More than a haircut

Mr. Carey a pioneer and mentor to many in the black community

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

FAIRFIELD - For people who know Mr. Carey, who opened a hair salon and barber shop two decades ago on Texas Street, his work represents a milestone in the black community.

He is known as Mr. Carey to many, a 64-year-old in designer glasses whose dark hair shadows a distinct white patch lined perfectly above his left eye. Some know him as the first black man to open shop in downtown Fairfield 21 years ago. Others know him as Carey Jones, who doubles as an associate pastor at S.O.U.L.S. Ministries in Vacaville.

Mention of his name garners smiles and praise from those who were mentored by him, the ones who consider Jones the patriarch of the black community for a simple reason: He is a positive influence.

Jones is aware of this and freely admits his contributions to the community stem from leading by example.

"They just saw how I operated," he said matter-of-factly.

An intensity driven by his past is obvious in Jones as he sits in a salon chair, pausing between sentences to ensure his point is absorbed. And it's not that he bears a sad past, but rather a history that includes laughter and positive influences.

Looking back

The Mississippi native was raised 70 miles north of Los Angeles in an area he describes as "the other side of the tracks consisting of Latinos and blacks." He can look back now and say he lived in poverty. But, he quickly added, he didn't know it at the time.
There was a beach just minutes away and neighbors who had a sense of humor. It wasn't until he went to high school that reality hit, he said.

"All the kids had cars. I kept wondering, 'How did they get cars? I don't have a car,' " he recalled, then laughed.

He remembers being surrounded by agriculture during his childhood, where he would run, play and work in the fields.

Between the ages of 10 and 15, he picked strawberries and apricots each summer and with the money he collected by summer's end, he bought school clothes.

His father, he said with one eyebrow raised, was 31 when he married his mother, then 13. He asked his father how he could marry a 13-year-old.

"I know she was old, but that's all there was around at the time," his father replied with irony, Jones said. A loud roar of laughter ensues.

Jones continues to explain.

"At the turn of the century, right after slavery, that's how they married women," he said and added his father died at the age of 106. "They would go to the farm next door and say, 'I see your daughter has come of age. I'd like to take your daughter as my bride.'

"The father of the bride would agree but he'd add, 'OK, but don't beat her. If things don't work out, bring her back home,' " Jones said.

Things did work out for the couple, who remained married for more than 70 years. They worked hard, Jones said, and set an example for him to follow.

"They lived a long time and had a great sense of humor. My father was a very funny man," Jones said. "Yeah, my childhood - it was a good time in my life."


Hair is hair, Jones will say.

The modest shop, nestled beside a watch-repair store that once housed a nail salon for Jones, caters to both men and women.

The back of the narrow store, a straight walk from the entrance, is the barber shop, run by his son-in-law, London Pope. In this area, where antiquated barber chairs are used and basketball games blare from a hanging TV, men solve the problems of the world.

But Jones and his wife, Tina, who also cuts hair, are in the front of the shop, a place where women get their hair styled and discuss the day's issues.

Jones will take any client who walks in, he said, regardless of race or hair texture. The problem is that some women fear walking in.

"It's not racism but more fear of the unknown and fear that I don't know how to do their hair," he said of white women in particular.

"Ladies would come in and see people of color and they would hesitate at the door because they never, never dealt with us in that kind of way," he continued. "But they would leave here with a smile on their face and they would come back. We took the fear out of them trying something different."

When Jones and his wife attended cosmetology classes more than 20 years ago, the requirements were 400 hours of training in school and passing a state test that consisted of styles and cut on white hair.

To learn ethnic hair, he said, Jones and his wife would bring clients from Pittsburgh and pay them to do their hair as a way to get practice.

But Jones didn't stop there. After passing the state test, Jones attended two separate schools - in Los Angeles and North Carolina - to learn the technique of cutting ethnic hair.

"I paid $1,100 a week for one school and $1,200 a week in another. I invested in my career so I can be good," he said.

Things have changed since then, said Renza Nassab, cosmetology instructor at Solano Community College. More techniques have been added to courses, with students acquiring a well-rounded knowledge of hair.

"The education today is not based on color of skin but on hair. We teach students how to handle curly or straight hair and give them a variety of training," Nassab said. "There is a bit of everything for everyone."


John Hubbard spent time at Mr. Carey's, a total of 10 years learning the business before opening up his own shop in downtown Fairfield with another Mr. Carey-trained hair stylist, Charles Gilbert.

"Mr. Carey is a milestone in Solano County because when I came here, he was the only African-American barber and beauty salon owner," he said. "He sponsored me in an apprenticeship program and helped me get my license at Molar Barber College. He showed me how to run a business."

Hubbard and Gilbert opened their shop eight years ago, catering to a clientele ages 1 to 100, Hubbard said. And they remain in this fickle business because of the advice provided by Jones.

"He has been very influential in my life as well as the African-American community," Hubbard said. "He is a mentor to all of us, does good will and he's just an all-around positive mentor to me."

And the advice offered by Jones?

"It's a cash business and you have to know how to not spend more than you make," he said. "But hair is an artistic thing. If you don't establish what would look good on the client, you're not going to make it. You have to have an artistic eye."

Mr. Carey's

The salon hummed with idle conversation and loud blow dryers as an older woman with green rollers beneath a sheer green scarf walked in, carrying clothes straight from a local dry cleaners.

"That's my grandmother," said Ayanna Pope, Jones' 35-year-old daughter. "She comes every Saturday, has my mom roll her hair, keeps them in all day and then has my mom fix it Sunday mornings, fresh for church and for the week."

She is 82-year-old Estella Brown, Tina's mother, who sits in the same chair every Saturday morning, furnished with the same green rollers and scarf.

Pope, who's waiting to have her hair styled by Tina, sits for a moment and reflects on the past.

She was a sophomore at Armijo High School when the family moved from Pittsburgh to Fairfield in 1987. She remembers the countless hours spent after school in the salon and the smell of the hair products.

Interestingly, now her two daughters, Halle, 3, and Alexis, 5, are doing the same, playing with games and glittered lip gloss by the salon chairs as their dad works on one side and their grandparents on the other.

"There weren't many black hair-care places in town and people who moved here didn't know where to go," Pope said. "My dad has been in the same spot so long and started when there was a need, plus, everyone knows him. You can't go anywhere in town and people not know him. He's Mr. Carey."