By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
In September 2020, popular barber Dooney Nellom talked with Front Runner New Jersey.com about believing in Atlantic City as part of a story we did in conjunction with Stories of Atlantic City. While the focus centered around the Atlantic City NAACP winning the national NAACP convention for 2022, Nellom talked about numerous subjects, his business and growing up I Atlantic City. Here is the rest of that story.
ATLANTIC CITY – Barber Dooney Nellom knows all too well about makeovers, a sense that comes from more than cutting hair as one of Atlantic City’s most popular hairstylists.
The owner of Just Cuttin Up Barber Shop and Salon at 528 Atlantic Ave., Nellom, never lost faith in Atlantic City – or himself, even through some of the darkest times. Nellom, nicknamed “The Surgeon,” was a self-described street hustler when he found himself on the wrong side of the law in the early 2000s.
After four years in state prison, he was determined to turn his life around. With hair clippers he purchased off the streets, he perfected his hair cutting craft while doing time. Today, his Just Cuttin Up Barber Shop and Salon is one of the go-to stops for young Atlantic City men with six other barbers on staff. Things are so busy he opens seven days a week to keep servicing his clientele.
The heartbeat of his own story, one of determination and strength, echoes the story of the city.
‘If I Can Do it?’
“If I can do it, anybody can do it,” said Nellom, cutting hair on a recent Sunday at his job. An NFL game blared on a big-screen television at the far end of the barbershop back in September. “I’ve been out of jail for 11 years. I’m not planning on going back. There are a lot of obstacles for people who are getting out.
“No lawyer, no judge can tell you how hard it is until you’ve lived it,” said Nellom, admitting that he had experienced his own struggles and relapses since being out. “You have to be strong mentally to overcome your obstacles, to make a better path for you and your family.”
Nellom said he has seen his hometown at its lowest and how the people of Atlantic City have fought to keep it going.
Atlantic City Up and Coming
“I’m telling you, Atlantic City is up and coming,” Nellom said. “There’s money here. We’re trying to build it back up. The only thing is that they need to build more things for the people who live here and not just for the people coming from out-of-town.
“They’re trying to get Atlantic City to back to where it was, but it’s going to hard. There are a lot of people not working right now. A lot of construction workers are out of the job. People have to be patient and take it one day at a time.”
$40 Start Up
One Nellom’s favorite stories is how he got started as a barber and how he managed to perfect his craft in prison.
“I was out on block trying to get drugs and a guy said ‘give me $40 for these clippers.’ He had a bag of clippers. I took that bag of clippers and started cutting hair in the Uptown and Rhode Island Avenue area. I started with the little kids. I was messing their heads up but I was learning. I started liking it because I’m an artist. I know how to draw. When I went to prison, I actually learned how to cut. I learned how to blend, how to fade, everything. It’s not all bad.
“That’s why they call it corrections. In prison, you’re going to either go right or left. It’s about choices. If you hang out with the positive people, you get a positive outcome. I’ve come a long way. I don’t want my kids to make the same mistakes I made. I’ve got four girls and four boys. I stayed home for them to make sure they don’t make the same mistakes I made. My youngest is 6 and my oldest is 28. My son is a deejay known as DJ Young Hitta. He’s so ambitious and he has tremendous drive. He’s a great kid,” Nellom said.
Not Going Back
Nellom said it can be a struggle to stay away from drugs and he had relapsed in the past, but now he is laser focused on being a role model for the community and his children.
“I first started cutting in my apartment and I can tell you I don’t want to work for anybody else,” Nellom said. “Atlantic City has money if you’re willing to work for it. I’ve been out of prison 11 years and I’m not planning on going back. I tell people all the time you have to stay strong and don’t let anything get in your way. There definitely will be obstacles.
“But I’m tired of being a statistic,” Nellom said.
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