published Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Kennedy: Smile doctor: Free haircuts push free enterprise

Dr. Thomas Rumph stands in Big Boom’s Barber Shop and Hair Salon while speaking about plans to educate area children so that they, too, can become black business owners. Dr. Rumph will exchange a free haircut for a child’s attendance in a church service where black business owners will speak about how they achieved their dreams.
Dr. Thomas Rumph stands in Big Boom’s Barber Shop and Hair Salon while speaking about plans to educate area children so that they, too, can become black business owners. Dr. Rumph will exchange a free haircut for a child’s attendance in a church service where black business owners will speak about how they achieved their dreams.
Photo by Dan Henry.

By the time he was 10 years old, Thomas Rumph was selling bags of peanuts and popcorn on the side of the road in Toombs County, Ga.

Young Thomas would tell his small-town customers -- truthfully -- that he was saving for college.

From little Vidalia, Ga., Rumph eventually made it to cap-and-gown ceremonies at Florida A&M University and later at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta, where he completed his dental training.

Today, he operates Eastdale Family Dentistry on Wilcox Boulevard, but he has never lost his passion for business. Dr. Rumph collects businesses like other people collect baseball cards. Besides his dental practice, his other properties include a barber shop, two beauty salons, a nail salon and a restaurant. His business holdings are spread across the city: Eastdale, Brainerd, the Highway 58 area.

His dental office is known as a place that builds smiles and spreads goodwill. At Christmastime he distributes gifts to poor families. The practice has a 15-passenger van to provide transportation for patients, and no child goes home hungry after a visit to Dr. Rumph's office.

From where he sits, Dr. Rumph believes much of the crime and despair in Chattanooga's urban neighborhoods can be traced to a scarcity of black-owned businesses and entrepreneurial role models.

"Solving our problems has to start with people like me," Dr. Rumph said in an interview last week at his office in Eastdale. "For a lot of folks out here, the only business they ever see a black person own is a drug business."

Dr. Rumph has taken it upon himself to take steps to try to change that.

On July 30 he is offering free tacos, pizza and haircut coupons to community youths who gather at Orchard Knob Baptist Church (1734 E. Third St.) from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Besides Dr. Rumph, speakers will include Carolyn Jones, president of the health records consulting company C.J. Enterprises Inc.; and Charles Kimbrough, president of TrinTech Solutions LLC, an information technology company.

"I feel like the best way to stimulate [young people] is to show them our lives," Dr. Rumph said.

It's notable that this isn't a government intervention or a push from the pulpit. These are black businesspeople trying to pay forward a message of hope based on good old, American free enterprise.

By offering coupons for free back-to-school haircuts for young men and hair-styling for young women, Dr. Rumph hopes to attract 150-200 young people to his pro-business revival.

He has partnered with Solomon Williams, whose nonprofit Community of One organization held a similar back-to-school rally in Cleveland, Tenn., last year, to spread the word about the haircut giveaway. The two met at Miller-Motte Technical College, a local trade and career school where Williams works and Dr. Rumph recruits talent for his businesses.

Dr. Rumph says offering a free back-to-school haircut is a way to help boost a child's self-image at a vulnerable time.

"I want these kids to feel proud their first day back at school," Dr. Rumph says. "For single parents, haircuts cost lots of money."

Adds Williams, "Think of the parents who have to choose between a haircut and buying a new shirt [for school]."

To think that intractable problems such as poverty and crime can be solved with a few haircuts is naive. But then, who would have thought a little boy selling peanuts on the side of the road in Southeast Georgia would one day own several businesses that employ dozens of people?

One thing is indisputable: Where no seeds are planted, nothing will grow.

To suggest a human interest story contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter@TFPCOL UMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedy columnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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Ki said...

Hopefully this won't amount to too little too late. Where were all these now caring successful black folks as little as 10, 15 or 20 years ago? Or perhaps five years ago for that matter? ans:? They were the ones beating the drums loudess about how terrible their young black men were. They were leading the campaign for stiffer sentencing laws. When others tried to point out the damage they were doing to their own they were either ignored, attacked or accused of living in the past.

Someone in federal law once put it this way: You know why the war on drugs and others were waged primarily in the black community when whites abuse drugs equal to and some studies say even greater and more often than blacks? The white community would have never allowed such wars to invade their communities in the first place. It doesn't matter if little white junior or missy were overdosing in their parents basements. They don't want the lifetime stigma forever impacting their communities, their schools or forever altering and damaging their children's future.

July 25, 2014 at 2:38 p.m.
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