What you are about to read is not a typical interview. This is not an ordinary story of someone who seeks to do good for the sake of having their name attached to doing good. This may be one of those pieces that inspires us to examine ourselves a little more closely. To take stock of our own lives and beliefs and stigmas and maybe, just maybe, encourage us to open up and do something.
This is a story of a man overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds and once he does, he does not sit back and enjoy his success. Instead, he recognizes that his obstacles are not exemplary. They do not make him special or better than anyone else, despite the strength, discipline and faith that it took to overcome them. Instead, he sees his commonality with those less fortunate around him. Instead of patting himself on the back, instead of relishing his success and congratulating his own fortitude, he devotes his time to elevating those in a similar situation that up until all too recently, he was in, himself.
This is a story of strength
This is a story of humility
This is a story of faith
This is a story that challenges each and everyone of us to abandon stigma.
This is a love story.
Nasir Sobhani has faced in his own struggles in life. After a bout with drug use and a stint in prison, he found himself faced with the task of reinventing his life. Inspired by a new found love of barbering, he embarked upon a journey to open his own shop, and find a way to do some good in the meantime. He decided to share his new-found gifts with his fellow man. He began hitting the streets, in order to give free haircuts and other services to the homeless population in his city.
You can view the full story of “The Streets Barber”, in the documentary provided by the generous people at PLGRM, and what you will see is that this is a man who has been hit hard with life lessons, not only did he learn from them, he embodies them. He is not simply extending his generous hand to those less fortunate….he has lived it. He was one of them. He has faced their struggles, he has seen it all first hand…and he has won. How many people would choose to go back to that? How many of us, once we had safely escaped a life that seemed incomprehensibly difficult, how many would go back and face it on a regular basis? Nasir Sobhani—the Street Barber—did, and still does, to this day.
Some may view his actions as small. After all, a haircut and a shave on their own cannot give a homeless person a home, it cannot provide a hungry person with food or a sick person with the treatment that they need. What Nasir provides is something much more intangible, but equally as impactful. What Nasir provides is love. Love for his fellow man, love for their situation, love for them as a person, beyond their mistakes or circumstances. What Nasir provides is more impactful, more meaningful than a handout. He provides a real, genuine human connection.
After viewing the documentary, I reached out to the production company, PLGRM, and eventually to Nasir himself, to have the opportunity to explore the struggles, the motivations, the challenges and the triumphs of this exemplary man. What you will read below, is my exchange with the Street Barber.
First of all, let’s talk about your own experience. You had some struggles with addiction and subsequent incarceration. How did you get to that point?
I went to a private school in Canada and my friends were experimenting with different things. When I tried drugs for the first time I didn’t realize how dangerous it could be. I got high and I enjoyed it, as anyone does but I also lost control and it was difficult to get out.
What was the tipping point, once you started recovery, that compelled you to take action?
What kept me going deeper and deeper into my drug abuse was that feeling of shame and hate about what I became. I couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing my family so I numbed it. One day I looked at my mum when I was just about to leave the house to get high again and I realized that I desperately needed to change. That’s when I checked myself into rehab and got through it all with the love and support of my family.
What made you decide to start barbering on the streets? There are a lot of different directions that you could have gone to make a difference.
Well, cutting hair on the streets is the perfect combination of doing what I love doing and also reaching out to people whose struggles I can understand. I believe that people can serve in many different ways and one way is to use their profession to help others. Sometimes I think people are too obsessed with trying to make a difference. I started to think that maybe it’s more about giving what we do a purpose rather than judging our end result in terms of making a difference.
Now that you’ve been doing the work that you do, do the majority of the people that you work with on the streets come from similar backgrounds or comparable struggles to your own? Or is there an array of stories and reasons?
This is actually one of the biggest stereotypes I encounter when talking to others about what I do. It turns out that not all homeless people are drug addicts and not all drug addicts are homeless. Everyone I meet has a different story and to be honest mostly a very sad and shocking one. I think what you can say is that people who live on the streets haven’t received enough love and attention in their lives and way too much violence and loneliness. I guess that those can be the reasons that drive you into substance abuse but it’s not that simple.
What has been the most impactful story that you’ve heard from one of your clients, to date?
That one of them broke up with the love of his life because he was so into Heroin that he’d know she would do it also because she loved him so much. It was heavy to hear because as a result he hasn’t found anyone like her and is so sad and miserable which leads to more heroin use.
Is it difficult for you to be reminded of your own struggles on a weekly basis?
Actually, I am reminded of my own struggles everyday and I take it day by day and focus on staying sober.
Do you have recurring homeless clients? Have you formed relationships with them as you would a client in your shop?
Yes, I have. That’s one of the true joys of cutting hair on the streets. I’ve seen some of my clients like 3 or 4 times and it’s awesome to see their development. I’ve got one really amazing example. During the first cut I gave one of my clients I had to pause because he had to make a sale. I was pretty shocked but I decided to just finish the cut and continue to show love to him. The second time I saw him he told me he had stopped selling and the third time he had gained some weight and told me he had been off heroine for some time and we talked about love. I don’t think we know how much friendships do for us. They are nourishing our souls without us realizing.
Have you ever felt scared or threatened when working with a client? Any negative experiences?
Yea, someone once pulled a knife at me and I was just like “yo man what’s going on?“ I was shocked. But then he explained that he wanted to cut me some heroine as a thank you. I thanked him and told him that I get high from cutting hair and not substance.
Has anyone ever refused your service?
Yes some of them do. Most people are hesitant at the start but once we start talking they warm up and accept. When I offer them a haircut I try to explain to them that it’s not about me doing them a favor but them doing me one. It’s seriously the best feeling to give someone a haircut and see how their self-confidence is boosted. I posted some of my clients reactions on instagram, they’re really awesome to watch.
Have any of your clients started out as a “Street Barber” Client, gotten off the streets and come back to see you in your shop?
No, not yet. But I’ve only been doing this for a year, good things take time.
What is your motivation for sharing your clients stories?
One of the reasons why I cut hair on the streets is to share the voice of the unheard. Most people haven’t received much empathy and I think that by sharing their stories they become more accessible to people. Homeless people are ostracized and are often ignored on the streets. I hope that by sharing what they have gone through makes people show them love and respect when they see them.
Homelessness has been pretty prevalent in the media lately. There seem to be a lot of different groups all around the world trying to help in their own respective ways. From your experiences, what do you think that the homeless population needs the most?
Love. There’s no simple solution to fix whatever their struggle might be.
What everyone needs is love and empowerment so we are enabled to do what we gotta do to become better.
Do you think there is a difference in the Australian homeless population than other parts of the world? A difference in the way that they are treated or their circumstances?
I guess although homeless people are ostracized they are still part of a countries culture. So you’re gonna see the same cultural differences in them like you see in the rest of the population. I’ve been cutting hair in Melbourne for a year now and I am really looking forward to traveling and doing the same thing in other parts of the world!
Tell us about your shop. What do you love about it? How is it different from other barbershops?
It’s more diverse and the people seem a lot more appreciative of the gesture
What is the most beautiful thing that you’ve ever seen?
My mother and father hugging each other and my dad kissing her on the cheek
What is the most inspiring thing that you’ve ever heard from one of your clients?
That our angels on earth are the people who have done the worst to us. Because they bring us closer to the creator.
What is the one thing that you wish that people would take away from your story?
“To make a sacrifice is to receive a gift”
We are always focused on how we can benefit ourselves…but if only we knew how much more of a benefit we can receive if we helped others.
I wish to really emphasize how important the Ba’hai faith* is to me and this movement. It’s a pillar in inspiring me to serve without prejudice. To serve humanity is to serve God, which is a common known teaching in the Ba’hai faith and I love that because my religion (including all other ones which I totally respect and appreciate) is about love and helping others .
*Editors Note:The Ba’hai faith was developed in Persia and is a monotheistic religion that emphasizes the unity of all humankind. One of the core principles of Ba’hai is that all humans have been created equal and that diversity in race and culture is worthy of not only acceptance, but appreciation.
You can follow Nasir Sobhani on his Instagram profile, @thestreetsbarber, where he shares his clients’ stories. Some are inspiring, some are joyful and some will break your heart. They are all important.
Photos: Courtesy of @thestreetsbarber Instagram
Video: Courtesy of PLGRM