Christchurch barber Mataio (Matt) Brown wrote the best-selling book She is Not Your Rehab with his wife Sarah.
The couple spoke to Phil Borell about the book and the global anti-violence movement it has spawned at 2021 WORD Christchurch.
Matt Brown is famous not only for the local barber’s shop he runs in Christchurch but for the quality of the conversations he has with his clients.
Matt and his wife Sarah are both deeply involved in a range of programmes dealing with those in prison and on the margins of society. Together they wrote the book She Is Not Your Rehab to help break generational cycles of abuse.
During this conversation, Matt reads from a letter, included in the book, that outlines the kaupapa for his work with men whose troubled behaviour reflects their troubled upbringings.
Read / Listen: The barber helping break cycles of violence (Nine to Noon, July 2021)
A letter to my brother.
When you told me that you wished you could tell me everything, but you couldn’t possibly because it would test even the limits of my love, my heart was still, my brother. So still, so quiet.
You said bro if I told you you’d walk like everyone else.
But if only you knew that when I think of why I even barber at all I think of men like you. If only you knew that it’s the shame you push down that whispers in your ear telling you I’d leave if I knew. Because if the truth whispered, it would tell you nothing you could ever tell me would change my mind about you, because I see you. And when I see you, I don’t see the gangster, I see a little boy sleeping on the bedsprings because your father deemed you unworthy to sleep on a mattress. I’ve always seen him.
So, when I cut your hair, I’m cutting that little boy's hair and with every snip, I’m telling him he’s worthy.
You are worthy little one. Snip snip
You are worthy of healing. Snip snip
You are worthy of belonging. Snip snip.
You are worthy to be known. Snip snip.
You are worthy to exist. Snip snip.
You are worthy to be loved.
You epitomise the reason I do this at all when you come into the barbershop and sit in my chair, I feel you exhale.
I exhale too, and suddenly you aren’t in my chair in the barbershop, you are lying on those bedsprings in a dark room and I’m sitting on the end of your bed with you.
I see your tears, but I don’t hear them.
You weren’t allowed to cry back then my brother. But you can cry with me now, little one. I’m honoured to hear your tears sometimes they just need a witness. So, I’ll sit there in the dark with you as long as it takes until you have the courage to push them out.
I can smell the urine; I know it was just your way of protecting yourself, little one. I’m sorry you had to stay like that all night. I’m here now and we’ll clean it up together I promise. I’ll sit up here with you all night, just so you know I’m not going anywhere.
It’ll always be because of men like you, with little boys inside of you longing to be seen that I consider this sacred work to be the honour of my life. To cut your hair and see you beyond what the world sees well it’s a perspective that Atua must surely have of each of us.
So, I’ll continue to be my father's barber.
I thank you humbly for this gift. I thank you for letting me see you. I thank you for trusting me with your pain. I thank you for allowing me to sit with you in all of it.
It’s been a journey. But I know you sit above and rise above the pain, a place where you see all things, a place where your soul is finally free.
I promise you I’ll tell your story and in time I will but until then rest in power...
So, I wrote that letter to a man whom society would label the worst. A man that a lot of our whanau would often say destroyed our communities. But when you understand inter-generational trauma and pain, the question is never why the addiction, but why the pain?
And so this is a question that I have asked many times to the men that sit in my barber chair who often visit our local barbershop here in Christchurch in Riccarton Rd. And for this gentleman who is no longer with us who lost his battle to cancer a few months ago, it’s been an honour of my life to sit with him over the last decade cutting his hair and hearing his story.
A boy who was raised in the system, a boy whose mum left this world due to an overdose, a boy whose father left him at a boys’ home because he deemed him unworthy, found him too hard to look after. And so the system raised him and he was moved from foster home to foster home and in each home, he was abused. And so, the streets raise him, and society would label him a gangster, but I was honoured to see the little boy.
Matt and Sarah Brown
Mataio (Matt) Faafetai Malietoa Brown is an internationally acclaimed barber and hair artist.
With his wife Sarah Brown (Ngāpuhi/Te Rarawa), he founded My Fathers Barbers - a barbershop where men go to heal, and the global anti-violence movement She Is Not Your Rehab.
This session was recorded in partnership with WORD Christchurch