Once an addict, now an advocate
Waverly Willis (BA ’13) serves up haircuts and healthcare at his Urban Kutz Barbershop on the west side of Cleveland. It’s a unique blend of services, and it’s won him rave reviews both locally and nationally.
Barbershop patrons leave with fresh, new looks, for sure. But it’s the blood pressure screenings and health advice that make the shop special.
Through a partnership between his non-profit, the Urban Barber Association, the Cleveland Clinic, the American Heart Association and Cleveland State University, Willis welcomes health professionals and medical students into Urban Kutz to perform blood pressure checks on patrons.
“The goal is to screen, educate, and refer clients and people of the community,” he said.
Willis has a passion for advocating for the health of marginalized communities and for taking care of forgotten populations like the homeless, mentally ill, and addicted.
“My background is unique as I have been in recovery from severe homelessness, depression drugs and alcohol for 17 years,” Willis said. “I lost or sold everything except my clippers. I dropped out of college because of my addictions and mental issues many years ago. I was really upset for allowing my life to get to where it was.”
But one day, he saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
“I made a promise to God while living in a drug and alcohol treatment shelter that if I would be released from the demons that I allowed to ravage me I would spend the rest of my days helping people to the best of my ability.”
Willis kept his vow.
Last year, he partnered with the Cleveland Department of Public Health to host COVID-19 vaccination clinics at his shop’s two locations.
And earlier this year, Nick Cannon honored him on his daytime talk show, where Mayor Justin Bibb presented him with a proclamation.
“You are an example of what servant leadership looks like,” Bibb said.
“Receiving a proclamation…was truly a great honor.” Willis said. “It’s a good thing to be acknowledged for your accomplishments in life. Statistically, things like that are not supposed to happen to people like me.”
Changing these statistics and inspiring change in others is exactly what Willis aims to do.
“My journey has not only been for me but also for the people that watch me. The people that are suffering in silence from addiction, depression, and other life obstacles.”