By Jarett Slionski
I grew up on Long Island, and have owned Iron & Tread Barbershop in Sayville for five years. I’m currently in the process of opening my second business next door, The Flow Collective, a place of meditation, love, art and music.
I grew up heavily involved in the punk and hardcore music community, playing in bands and going to shows. Those years taught me to be the man I am today, and taught me to stand with my community and stand up against any sort of racism or bigotry in any shape or form.
Now, I’m 40 years old, a father of four, and I take pride in my stance, and have always tried to instill in my children the same things I’ve learned growing up. So when the recent Black Lives Matter protests started, I took a firm stance, as I always have.
I posted on my Facebook businesses page, simply showing support of the June protest in the town where my business is. My post said, “We as a community need to come together and show solidarity with the people that need it. Next week, come walk with us! Plenty of parking at the train station and in our parking lot if need be.”
The backlash I received from our community about posting this was utterly disturbing. They included death threats and threats to burn down my barbershop. I had the cops called on me — the police were told that I had planned on bussing people into town to destroy and burn businesses down.
The conversations I had with people all seemed to go the same way: They immediately thought that because I showed support for the protest, I or my business hate the police and are a part of Anitifa, and want to destroy the amazing town that I live in and work in.
Anyone who knows me on a personal level knows that this is not and never will be the case. I find it absurd that people can just simply make assumptions and spread lies for anyone taking a stance against racism, when at the end of the day, all I want to do is show love and respect to everyone.
We have many police officers who frequent Iron & Tread, and who we are very friendly with and have built great relationships with, so the backlash I got was very upsetting. I received numerous messages from clients telling me they would not be coming to my shop anymore.
While I respect their choice, I always explained my point of view, and by the end of the conversations, their feelings changed for the better and they understood where I stand.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say this is not an every-cop issue. It just so happens that this is the particular situation that was presented to us, again. This is 100% a racism issue. Racism is and has been very present on Long Island for a lot longer than I can remember. It may not be in our faces every day, but it’s here.
The week before this particular protest in Sayville, there were swastikas spray-painted in the streets. I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen KKK flyers being spread around our neighboring towns. As a father, it irks me that I have to continually talk to my kids about this stuff and teach them that it’s not ok.
People are not born racist, they learn it. Whether it be from their parents, their friends or whoever. It’s here and confronting it is the only way it’s going to go away. People must show they’re not afraid to stand up against it.
That’s what I did, and will always do. That is what I’ll teach my children. That’s what I’ll teach in my community.
I encourage conversation, I encourage love and respect for people, I encourage you to come down to my place of business and talk to me, get to know me as a person, and not take what you’ve heard and make assumptions about me or my business.
We need to come together in these absolutely terrifying times as a community and learn how to work together to show our children and the youth the right way to think and feel about these matters and situations. It’s a community issue. We need to do better.
We are all human, we all make mistakes and nobody is perfect. But there are always lessons to be learned. Growth can happen. Change can happen. Be a part of that change and teach your children to be a part of that change. Welcome it, accept it.
Much love and respect from myself and the Iron & Tread family.
Jarett Slionski is one of the owners of Iron & Tread Barbershop and The Flow Collective, both located on Railroad Avenue in Sayville.