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ToppCuttaz Barber salon open for business

Persistence pays off for Miami Gardens barber Michael Stephens

D. Kevin McNeir | 8/14/2013, 2:43 p.m.
By his own account, Michael Stephens, 46, led an uneventful life during his formative years in Miami — first living ...

By his own account, Michael Stephens, 46, led an uneventful life during his formative years in Miami — first living in the Brownsville community and then moving with his parents and two siblings to Carol City where he completed high school. But in 1992 at the age of 24, he found himself standing before a federal judge after serving as the driver in a drug deal gone bad. Found guilty of drug conspiracy, Stephens, despite being a first offender, was sentenced to 16 years without the possibility of parole. Most men would have crumbled under such weight but then again, Stephens is no ordinary man.

Last week, he, along with friends, family, mentors, employees and even the mayor of Miami Gardens, Oliver Gilbert, cut the ribbon at the ToppCuttaz Barber Salon [19874 NW 27th Avenue] — a professional barbershop, hair salon and spa located in the heart of Miami Gardens that was conceived and solely owned by Stephens.

According to Stephens, it was confirmation of what you Knocked down but not knocked out

“I was not a bad child and had never been in trouble before but that didn’t matter, given the Draconian laws that were in effect back in the 90s,” he said. “Still, I knew that one day I’d get out and I had to be able to make a way for myself. I needed marketable skills and realized that being a Black man and an ex-con would equate to being a double-minority. So, I got involved in something that interested me while I was still in prison — cutting hair.”

Stephens studied hard, took and passed courses and, of course, perfected his craft on the heads of fellow inmates. Upon his release, he reached out to people in the community that were all committed to assisting former inmates become gainfully employed. He says they made the difference.

“Dr. Phillip H. Mann, the director of the Entrepreneurial Institute at Barry University helped me with my business plan,” he said. “It was part of a program funded by Miami-Dade County under a HUD grant and his guidance was really important. He gave me his time whenever I needed him.

Mann says that he found himself being inspired by Stephens’ perseverance.

“Michael is not only an outstanding person but he represents hope — especially for those who were once incarcerated and feel that they’ll never be able to get a good job. Michael never gave up. In fact, sometimes he’s even motivated me.”

Stephens says there were others who put their words into action on his behalf.

“Fred Britt who runs the barbering program at Turner Technical High School gave me a refresher course so that I could take and pass the State board examination and re-certify my hours. Leroy Jones, the director of NANA, and Beverly Coffee from the Miami-Dade Credit Union were both instrumental in helping me secure capital so I could get the shop going. And then there was my family — they all pitched in too in many ways.”