lice and unhealthy hair issues that need to be addressed. The biggest thing was they were all satisfied.

We had all the big companies be a part of it, like Best Buy and Wal-Mart and Auto General. Lowe’s was a big contributor to what we did. Lowe’s just did a big donation to us to give us a generator to help us go on the bus to provide services to the community.

It’s so much that Dr. Sundiata and I have done with this organization. This organization needs to go on a jet plane and is taking that slope all the way out to the world. Possibly, a person in Africa, a person in India, anyone who finds a group with lesser needs, we can pretty much outsource the services there to help those people. Life is about helping each other.

Hugh: The three of us met eight, nine, 10 years ago. Were you just getting started?  

Dr. Lumumba: Yes, sir.

Dr. Sundiata: We weren’t just getting started. We were in the process of learning more about what we wanted to do.

Hugh: Then we connected again in Raleigh, when we did the SynerVision symposium. You were there all day and taking notes. I’m amazed. I know what you’ve been doing. But this is a quantum leap forward. I’m just so excited to hear this. What would you say to people who say, “I have an idea, but it won’t work?”

Dr. Lumumba: Oh my, that’s a great question. I appreciate you bringing that question in. For the person who says that, the work is within you. You have to feel that one desire, that thing that is inside you and boils so great. You are the only one who can do it. The Creator put us on the Earth for a purpose. The purpose as you define and your spirituality and your mental way of thinking. You can bring the like-minded people to attract to it. Don’t give up. Don’t say, “I can’t do this.” Keep pressing that one foot forward. Even if you have to take one baby step forward, that’s fine. If you make that move, someone will come help you. If your heart and mind is in a very clean place, someone will point you in the right direction.

Dr. Sundiata: The way I see things is it wouldn’t make sense to have thousands of the same programs. Whatever you bring to the next program is a way to build that great wall to make things work for everybody and everything that you need. If you do have an idea, it would be a beautiful thing to actually join forces with somebody else who maybe has another pleasant idea. When we created Cut My City, everyone wanted to follow behind, just as we did. We had other barbers trying to create the same program versus them joining together with us. We all sat down and said, “We are going to put this all on one sheet of music. If someone else has another idea, we can make it just as big.” Never discount your idea. Always try to do something else to collaborate with the next person, and it will work out for everybody.

Dr. Lumumba: Hugh, sometimes people see it from a different perspective. When they see someone with a large organization, they say, “I can’t do that.” You can do it. It’s just a matter of where you are reaching for your resources. Who are you talking to to get the information to help you move forward? I can’t be in the same room with the same group of people to get better learnings and information. I have to leave that group and go into a smaller group of people who are wiser and have more information. I have to go in there, let them know who I am, and let them know what I am trying to do. They will pour that into me because of my energy and everything aligning. I will only align with the right people who align with what I want to do.

Hugh: That is powerful. Napoleon Hill, who interviewed all these thought leaders who made things happen, he said you want to hang around with the group of people who have experience. If you want to be broke, you hang around broke people. If you want to be successful, hang with successful people.

You guys have accomplished amazing stuff. I’m sure there were people who said, “Nah, you can’t do that,” who were discouraging along the way. You didn’t listen to them and forged ahead. Where did you get your inspiration to keep going and build your system?

Dr. Lumumba: First, from the highest most. Second, people like yourself. People like yourself have been there and introduced us to a program that I never understood what that was until we met at CEO Space. That was the change for me, that I saw. I knew I had to reach to a vine I could not reach that looks different for me. I want to get that vine. Let me climb my way up there and get that vine. Possibly, they will tell me how to survive in this realm. How can I help? How can I add impact?

My inspiration comes back from my foundation where I came from. I came from nothing. I came from a very poor neighborhood, where I didn’t have anything to eat. I had days where my mom provided. She was that person who when I closed my eyes, I always saw her working hard in the kitchen trying to provide. That is where my inspiration came from.

Dr. Sundiata: A lot of my inspiration came through being raised by a blind grandmother. I was mothered by a young mother. My grandmother allowed her to finish school while she had people in place to take care of me. She had people around me who put me in a good place. I was inspired by the fact that there were people from all walks of life, different family members, who made sure I ate or was doing the right thing.

More than anything, a lot of my inspiration came through some of my athletic coaches. They always taught me to visualize the attack and not let anything get in the way of my progress. When I was able to join forces with Lumumba, it was a matter of me bringing my athletic spirit and my spiritual side to mesh together and make things work for us. The energy he brought, the energy I brought. With both of us standing together, I felt like nothing would get in the way of what we had going on.

Hugh: Wow.

Dr. Lumumba: I respect every bit of it. I have my own boundaries. He has his boundaries. Respect our boundaries, and have limitations. That’s one of the biggest things that allowed us to work together.

Hugh: There are so many good sound bites in this interview. The title of this is “Leading from the Barber Chair.” I didn’t get that at first. Even though we talked about what you do, this is a quantum leap from my last encounter with you.

Thank you for mentioning that I was in that thread of people who inspired you because that’s payment for me. If someone found value and said, “That’s something I can implement.” Last time we were together, we were at a leadership symposium in Raleigh with some other good leaders. One of the things that I highlight, that you are demonstrating, is that leadership is influence. When I hear you talk, you’ve influenced a lot of people. How about you both weigh in on how that’s important to you? How does leadership show up as influence?

Dr. Sundiata: Some of how I became in a leadership position was I was very transparent in showing my dark side as well as my light side. It attracted a lot of people because they always see me in the light, wearing a Superman T-shirt, and always think that life is impossible to see me broken. I had a lot of things I was dealing with mentally. Some days, even through my hard times, I was still able to fight through it. It would take a while for me to sit down with a customer and other people around me and see the strength within. Those breakthrough moments were always something that provided a leadership energy for me to provide to the people I was around. I was able to break through, and I’m here.

Dr. Lumumba: I was born with my leadership. My name means “gifted leader.” I didn’t quite understand my superpower, like his Superman shirt. As time progressed in my life, I had so many people pulling on my garment, so many people pulling at me wanting me to give them time, that drew me in so many directions that I couldn’t find my own self.

I have mental health issues as well. I sat in a psych ward for a little while, just to make sure I had some stability to understand it. It was okay. Guess what? Most successful people have been there. I had an opportunity to sit there and understand who I was. Spend time with me. I was able to breathe, accept nature, accept things in life that people never pay attention to. Our community doesn’t involve people. Our community involves animals, birds, insects, everything that flows, water. That’s the community. As I embrace my community to myself, and I accepted it, then I was able to accept who I really was.

When I saw myself, and I learned some of my differences, my Sunny, the person who I am, then I was able to bring myself to the world in light and say, “This is who I am. My intentions are pure. My heart is clean. I am here to serve you in any way I can. Possibly things I don’t know, I can ask you for information to help me, so I can help you. We can help each other create a community.”

Dr. Sundiata: One of the biggest parts of being a leader is being able to be vulnerable around people that think you are always strong. That was one of the biggest things that helped us both. Sitting in front of other people who had the same courage and were dealing with the same things, it gave them an avenue to open up and be vulnerable and gain strength. We are grateful for that.

Hugh: I am grateful for you. I am sure a growing body of people are grateful for you because you have paid it forward and are helping a lot of people see the vision.

You had a number of really powerful leadership concepts today. We are coming to the end of this half hour. It’s been inspiration for me. I’m excited. What parting thought do you want to leave people with today?

Dr. Sundiata: One thing I want to say is let’s get away from the fact that everybody is always talking about change. I always think change is for better or worse. If we all used the word “improve,” it would always be a step forward. If you look at the word itself, “improve,” it would always say, “I improve.” It would spell out the fact that you inherit the word in your life. I think that means more than change. Focus on improvement.

Dr. Lumumba: On my end, I will say this gem I got from a number of people: Ask yourself, “What is money?” Money is the bartering of goods and services, which is our goods and services, who we are. We are the goods, and we are the services. If you get away from that paper dollar, and you provide a service, you provide the best impact you can provide for a person. If you focus on impact, that was the word I learned from Wendy Lipton-Dibner. If you focus on impact, and stay focused on impact, it will bring you wealth and income. Income is a joy in your heart that you get a chance to see someone who never had, someone who can have, someone who said, “I can never make it.” You can inspire, mentor, give, supply. That’s what it’s all about.

If you feel like you don’t have what it takes to do it, just ask questions. We never are good at asking questions. We need to ask for help sometimes. Help is one of the biggest things that someone who knows and is really good at what they are doing, they will pour into you because they want to give it away. That’s my take. Keep pushing. Never give up.

Hugh: Wow. Dr. Sundiata Morris, Dr. Lumumba Quow, I’m honored to know you, and I’m so blessed to hear what you’re doing. I’m inspired today. Thank you so much for sharing your story today with us.

Dr. Sundiata: Thanks for having us.

Dr. Lumumba: Thanks for having us. You’re the best, Hugh Ballou. Keep doing what you do.

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