That’s when Earlie, 18, decided to get a haircut, his first since age 14, when he began growing his shoulder-length dreads. Without them, even his five-month-old son, Mazi, had trouble recognizing Earlie until he adjusted to dad’s new look.
But the haircut helped Earlie get a job at FedEx as an “inbound docker,” operating a forklift. And it will save him a trip to the barber when he goes to Navy boot camp in August.
Earlie was proud of his long hair. For him, the green and black dreads were a symbol of indviduality. But the haircut has advantages, too. “I get a lot of positive feedback,” says Earlie, who started YouthBuild in October. “When I had dreads, I got prejudged. People thought I was a gangbanger. Now I don’t get prejudged. My mother likes my haircut.”
Earlie enrolled in YouthBuild Newark after a two-year stretch of aimlessness that started before he dropped out of school at 16.
“I started getting older and I didn’t want to go anymore. I was chilling with friends instead,” said Earlie, who was named after his southern grandfather Earl Lee. (“People just galled him Earlie,’ ‘ he explains.)
The school never notified his parents that he was truant, so Earlie simply pretended to go to school. His mom, who works as word processor, and his dad, a janitor, only learned the truth when the family moved out of district. They saw Earlie’s transcripts from Malcolm X. Shabazz High School and realized he’d only been to school about once every three months.
Earlie continued to drift until he became a father. That’s when he came to YouthBuild Newark. “I want to give my son a good life where he won’t have to ask anyone for anything. He can depend on me. I’m going to miss him when I’m in the Navy but as long as he’s financially straight and I can provide for him, that’s the most important thing.”
His decided to enlist after mentioning it to Michael Mackason, YouthBuild Newark Director of Graduate Services, who put him in touch with graduates who’d been in the service. They recommended it, and Earlie decided to join.
YouthBuild Newark has given him the confidence to do that. “It taught me how to treat people,” said Earlie, who will be a hospital corpsman in the Navy and hopes to some day be a psychiatrist. (“That’s the best job–to talk to people and get paid for it,” he says).
Earlie’s case manager Abdur Lockhart calls Earlie a “model student.”
“He’s grown here,” said Abdur. “He had a goal, so he buckled down to his studies right away and made it happen for himself. The haircut is just another sign of his maturity. Instead of waiting for that day to come when he had to cut it for the Navy, he took the initiative and did it first.”
Adds Earlie: “I’m opening up a new door to my life.”