William Burt spent remaking a trolley bus into Mobile Barbershop.
The Waterloo barber’s goal haircuts to those who need them most but can not get to retail locations.
“Nursing homes, veteran centers, homeless shelters — there is a large number of under-served populations out there,” he said. “I have to bridge the gap to those communities.”
But when he began to plan the company, Burt learned the law wasn’t on his side. Iowa code permits barbers to practice only in a”fixed location.”
Burt’s advocacy within the past two years for the change earned him a mention in Reynolds’ Condition of the State Address in January and a standing ovation from the Iowa Senate when the chamber passed the bill last week.
“He spent much of his life in and out of prison, but is now a business owner who’s working to change Iowa law to allow mobile barbershops, which I think is a good idea,” Reynolds said.
For Burt, who has worked to build his career after spending nearly a decade fighting with the legislation, he said the shift is his”biggest accomplishment thus far.”
The interior of Burt’s mobile barbershop comes with a barber chair, for waiting clients, a television and a sink, four chairs. A barber’s pole hangs behind the driver’s seat.
Much of the interior has changed as a bus because of the days of the vehicle. But there’s one thing Burt maintained: A message published in the area above the front windshield that says, “Life is a journey, and only you hold the map.”
Burt explained that saying speaks to him, especially considering how far he has come.
“It just tells my life story,” he said. “I can’t explain it. God is good.”
Burt was convicted of abuse charges and drug charges and sent to prison multiple times between 2008 and 2000. While in prison, he would cut for 40 hours each week and took hair cutting up.
Burt cut his younger siblings’ hair, but behind bars, he honed his craft.
He said as he focused on getting better, some of his fellow inmates started to request his services. He realized he might be able to turn it into something more after his release.
“Some of those guys were just cutting since we had to have a job in there,” he said. “But at some point, it dawned on me that I might be good enough to actually take this someplace.”
Burt started attending school for the first time in 2006. Another trip broke up his training in prison for domestic abuse. Although he returned, he graduated and started barbering in 2012.
He has continued his education, earning a bachelor’s degree in human and leisure, youth services from the University of Northern Iowa in 2014. In December of last year, he finished his master’s in the same subject.
Burt began working on the idea of a cell barbershop in December 2017. It was modeled by him were his friends worked.
But he soon learned from an adviser that, under Iowa, law barbershops were not legal.
After considering his options, Burt decided he wanted to start working on getting the law changed. That meant continuing to work on the bus’ renovation.
“I had no clue how I was going to get this law changed, but I knew… I had enough of a mission or a vision to get a person to buy into it,” he said.
Burt had a conversation with Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, who was a client of one of Burt’s coworkers. Smith began working on legislation. Burt worked for Prosperity, the primary political division of the Koch Brothers’ advocacy, which took up his cause.
The bill’s first in the Legislature, last year, the measure did not advance.
When Reynolds encouraged Burt to attend her Condition of the State address, However, the effort received a massive increase in January. Reynolds told Burt’s narrative as she advocated for a constitutional amendment to automatically restore the rights of felons to vote upon their release from prison.
The present law requires a governor to restore those rights. Burt’s voting rights were revived by Reynolds.
“I recently called William to inform him that I was restoring his voting rights,” Reynolds said in her January speech. “Hearing those words brought tears into his eyes.”
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