This column left me with a little less hair, but a lot more appreciation for Breast Cancer Awareness Month | Helen Ubiñas
Brothers and barbers who lost their mother to breast cancer honor her memory by cutting ribbon designs into clients' hair.
I let a man with a razor cut into my hair. And so should you.
Let me explain.
Brothers and barbers Dominic and Angel Muniz are the owners of Hair Wizards barbershops, with locations on Frankford and Cottman Avenues.
It’s not just a family business, it’s a family legacy carried on in the name of their mother, Rosalina Mendez — the original “hair wizard” who for a time in the ’80s owned a salon by that name near Fifth and Wyoming.
She gave it up to have more time to raise, with her husband, their children — five other children in addition to the 33-year-old brothers, born 11 months apart.
Mendez went on to work at the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau and was, by the family’s account, the merry matriarch of a large, close-knit extended family; a smart, loving, and generous woman.
“My mom was such a strong, strong woman that when she told us that she was going to beat it, we believed it 100%,” Dominic recalled. “She was … just everything.”
Rosa, as the family called her, died in 2010, three years after her diagnosis. She was just 45.
Her death was a huge blow to the family; a husband who still visits her grave every Sunday, and sons who strive to make her proud with barbershops that she was not able to see them open but that nonetheless represent her spirit.
“She paved the way for us to be a neighborhood barbershop,” said Angel, who runs the Cottman Avenue location.
The barbers and their staff, some of them family members, are as quick with their shears as they are with a warm smile, which explains the long line of clients waiting to get a cut when I stopped by Frankford Avenue last week. Among them, Sean Greene and his 13-year-old namesake, who was getting a touch-up on a breast cancer awareness ribbon cut into the back of his head in honor of his mother, who is cancer-free, and his grandmother, who died from the disease.
That’s actually what brought me to the shop. I noticed an Instagram post declaring, “Let the Ribbons begin,” and went looking for the backstory.
The family supports cancer awareness in other ways, including participating in yearly fund-raising walks. But the breast cancer designs, which they do for free in October, have become their signature show of solidarity.
“You never know who sees it — or who needs to see it,” said Dominic.
Raphael Padin, a longtime client who has been getting a ribbon cut into his hair in honor of friends and family, was in a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts recently when a woman tapped him from behind.
She thanked him. She was a survivor, she told him.
Before walking into the shop, I reminded myself that I didn’t have to go all-in on every column — a constant occupational hazard of mine. But the next thing I knew, I was seated in Dominic’s chair.
I was nervous, but Dominic was cool; the ribbon he cut into my hair is small, discreet, and I admitted to him, a nod to friends who have been diagnosed — one who is now cancer-free and another who I pray will be soon. (I love you, Janice and Elizabeth.) It also makes me look a little badass, which I know both of those strong women would appreciate.
An estimated 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer in their lifetimes. An estimated 2,670 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed this year. This week, Beyoncé’s father, Mathew Knowles, disclosed that he has been treated for breast cancer.
So, in the name of someone you know and love, advocate extra for cancer awareness and education and research during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Donate to your cancer organizations of choice, preferably those who work and give directly to people who need it.
And if you find yourself in Mayfair or Rhawnhurst this month, stop in and see the Hair Wizards. Tell them the scaredy cat with the teeny-weeny ribbon sent you.