Oct. 17, 2016 7:23 am

It’s go-time for Philly barbershops boosting the Black vote

Duerward “DJ Woody Wood” Beale's civic engagement project won a $250,000 Knight News Challenge grant last year. With the presidential election a mere three weeks away, the pressure is on.

Cutting hair and boosting the vote.

(Photo by Flickr user Phil Warren, used under a Creative Commons license)

Neighborhood barbershops across Philadelphia have been working for over seven months to engage Black voters as part of a $250,000 Knight-backed civic engagement initiative.

The project, called Sharp Insight, got some media buzz last year for it’s innovative grassroots approach to increasing Black voter turnout. That, and it was founded by Duerward “DJ Woody Wood” Beale, a ’90s hip-hop artist-turned-nonprofit-leader.

With the election mere weeks away, this is go-time.

Beale, who currently serves as the Youth Outreach Adolescent Community Awareness Program‘s executive director, tapped some heavy-hitting advisers for the initiative, including data scientist and investor Jon Gosier, Knight veteran Donna Frisby-Greenwood and entrepreneur Tayyib Smith (who, among many other things, is currently running his own Knight-funded project).

Sharp Insight was the subject of a recent Huffington Post story, in which Beale shared some concerns held by Black voters — data points he’s collected from 60 local barbers involved in the project.

Read the full story

The most common concerns, he said, were the social effects of mass incarceration, such as the inability of returning citizens to vote and find employment. That, and a general distrust of a system that has kept people of color oppressed, disenfranchised and displaced for generations.

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In April 2015, Beale told NPR he expected to reach 2,000 voters. In January, he adjusted his estimate to over 6,000. Perhaps most interesting will be seeing how the impact of a project that inherently relies on word-of-mouth can be measured.

Most importantly, though, will be the number of people his initiative has helped empower — and whether or not his methods can be replicated elsewhere.


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