NEW YORK (PIX11) — Harold Brown, 60, proudly declares that he is “the best one-armed barber in the world.”
Unabashedly claiming his world-renowned stature, Brown doesn’t miss a beat as his right arm glides the razor over a student’s head at the American Barber Institute.
His nonfunctioning left arm resulted from a birth defect that he said has haunted him for years.
“I’ve been called all kinds of one-armed names growing up as a child, some of the worst things you can think of,” he recalled. “I grew up not loving myself. I always felt I had to prove myself to people.”
Growing up in Jamaica Queens, Brown fell into the darkness of crime and spent more than 30 years in and out of prison.
“I was tired of doing wrong. I needed to do something right in life. I was at rock bottom and in jail. I had nothing, nowhere to turn,” he said.
He got emotional as he remembered the guidance he received from a fellow inmate named Desperado.
“He taught me how to cut hair. The more I cut, the better I became. The whites showed me how to cut their hair. The Blacks showed me how to cut Black hair, and Hispanics showed me how to cut their hair. Every walk of life was in the state penitentiary, and they all showed me how to cut their hair.”
Once he was back in society, Brown got his first break at barbering at a Harlem shop and later enlisted as a teacher at the American Barber Institute in Manhattan.
“I love teaching people how to cut hair,” he boasted loudly. “I love my students, and they love me back.”
Brown said he never considered barbering with one arm to be a real problem for him.
“I never had two hands to use in learning the craft of barbering, so I always had to use one hand. I had to learn to use a razor and had to learn how to use the machines. Once I learned it, I got it. The hardest part about cutting hair with one arm is when a person sees you with one arm and doubts you.”
Aside from cutting hair, barbers are also known to give shaves, even with one arm behind their back.
“Every barber must have a razor hand,” Brown declared.
Brown takes pride in the students he’s taught barbering, including Humberto Heras, who now teaches the craft.
“He taught me a lot of techniques even with his one arm, and it changed the way I saw barbering,” Heras said.
“Despite what anyone else might think of you, if you love yourself and believe in yourself, you can make it,” Brown said.
It’s been said that one’s best success comes after a great disappointment. Brown turned life’s disappointment into opportunity and success, never considering himself handicapped but rather handicappable.