DeAndre Dontrail Walker can still remember with fondness sitting in his grandmother's kitchen, getting his hair cut. There is something about the ritual of the haircut that opens people up to talk about what's on their minds, which is why barbershops are often the place where news gets passed along in a community.
"I always told my grandmother that if I didn't make it to the NFL, I wanted to become a barber," said Walker, 26.
"I was fast, but I'm too short" to play football, he said.
Walker was talking just outside the back door of Kuttin Up Barbershop in Crystal, where he has his first full-time job after graduating from the Minnesota School of Barbering in May.
But it wasn't easy.
"I grew up in the ghetto," said Walker, who bounced between north Minneapolis and Chicago with a father who was in and out of prison. "I've been shot. Been in jail. Gangs. I had my time with all that."
But it was after jail that he looked in the mirror. "I said it's time to wake up," said Walker. "Look at my daughter, she doesn't deserve this," he told himself. "Who wants to walk around every day wondering if I'm going to jail, and oh, what about my kids?"
Walker decided he needed to change direction to be the kind of father he needed to be. "I love my kids, man. That's why I did this, for my kids."
Walker has always been a hard worker. He put in long nights in warehouses to care for his three kids while he tried to get through St. Paul College.
Finally he went to see Hiatia Small at RESOURCE's young families program, which helps people and young families eager to get off public assistance and into careers.
"When young parents come in, my job is to set goals and help them reach their goals," said Small. "DeAndre already had his high school diploma and he had his goal. He was articulate and a hard worker. There were no games. He was ready to go. People like DeAndre encourage me to do what I do."
Small said men often have a difficult time coming in to see her.
"Sometimes it's hard for men to admit that they need a little help," said Small. "Everybody needs assistance at some point. I tell them don't let pride take away your advantage."
RESOURCE helps clients complete an occupational package and do interviews about their dreams and skills. The program helps them overcome the big hurdles, such as job interviews, as well as things many might consider small hurdles. For example, Small recently took Walker's fiancée, Kendria, to pick out business attire.
"I was taking care of five people, including myself," said Walker. "I couldn't have done this without some help."
Walker said he likes being a barber: "It's being in charge of my own fate, my own destiny. I feel like I'm just meant to be a barber."
Walker has also found that the challenges he faced growing up have helped him deal with younger men who come in for a haircut, but end up asking for advice. They seem to open up a little bit, just as he did when his grandmother cut his hair.
"I find that when I'm behind the chair, a lot of guys will ask me questions," Walker said. He can tell which ones are being honest and which ones are putting on an act, because he's been there.
"I say, 'I know you, man. I can read you like a book,' " Walker said. "I always wanted to be a mentor."
"I say to young fathers, keep it going, go ahead and dream," said Walker. "If you've got a dream, it could come true."
"Oh, and take care of those babies, man. Take care of those babies."
Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin