Johnnie Dwayne (J.D.) Upson, has been a barber in his native Jacksonville for 14 years at The Cut Above Barber Shop in Arlington, where he has overheard and served as witness to social issues in his community. So he didn’t hesitate when one of his clients, Jack Johnson, the Regional Outreach Director for Florida KidCare and the Responsible Fatherhood Program, asked him to get involved with the Healthy Start Coalition’s Barbers for Babies project.

“He was adamant about getting men involved,” J.D. said. “We began informing our clients about infant mortality in Jacksonville.”

With Jack’s guidance, J.D. and the other barbers in his shop began to talk to their clients about the infant mortality rate, racial disparities and fatherhood. As a father of two, J.D. felt it was extremely important to tell men who have pregnant wives or girlfriends what their role is as a support system for their women.

As part of their project, the group of 30 Barbers for Babies from shops all around Jacksonville has held two back-to-school events and two Florida KidCare enrollment events. During Infant Mortality Awareness Month in September 2011, J.D. and several of the barbers met with national infant mortality spokeswoman Tonya Lewis Lee, advocate and wife of director Spike Lee, to share their stories and the success of their education program.

J.D. knows that barbershops, historically a big influence in the black community and gathering place for men, can make a difference.

“[It’s] a great medium for being able to get information on being healthy,” J.D. said. “They can answer any question you have.”