When he was young, Sean White couldn’t head straight home after school because his mom was working. Instead, he stayed at the barbershop where his older brother worked.
“I pretty much grew up in a barbershop,” recalled White. “My brother was a pretty popular guy, and he was a role model to me. I looked up to him, and I pretended that I was cutting hair. When I was 16, he gave me some barber tools and I started cutting my friends’ hair in the house.”
With that experience and knowledge, it was only natural that White would eventually open his own barbershop.
“I still thought one day I would get a job doing something else,” laughed the 43-year-old, who’s been a barber for the last 27 years. “My cousin had the resources, and he just said, ‘We’re going to open a barbershop.’ He just told me that. I wasn’t really sold on it, but I went along with it, and it just worked out.”
The duo opened Against Da Grain on Victory Boulevard in Tompkinsville in 2000, and stayed there until late last year when the barbershop settled in its current 2,000-square-foot location on Bay Street across from Tompkinsville Park.
Although the city announced planned improvements following media reports documenting quality-of-life issues going on at the park, other businesses seemed reluctant to open there. However, White took the chance to make an impact at that spot, and said he’s already noticed positive changes at the park.
“We’ve been in this community for so long, so we faced the same issues around the corner that we do at this new spot. And since we’ve been in this community for so long, we feel connected here,” said White. “We have a lot of people who don’t even get haircuts here, and they tell us they’re glad that we’re over here. During certain hours, residents may not feel safe walking the streets, but they know my workers from the community and know my barbershop is someplace safe to stop in.”
White said there are many times that a high school student will arrive for a haircut, and several of his friends will tag along for company. Even though they’re only there to hang out, White said if they’re respectful to his workers and his clients, they’re more than welcome to stay.
He said he feels his shop helps keep those teens in a safe location and away from trouble on the streets.
In addition to making his barbershop a haven for the community, the West Brighton native also gives back to the local youth by offering free haircuts for kids before the start of school each September.
“The first year we opened was around September, so I thought about offering the free haircuts to help get our name out there and help the community. For just the first time, it was a great success. Then those people started to come back, so we just keep doing it every year,” said White. “In the beginning, it was harder because we had less people working here. Plus, you’re asking people around the busy season when they’re used to making money to now not make that money. But most of the people here are reasonable.”
White has hosted annual community barbecues for over 10 years, served as a member of the task force “49 Strong” to halt escalating gun violence by mentoring at-risk teens, and has sponsored numerous other community events — including the Families Against Violence All-Star Classic and the NYPD Officer Gerard Carter school bag and school supplies giveaway. This past year, he distributed over 300 turkeys to families in need for Thanksgiving.
“That was actually the highlight of my holiday. Some people were so happy, and it meant the world to them to see someone looking out for them,” said White. “Sometimes I’ll get a complete stranger come and say, ‘Hey, I see what you’re doing.’ And that’s genuine because we don’t know them.”
For his accomplishments, White is being honored with a Louis R. Miller Business Leadership Award, which he will receive in the Established Businessperson category. The awards — which are presented by the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce and the Staten Island Advance — honor the memory of Louis R. Miller, a businessman and West Brighton resident who was also a community leader.
White is a great example of a community leader who has worked hard from an early age to support himself, his family and community. He has a strong willingness to mentor youth by sharing his work ethic and knowledge in hopes of leading them toward a path with a bright future.
White, a father of one son and two daughters, participates in various New York City Department of Youth and Community Development programs overseen by United Activities Unlimited, such as: the Summer Youth Employment Program; Work, Learn and Grow; and Fatherhood Matters. The constant opportunity to lend advice to his own employees has also paid dividends.
“Over the years, people came here to work, and they moved on and opened their own barbershop. Our shop kind of served as a launching pad for them,” said White, who noted that six of his former workers have opened their own barbershops. “I see the growth in them. It makes me feel older, but proud at the same time.”
Recipients of the Louis R. Miller Awards are recognized as effective business leaders, and for their outstanding contributions to the local community. Awards are given out in four categories: Emerging, Established, Master, and Not-For-Profit. The honorees will be recognized during the annual Louis R. Miller Business Leadership Awards Breakfast on Thursday, Feb. 13 at LiGreci’s Staaten. For tickets, visit www.sichamber.com or call the Chamber at 718-727-1900.
Below, White shares more about his goals, job, and life:
Current occupation and title: Entrepreneur/brick-and-mortar business owner and barber.
Hometown: New Brighton
Community involvement: I have a great relationship with many non-profits, city, state and federal officials, including: the New York Police Department; Metro Plus; Fatherhood Matters; the Administration for Children’s Services; Emmis Communications; Summer Youth Employment Program, and a host of entrepreneurs, artist, friends, and family. We collectively have planned, organized, and executed community affairs and activities to feed, clothe, educate, and empower the members of our surrounding neighborhoods. ADG (Against Da Grain) has actively advocated for civil rights, benefits and entitlements, as well as social injustices. These efforts have always been appreciated and supported by community members. The ideas are sometimes spearheaded by the shop to engage and improve activities and resources. This community has also taught me a great deal on how to thrive amongst the things that were negative and compromising.
Some of my life goals include: Investing in property to sustain the longevity of my businesses. I would like to develop a franchise to allow Against Da Grain to expand.
The best part of my job: Dealing with a diverse group of people.
The most difficult part of my job: Managing the exterior of my business to sustain curb appeal approachability for new and less frequent customers, as well as our trusted clientele. It wouldn’t hurt to say, standing up all day with few breaks is pretty difficult. Everyone is not built or capable of handling something standing up all day.
My life philosophy: Be compassionate and understanding toward others by exercising patience, self control, assertiveness, cultural awareness and sensitivity.
I am most proud of: The success and sustainability of my business. I am also extremely proud of the relationships I have with each of my children, who are my legacy.
Something that no one knows about me: I am a shy person with bold and forward-thinking ideas to better myself and those around me. My mission is to succeed, no matter what comes my way.
The quality I like best about myself: I have a strong ability to adapt to my surroundings. I quickly strategize a plan to troubleshoot my issues and utilize my resources.
Personal interests and hobbies: I love to watch informative vlogs about politics, health and wellness. YouTube is my “go to” platform of choice, but I also love the documentaries currently published on Hulu, Netflix and Amazon. I love the stories regarding history.