MILTON — Lonnie Bennett Jr. has taken his dream of barbering and his desire to help his community to the next level through his barbershop, Visible Changez.
Bennett said he decided to open his shop in part because of the encouragement of a good friend, Edgar Jones, who gave him the opportunity to begin working as a barber.
"[He] gave [me] an opportunity to exercise my skills as a barber," Bennett said. "He had a barber shop in Gainesville called Visible Changes, spelled with an 'S.'"
Bennett said Jones died in 2005 and Bennett vowed that if he ever owned his own shop he would name it after his friend's store to honor him. He made good on that promise in July of 2018. He opened his business in the building at 5154 Santa Rosa St., which he said was perfect for him, despite its initial appearance.
"It had been a consignment shop," he said. "At first my wife was like, 'No way,' because of the way it looked. But I told her, being a man of God, 'Look, I see a vision.'"
Bennett said after he drew out his vision on a napkin, he and his wife knew they could make it a reality. He said he was able to get assistance from Main Street Milton.
Bennett said before he even opened the shop he decided he would give scholarships, which led him to start the annual, "Visible Changes Academic Scholarship."
Bennett, with the help of the nonprofit group Men In Action, have raised $1,500 which will be divided equally among three students at Milton High School. Students will write an essay about how they will make a difference in society and provide three references from faculty members from the school to qualify for the scholarship. Bennett said as the annual scholarship grows he plans to expand the award to students at Pace High School.
"My son graduated from Milton. Most of my customers live in Milton," he said. "I want to bless as many seniors as possible but I felt like I should take care of our own first. "
Recent customers praised the haircuts they received at Bennett's shop.
"I had just gotten off a shift and I had thought about going fishing but I looked at my hair and realized I needed a haircut," Michael Van Why said. "It looks great. I'll be coming back."
Reverend Warren Gilmore, Bennett's first customer when he opened the shop, said he followed him from the barber shop where Bennett last worked.
"I was very satisfied," Gilmore said. "He is a great guy and a master barber."
Bennett said being a man of faith, he is not concerned about the success of his business.
"I've had people tell me I shouldn't step out and open up a business alone," he said. "I am never alone; God is always with me."
Visible Changez is open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 5154 Santa Rosa St.