Once he starts something, he has to finish.
That’s the idea behind JaQuarius Harris’ determination to finish assignments, classes ... and school.
The first in his family to graduate from high school, he’s taking that same mindset into the next chapter of his life — barbers school, then college.
Harris didn’t set foot in a barber shop until he was 13 years old.
He went years without buying haircuts. His stepfather always cut his hair at their home as a way to save money.
One day at home, he came across a pair of his stepfather’s clippers and attempted to cut his own hair.
“I messed up really bad,” Harris said. “It was really bad. I didn’t have a hairline and I looked ridiculous. I felt like I could do better.”
He was 14. He started watching tutorials on YouTube and learned through observation and practice with his own hair.
“I got to a point where people would ask me ‘Who cut your hair?’” he said. “I said, ‘I did it’ and they would say ‘No, you didn’t.’ After that, I started cutting my friends’ hair and my cousins’ hair.”
He still cuts their hair at no cost. Eventually, he would like to charge for the service.
“It’s something I could do every day,” he said. “I like making people look different. I feel like when people get out of my chair, their confidence is on a whole different level. They smile at me when they get out of the chair. It makes them feel good about themselves, and I like that I could help.”
First, he had to finish high school. Harris graduated Thursday night from Capital High School, something his parents never did.
“My mom had me just before she turned 18, and I think she had dropped out of school before she got pregnant with me,” he said. “She wanted to work to take care of me.”
His father, who he doesn’t know much about, also dropped out, but he later earned his GED, Harris said.
Harris transferred to Capital High School at the beginning of March 2016. Before then, he attended various other schools in West Virginia (as well as one in Arizona and one in North Carolina) and lived with different guardians.
“I’ve been through some bad situations, and it’s hard to do positive things after you’ve been through so much negative stuff,” he said. “I witnessed a lot of stuff that someone my age shouldn’t have witnessed. I witnessed domestic violence, fights, drugs. I saw a lot of stuff I wasn’t supposed to see.
“I used that to my advantage and what not to be because I always knew right from wrong. I didn’t want to be like the people I was seeing as I was growing up.”
Harris said his lack of a relationship with his father has been a driving factor behind his desire to do things better for himself and his future.
He lived with his mother in Beckley until a disagreement caused him to move in with his grandmother when he was 16. Currently he lives with his best friend, whose mother and grandmother have welcomed him as one of their own. Harris refers to them as Mom and Grandmother, his “extended family.”
“We’re very proud of him,” said Star Hogan, his friend’s mother. “The hard work, the dedication, the commitment that he has displayed, no matter what seemed to be the adversity, he seemed to adjust, figure it out and keep moving forward.”
He didn’t have enough credits to graduate as a senior the first time, so he had to take an extra year in school.
“At first, when I got to moving from school to school, I was scared of meeting new people and talking to new people,” Harris said. “It’s high school, so the people they knew, they knew from middle school. Now that’s my favorite part, because I got to meet so many different new people and now, as big as social media is, I know a lot of people.”
Harris participated in the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) at Capital, a program meant to prepare students for careers in business and business-related fields. This gave him a starting point for his future in business.
“It puts you together with people who have the same intentions as you do,” he said. “It puts you around people who have the same mindset as you do, and you become friends because you are interested in the same things.”
Harris said he enjoyed his accounting class at school because he likes working with money.
“I learned how to do payrolls, write checks, general ledgers,” he said. “I know how to do all of that now. I think that is more interesting than actual school because you learn stuff that you will be able to use five or 10 years from now.”
Once he completes barber school, he plans to attend West Virginia State University and study business management. From there, he wants to open his own shop and possibly other businesses.
“I want to be successful,” he said. “I want my name to be known. I want people to know who I am.”
Reach Anna Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-4881 or follow @byannataylor on Twitter.