By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
VINELAND — Whether it’s at Hassan’s Hair Hut at 742 E. Wood St., or his Next Level Boxing Gym, Hassan Hameed-El has been known for his caring, sharing and mentoring as much as his haircuts and teaching boxers how to deliver a great punch.
Words, work and wisdom is how many come to describe Hameed-El in the various ways they encounter him in the barbershop, his boxing gym or out in the community.
For Hameed-El, who has been a fixture throughout Cumberland County for youth of color for more than three decades, he was simply giving advice to young people willing to hear it, guiding people who wanted to be shown the way, and mentoring people who wanted to be mentored.
Hameed-El will be honored with three others on Saturday (April 3) in Bridgeton at a special brunch put on by the nonprofit Life Worth Living. It is not the first time the barber and well-known boxing trainer has been recognized, but said he is humbled just the same.
“I’m just honored to be a part of a fledgling organization and that they appreciate the seeds I was dropping when I was kid,” he said of the upcoming honor. “I’m honored to be amongst a panel of honorees who have done similar work.”
But Hameed-El hasn’t always felt that way about being honored. He said that he would decline to show up at such events initially because he didn’t want to make it seem he was trying to be more than what he was. He said, though, he decided that would be disrespectful to those praising him.
Hameed-El, who graduated from Vineland High School, spoke about his own experience when he was young without a mentor to help him: being bullied and getting into trouble. He said that experience compelled him to be there for young people when they needed advice or more.
“I was just going through life and making my way without having the guidance, home guidance,” Hameed-El said. “You can have all the love you want, but love isn’t a blueprint for anything. It doesn’t teach you how to save money. It doesn’t teach you how to do your homework and get good grades. It doesn’t teach you that kind of instruction and direction you need to be successful.”
He said one of the ministers in his church led him under his wing and exposed him to boxing and started his journey into understanding the world.
A Different Light
“I gravitated toward what he was doing and also gave me a brotherhood and a sense of direction; a different point of view from what I was used to growing up in the church,” Hameed-El said. “I started to see Black people in a different light. You start to understand we were from kings and queens and that we were truly made an image of God. That kind of debunked the narrative of whiteness is right. By understanding the origins of everything educational-wise — science, math, history — that kind of gave me my way.”
Hameed-El spent three years in the military, which he said was both a positive and a negative experience. There he experienced racism and other challenges. But what he also found was a kind of discipline, work ethic and accomplishment that would last him a lifetime.
“You built a discipline, which was basically routine,” he said. “In the military, when you have to do something, it doesn’t matter how you feel about it. If I want to do it, or whatever, it has to be done. My mother used to say, ‘I don’t care how you feel. I still need the dishes washed’ or ‘I need the room cleaned up.’ The military is the same way. You have to get things done.”
He said that kind of discipline to get things done, despite obstacles big or small and doing them with people who he liked and didn’t like, taught him valuable lessons about getting things accomplished, which he has passed along to others.
Lessons from Boxing
Hameed-El said some of those same lessons can be found in boxing. He said a boxer who ignores the rigorous training it takes for fights gets exposed pretty quickly in the ring against fighters who have trained, regardless of talent. Those results are often pretty painful.
“Success at any level requires us to do things when we want to be at a party or laughing with friends or relaxing,” Hameed-El said. “You need that discipline, whether writing a 20-page report or working out in the boxing ring, staying away from chicks or whatever it takes to be successful. It doesn’t always taste good but you’ve got to do it.”
His Next Level Boxing Club continues to work with youth and guide young people to a live away from the streets.
Many have come to treasure Hameed-El’s mentorship and work in the community.
“Hassan has been giving young women and men of Cumberland County great advice since as long as I can remember,” John Fuqua, founder of Life Worth Living in Bridgeton, told Front Runner New Jersey. “As a man, he has been an example for many young men who never had a father figure. Hassan is an example of a man with principles and standards.”
Corey DP Thomas praised Hameed-El online recently on the barber’s birthday.
“This man has been like a father to me, took me under his wing and exposed me to so much,” Thomas said on Facebook. “He has truly been my role model, my brother, and friend.”
Jeru Ramesi-El said in 2019: “This brother is a cornerstone in the Asiatic and Muslim community. Coming up, I sat at his feet learning wisdom. Anytime I am in my brother’s presence, I always walk away with something powerful.”
Hameed-El said while he was pleased with the comments, he just wants to always stay grounded. He said his goal is not to lift himself above others, but simply to share and help others who are seeking the value of his words and teachings, whether it’s in the barbershop or gym.
The Right Direction
“I have no expectation or hope of any other kind, other than to help make the man or the woman address whatever concerns they have and point him in the right direction,” Hameed-El said. “All I want as recognition is to see them be successful and be better than before we found them.”
He said the words he expresses are often shared with other family members and friends, with whom he hopes his guidance is magnified.
“A lady came up to me and hugged me and said, ‘Thank you for helping my son.'” Hameed-El said. “This was 25 years ago. I didn’t know exactly what I said to him, but you know you can’t sit here and keep score. You just have to do whatever you can.
“If you affect someone in a positive way, then all praise to Allah. If not, still all praise to Allah. We all have a capacity to do certain things to help people. You can’t say ‘why you’ or ‘why not you.'”
Many have come to value Hameed-El, his work, words and wisdom for more than three decades.
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