Lorenzo Sheppard, Newport News' assistant chief of police, said, “We have worked with Terry Riddick before. We all know about the free haircuts he gives and the mentoring he is able to do as well while those haircuts are happening. He does a lot of good in the community and we will be there for whatever they need with this event.”
Why would hardened gang members come out and hand over their guns, don a “Stop the violence” T-shirt, and walk to a campsite full of help?
Riddick laughed when I asked him and said, “Oh yeah! They really do. But it’s not that easy. We are building trust. They do because we are there for them in time of need. We give them the haircut they have no money for, give Christmas presents, or show up at a door with a turkey.”
Since starting in 2005 the group that calls itself Best Kept Secret has performed more than 4,000 free haircuts and given away approximately 2,000 holiday gifts per year, all purchased via donations from a struggling community.
Terrell Wiggins, 25, a former felon who spent his entire childhood since age 10 incarcerated for violence, is now a motivational speaker who supports the walk and the method.
“I hit a teacher in the head with a desk when I was 10,” Mr. Wiggins said. “It was what I knew as a means of getting notoriety. You see you can teach a child in school or rec center and they understand what’s right and wrong but the place they go back to at home in the neighborhood hasn’t changed. The parents aren’t changed. To deal with youth [is] you have to change the people at home in the neighborhood who are influencing them. I been that. I know this to be true.”
What shocked me was when I asked Riddick if he could put me in touch with someone who had been directly influenced as a result of this Unity Walk process to change their life, he said, “You already met one.”