In a fairly large space off of SW Canyon Rd, Franklin “Paco” Whatley clipped, cut and brushed his 10th client of the day around his sixth hour. He’s got four other barbers working with him in his Classic Man barbershop, their seats also filled with customers getting lineups and fades. A red countdown clock ticked away as the latest Final Four basketball game streamed at a moderate volume for those in the barber chairs and in the waiting area.
The barbers and their buzzing framed a wooden box in the center of the room that read “Donate here, Cut For The Heart.” Whatley’s got 18 hours and some odd minutes to go if he’s going to make it through his Cut For The Heart 24-hour haircut-a-thon, and the 24-hour mark is key to the reason why he’s doing this—his dad.
“I wanted to do something that kind of honored my father who passed away from heart disease in 2016,” Whatley said. “One thing I remember most about my father was that to pay for my private school education, he would be up for 24 hours one day a week working as a bus driver, on the night crew at Sears and other odd jobs. I wanted to honor him by doing 24 hours as well.”
As soon as a customer would get up, another one came and filled that empty seat. When Whatley first announced his idea for the event, he was overwhelmed with support, having to divert from his original plan to one of fairly rigid bookings that saw a heavy rotation of people coming in and out specifically for him.
A small crew of barbers who volunteered to assist him have their chairs open just for walk-in clients. “Thank you, fellas. Good luck with everything,” one customer remarked as he left satisfied. Another, more familiar customer joked, “I can’t even be myself when I come in here, with all these cameras running. Check you out!”
That chill, familial atmosphere that’s characteristic of barbershops was definitely present in Whatley’s. It’s the ideal rapport for spreading important information, especially to a community that may not have as easy of access to it as others.
“By doing this, I also wanted to bring awareness to this part of the country, especially to the black community,” Whatley said. “They don’t get the information that people sometimes get in other cities, and I wanted to bring awareness to that as well.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, 48% of African American women and 44% of African American men will develop some form of heart disease. There are certain preventative measures that can be taken, such as monitoring blood pressure, eating right and having regular visits with the doctor. Yet even with those, a Black person is still at high risk, especially since heart disease is hereditary and common for the Black race.
“It’s staggering to think that when you talk about the heart, the one organ that doctors know the most about, we don’t realize exactly what we’re doing to ourselves,” Whatley said with a slight sullen expression as he gives a customer in his chair a fade. “I’m at a high risk because my dad died from it and his dad had it. Not only am I helping other people, but I’m also bringing awareness to myself. I’m getting older so I need to make sure that I hone in on these things and live a healthier lifestyle.”
For him, that healthier lifestyle included switching to a vegetarian diet. He admits it’s made him feel tremendously better but he still holds concern over whether it’ll ultimately end up helping him in the long run—his father became a vegetarian around the age of 40 and still passed, so Whatley is adamant about tackling the potentials for heart disease from all sides. “You can’t just do one thing, you’ve got to do a plethora of things to be better,” Whatley said.
That’s why his Cut For The Heart event also featured a tabling from BFit Gym, as well as a certified professional there to take clients’ blood pressures and explain to them what all the numbers mean. Whatley is dedicated to his mission and at the end of it, he’s hoping to have $3500 to donate to the Association of Black Cardiologists. At that sixth hour he totaled out at around $1500 from his GoFundMe and money in the donation box, but that figure doesn’t include card donations from the cuts.
Originally he was going to focus on donating his proceeds to the American Heart Association but thought there may be another organization better suited for his community. “After a while, I started thinking about my race and where the main issue is,” Whatley said. “It’s mostly within African Americans, so I wanted to find a smaller organization that has that focus and initiative.”
He’s now the only member of the organization on this side of the country and hopes his event will encourage more people to join in.
His future attempts at getting awareness out won’t involve staying up for an entire day, though. He wanted this to be a one-time honoring of his father, but he said he will continue to hold events and share information in other ways. His spirits were high but it was clear the constant go of it all was taking its toll on him. Nevertheless, he soldiered on, sharing an Instagram story post counting down the final seconds on the timer, soundtracked by the exhausted cheers coming from the barbers and clients in the shop.
“Yes, the goal is to stay up for 24 hours, but it’s not just to do that, it’s also do a good job, with my best effort forward,” Whatley said. “I think there’s a victory at the end of this and I want to experience that.”
You can still donate to Whatley’s cause by heading to gofundme.com/cutfortheheart.
Cervanté Pope is a music and culture journalist whose work has been included in various publications around Portland including Willamette Week, the Portland Mercury and the Portland Observer, as well as a couple of creative nonfiction anthologies. When she's not tackling a giant mountain of deadlines she can be found headbanging at a metal show, advocating for animal rights or trying to scheme a way to get on Family Feud.