February 23, 2017

This 97-year-old barber will inspire you to be a better neighbor

Isaac White has been mentoring young people in his Mobile, Alabama, community for more than 50 years

Isaac White is a businessman, leader, and mentor to many in his Mobile, Alabama, community.


In celebration of Black History Month, Allstate is spotlighting three African Americans who are making a positive impact on their communities, part of its annual “Worth Telling” campaign. The Renewal Project will share these local leaders’ stories. You can learn more at Allstate.com/WorthTelling, and on social media using the hashtag #WorthTelling. The Renewal Project is made possible by Allstate.

Isaac White started cutting hair in 1944. He loves his work, still working six days a week at the age of 97. But it’s more than just the job or even the community he’s built inside the walls of his barbershop. For more than 50 years, he has used his skill as a barber to mentor young people through White’s Barber College. He founded the college in 1960 as a way to equip members of his community with a skill that could sustain them financially for the rest of their lives.

We spoke to the nonagenarian recently about his Mobile, Alabama, community and the inspiration that keeps him going.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Describe your community:

To me the idea of community means a group of individuals working together and demonstrating God’s love to one another. Anybody I deal with daily is part of my community, and we help one another. I do whatever we can to help promote our community.

What inspired you to do this work?

One way to serve my Almighty Father is to serve people, which is why I have been serving my community since 1944 when I started my barbering business.

What ways are you helping to make your community thrive?

After I started a barbering business, I wanted to make sure that so many young people who had a desire to get into barbering could as well, and I was inspired to establish White’s Barber College. It was an outlet for people to find themselves a better life.

White’s Barber College is the only barber college that realized that pursuing this trade was a financial decision—and we came up with a system where we’d take care of the tuition for every student who fulfilled their obligations in the school, and secured a job when they completed the program. When they complete the program, they have lifetime security, and no loan obligation over their head when they are done.

What are you most proud of?

I am so proud seeing so many of these young people make a turn around in their lives. God has put me in the position to help them, and to offer my shared wisdom from the number of year’s I’ve been living. It has been my inspiration and where I get joy—to see them coming in to the barber college one way and making a U-turn for a better life after. That’s what I’ve been striving for and what makes me so happy to see.

What leader has inspired you?

Many of these initiatives that I’ve been involved in—the ideas for them come down to me overnight and I get out and start doing them. Many times I didn’t have experience doing it, but when I started, God always helped me do it.

What do you love about your community?

I just love my community. At one time, it was destitute, a run down community, and my Heavenly Father gave me a vision to go to the city to get some help for this community. By following this vision, I was able to get the city to declare my neighborhood as a community development neighborhood. Once they declared it such, I was involved in an initiative that helped individual families secure loans through the city to repair their homes. These worked like mortgages, but as long as they lived in the house, and sent a report back each month that served as a mortgage payment. I worked with families, showed them how to get their forms filled out, and tried my best in many ways to help them and build the community I love.

What’s one thing you want outsiders to know about your community, that they may not know?

I’d like them to know that we are a community that is looking out for each other, sharing our love, our experience, and our finances. I am trying to work with people to help improve our community, so individuals have a better life and a better livelihood, through experiences like White’s Barber College and its free tuition. I want everyone in the U.S. to know what we are doing here.

What’s next?

We are looking for White’s Barber College to expand and reach out to people who are in search of financial security, and working with them on life skills—their future depends on these life activities. We will keep trying to help turn people’s lives around.

Uzra Khan

Uzra Khan is a contributor to The Renewal Project.