As a graduate student in the Regional + City Planning program, Vanessa Morrison explored the personal and community significance of barbershops and investigated the feasibility of creating a mobile barbershop in the Oklahoma City region. Today, she and her fiancé Bruce Waight operate En Root,  a mobile barbershop that has already been featured on podcasts like StoryCorps Oklahoma. Learn more about Morrison’s work below!

Q: Can you give me a brief overview of the project you completed as a student at OU and how it related (at the time) to En Root?

A: My project focused on intersecting topics of Placemaking, culture, and lived experiences within barbershop spaces. The barbershop is the cornerstone of the Black community and through my studies I quickly observed that clients go to these spaces for much more than just a haircut. I also studied what people’s journeys were like when trying to access these community assets and theorized over how designing a mobile barbershop model could eliminate obstacles and barriers for people who struggle to get to these places, and how a mobile barbershop could provide services and public space in their communities. My now-fiancé was building out En Root during my studies and we were able to utilize my findings to help put En Root to its best and highest use.

Q: Did you know or suspect when you created your feasibility study that En Root would come to fruition?

A: Yes. En Root was always the end goal and it was so exciting to combine my planning studies with such a unique and fun business model. I didn’t anticipate how much attention we would get from it, the challenges, and all of the successes, but I always saw the vision of En Root and knew we would make it happen.

Q: What projects are you engaged with now?

A: I’m involved in a few community organizing projects that are generally focused on supporting and empowering marginalized communities of color. After a year, En Root is still in operation and is utilized for events, volunteering, and reaching out to group homes and shelters. We have also recently opened up a brick and mortar space called Rooted Barber + Shop. Our motto is “Cuts and Culture” and we have a lot of exciting plans to activate the barbershop space with arts programming, community dialogue, events, and more. There are also future plans for En Root that I’m really excited about as well.

Rooted Barber + Shop
Views of Rooted Barber + Shop

Below, Morrison describes several additional, exciting projects.

  • Black Space Oklahoma

 I’m the co-founder of Black Space Oklahoma. Our mission is to promote Black communities where social and spatial change is encouraged, hope is fostered, and the pipeline to the professions of city planning, architecture, and design is broadened. We just recently received our 501 (c) 3 non-profit status and are collaborating on projects with the Christopher C. Gibbs College of Architecture and others with big plans for next year as we develop our organization.

  • Cut it Forward

Cut it Forward is a new non-profit organizations with a mission to wrap around the hair and skin care needs of foster and adopted youth of color and their caregivers. Being a former foster youth myself, I have the lived experience of how these detriments can impact self-esteem and confidence, and create gaps in cultural bonding. Many youth of color to this day enter these systems with these needs being neglected and/or not fully understood, and their caregivers are oftentimes left with little to no resources or support in regards to how they can address these needs. I currently serve on the board of directors, and we are designing programming to provide education, services, products, and general support to child welfare professionals, caregivers, youth, and more who have these needs.

  • For Tia

For Tia has a mission to provide culturally specific education, support, and resources focused on Black women impacted by interpersonal violence. I am one of the founding members that make a multidisciplinary team of professionals working to disrupt cycles of violence against Black women while providing data-driven solutions.

Keep up the great work, Vanessa!