On June 12, Rotary Club of Christiansburg-Blacksburg awarded their 2023 Professional Leadership Award to Charles Johnson, owner of Upscale Barber Salon in Blacksburg.
Club Award Chair Randy Young said, “The Professional Leadership Award recognizes individuals who have gone beyond the boundaries of conventional professional success by demonstrating exceptional leadership in the development and implementation of programs beneficial to the community.”
The award has been made annually since 2000 to individuals in diverse professions such as technology, education, medicine, finance, and public safety.
Mr. Johnson is a professional barber and was the founder, owner, and operator of the New Image Barber Shop and Salon for many years before selling the business and opening the Upscale Barber-Salon. Throughout his nearly 50 years in business, he has provided employment and mentoring for many barbers and stylists. At 90-years-old, Mr. Johnson still serves the community at his shop, as well as making house calls for those who are sick or unable to find transportation to his shop.
Club member Paul Farrier said, “If you are interested in an excellent haircut and a local history lesson, make an appointment!”
Prior to opening his own shop in 1974, Mr. Johnson worked in the Virginia Tech barbershop, cutting hair for the Corps of Cadets. He was told that he could only cut African American students’ hair before or after hours. At the end of one school year, Mr. Johnson grew tired of these rules and told the students to come in during regular hours. He was reported to his supervisor, who ultimately did not speak to Mr. Johnson about the incident and the barbershop remained integrated. During this time, Mr. Johnson provided support and counseling as well for African American students who didn’t feel especially welcome in downtown Blacksburg.
Former Blacksburg Police Chief Bill Brown recalled that when he was young, Mr. Johnson started a Boy Scout troop in the African American community of Wake Forest. All of the troop members, Chief Brown included, looked up to Mr. Johnson as a respected role model,
“Our meetings were fun and he instilled the following: character, integrity, respect, perseverance, and survival skill. His efforts reinforced what our parents were teaching us at home. Mr. Johnson certainly served as an example by exhibiting each of the aforementioned traits constantly.”
“Mr. Johnson is just a special individual, because he is a thoughtful, humble, exceptional, caring, and lovable kind of guy,” Brown continued. “All throughout his life, he has, and continues to, epitomize what all of those words represent and has truly set a high standard.”
Tom Sherman, Vice President of the Blacksburg Museum and Cultural Foundation, spoke of Mr. Johnson’s deep knowledge of local history and his willingness to share his experiences with growing up under segregation and the integration process in Montgomery County. When the Town of Blacksburg decided to create a museum, Mr. Johnson was a respected member of that conversation, making the case that there were other aspects of the Town’s history that couldn’t be told well within the Alexander Black House. When the St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall became part of the Blacksburg Museum to tell the story of New Town and the African American residents of Blacksburg, Mr. Johnson was an integral part of the Committee to be sure the story was properly told. Sherman said,
“Mr. Johnson is a model of the resilience, pride, self-reliance, and community spirit of the people who decided to build that building,” said Sherman.
Johnson is, or has been, an active member of many groups in the New River Valley including the First Baptist Church Radford, Virginia Barber and Cosmetologist Apprenticeship and Training Program, Christiansburg Institute Alumni Association, NAACP, American Legion, Montgomery County Human Relations Council, Town of Blacksburg Cemetery Committee, Warm Hearth Inc. Board of Directors, Town of Blacksburg Museum Committee, and Blacksburg Sports Club.
Upon receiving the Professional Leadership Award, Johnson said with characteristic humor, “Listening to you all, I wonder how I did it. Sometimes
I went to meetings seven days a week.”
And it is clear that he will continue to do all he can for his community as long as he is able.
The Rotary Club of Christiansburg-Blacksburg is celebrating 100 years of “Service Above Self” in 2023. The Club’s bi-annual blood screening (returning on July 15), local leadership recognition, youth development programs, and community service projects as well as sponsorship of the Virginia Tech Rotaract Club and participation in Rotary International programs such as PolioPlus exemplify this motto. For more information, or to join the Club, find @ChristiansburgBlacksburgRotary on Facebook.
Terri Fisher for the Rotary Club of Christiansburg-Blacksburg