Yaw initially moved from Ghana to Canada to find opportunities to thrive as a young man full of potential. Yaw had been a barber, among other endeavours, while in Ghana and when he initially moved to Toronto. Still, he thought he was hanging up his clippers when he got accepted to Memorial University for a Master's degree in Philosophy.
Despite thinking this career path was over, Yaw was influenced by his now business partner Gustavo to found 1949 Barbershop, of which there are now two locations and 16 employees.
“Becoming a barber was not a dream or a goal that I actively pursued but a hobby that I developed in my early years,” says Yaw. “It’s something I enjoy doing because of its interactive nature. It’s not a well-paid job in Ghana, at least in my time there, but that is completely different here in Canada. When I moved to Canada, I was lucky to meet people who were so kind to me and kept encouraging me to do most of the things I’m involved with now."
Admittedly, the barbershop was originally more of a hang-out than a business. While he has made changes to ensure the success of the 1949 Barbershop, one location still has a pool table in the centre so people can get more than a haircut from the establishment; they can also get connection, friendship and community.
Because of Yaw’s natural entrepreneurial spirit, the transition from Memorial University graduate to barbershop founder was quite simple. “Honestly, the transition was very smooth because of how people from this province are very welcoming and willing to help and support regardless of ethnicity and race.”
During Black History month, Yaw was recently named an Atlantic Canada Black Changemaker by CBC for his work. Not only does Yaw co-own both 1949 Barbershop locations, but he is also sponsoring three local soccer teams, one of which has twelve nationalities represented.
Yaw is also a member of the St. John’s Anti-Racism Working Group, part of the Ghanaian Association of Newfoundland and is opening a mechanic shop soon, all on top of being a father!
Yaw tells us that the Anti-Racism Working Group is a newly constituted body, but they are starting to plan the scope of their work. The Anti-Racism Working Group (ARWG) is primarily responsible for developing and implementing a work plan that fosters anti-racism while promoting diversity and inclusion in the City of St. John’s and providing solution-based recommendations to the Council and City Staff.
Yaw adds, “Newfoundland and Labrador is still somewhat new to diversity. However, the last couple of years have seen a high number of immigrant population growth with unique cultures. This has necessitated bodies like the Anti-Racism Working Group to meet challenges that are bound to happen in any society undergoing this change.”
The Ghanaian Association of Newfoundland has been active for a few years and helps Ghanaian newcomers settle into their new life in Newfoundland by finding accommodation, work and other resources.
Yaw was surprised to be named a CBC Black Changemaker. “I know I’ve been working in this community for a while now, supporting people the same way I received when I first moved here. The barbershop has been a hub for everyone to hang out and connect. Our involvement in sports has also gone a long way to help new immigrants to be involved in activities they love and helps with integration.
But little did I know that my contribution to the community has been on the radar. So, I’m humbled by this recognition and I hope to do even more with the support I get from many individuals in this community. I work with a great team at the barbershop who are not shy of taking new challenges and turning these challenges into opportunities.”