Celebrity barber inspires African diaspora

Photo by Abdi Mohamed Akeem Akway, seen here kneeling, is surrounded by friends and family celebrating his seventh year in business.

As a young kid growing up in Fridley, Akeem Akway rarely encountered successful images of African entrepreneurs. Now a successful barber, he hopes that his own attainment of the American Dream can help inspire others. 

From tailored suits and sports cars to flashing lights, all the stops were pulled out at Fhima’s Minneapolis Restaurant on the evening of July 3 to celebrate the seven-year anniversary of Akway’s Sports Barbershop. Friends and family all came out to show love for the celebrity barber and Minnesota-raised Akway.

“It feels amazing because I wish I had this growing up, but I didn’t, so it’s up to me to create it,” Akway said. 

Known for sitting courtside at Timberwolves games, Akway has cut the hair of professional athletes like Anthony Harris, Patrick Beverly, Anthony Edwards and Karl Anthony Towns to name a few. 

But before he was known for giving fades to top players in the NFL and NBA, Akway started as a barber for his school basketball team at Fridley High School. Back in 2009, before cutting hair for pro ballers, Akway gained notoriety for his work as the high school team’s barber, where he would earn $5 each cut. 

From there he went on to attend the Moler Barber School and afterward work as a barber at Final Cut in the Maplewood Mall. Roughly six years later, Akway would open his first barbershop in Spring Lake Park, where he would quickly gain a reputation for his hard work, generosity, and celebrity clientele. 

Making the cut 

It took one cut with former Minnesota Vikings player Jerrick McKinnon to get the ball rolling. McKinnon then referred Akway to teammate Anthony Barr, who then got word to former Timberwolves player and fellow Minnesotan Tyus Jones. 

For a while, Akway was Jones’s best-kept secret until Timberwolves power forward and center, Towns, began to pry. 

Once Towns discovered Akway, his work as a celebrity barber took off, even becoming somewhat of an official barber for the Timberwolves. Akway and Towns became close friends over the years with the star player often referring to Akway for sponsored shoots. 

“As far as the celebrity barbering thing,” Akway said of his success, “I just knew that if I got a chance to cut one guy, that was it. I believed in my skill.”

Born in Ethiopia, Akway arrived in the United States at the age of 10. Becoming a business owner wasn’t an easy task for him, and it took years of struggle to arrive where he is now. 

“We’re celebrating the adversity,” Akway said behind his shades while wearing an all-white suit. “Sometimes the landlord would say, ‘Y’all got to move cause y’all too loud,’ and we were able to make it through those stages.”

Dozens packed into the upstairs dining room at Fhima’s Minneapolis for the 7th year anniversary of Akway’s Sports Barbershop.

Akway, 31, now owns three different barbershops in the Twin Cities metro area. He moved the original store location to Mounds View and proceeded to open his second store in the Uptown neighborhood in Minneapolis near the intersection of Lake and Lyndale. 

Last fall, Akway opened his third location at the Twin Cities Premium Outlets in Eagan. One of the folks who saw this journey from the beginning was cousin and business partner Goliath Oboyo. 

Oboyo hosts the “Addition” Podcast that Akway frequently cohosts. The two discuss topics ranging from finance to sports, pop culture, and how to make it in America as an immigrant.

Oboyo knew Akway was well on his way to success when his older cousin began to charge cuts for the family. “When he wouldn’t cut my hair, that’s when I knew,” Oboyo laughed. “I used to ask him, ‘Aye bro, can I get a haircut?’ He says, ‘It’s business cuz.’” 

But, said Oboyo, “He’s a very humble guy. He’s helped a lot of people in this city be where they’re at today, and that’s why I’m here to support him and let him know we’re here for him.” 

Fine artist and friend Flahn Manly recalled first meeting Akeem over a decade ago. He noticed how dedicated Akway was to his craft, but was also proud to see a fellow African brother following his passion.

For a member of the African diaspora, that image of success can travel far and wide. “Akeem is the epitome of the American Dream,” Manly said, “doing whatever it takes and making the ultimate sacrifice to better yourself and serving people too. In the end, he won. That’s why we’re here to celebrate.” 

While Akway can often be found at one of his three locations, he’s made sure to curate an image on social media that showcases the lifestyle he’s earned. This inspiration has led several young men and women to go on to work at Akway’s barbershops and launch their own businesses after working with him. 

Having watched Akway’s growth over the years, Oboyo noted that one thing Akway continues to do that garners him more success is support others. “In the business world, when you get older you got to have the younger people who bring you that energy. He finds the young artists that are doing something and he helps them out.”

Courtesy of Afro Grind

On the grind

Going into his eighth year of business, the barber-turned-entrepreneur shows no signs of slowing down and has expanded into a new venture: coffee. 

He recently helped launch a coffee brand, Afro Grind, with his brother and fellow creative Omot Akway. Omot first taught Akway how to cut hair, which started his journey to launching his business, and joined in on this venture to support his brother. 

The coffee, sourced directly from the African countries of Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania, is a testament to the grind and dedication of Africans. They hope to launch a storefront in the near future to help foster a spirit of collaboration and networking.

Manly, who is an ambassador to the brand, stated that Afro Grind is a way of connecting Africans together globally. “The concept of Afro Grind is compassionate capitalism to provide jobs for our people back home. The coffee brand is more of a bridge than anything,” he said.

Having sent many of his now-fellow barbers to school, Akway is planning to open his own program one day. “I’m looking forward to putting a lot of people through barber school, and I’m like, why don’t I open my own barber school? But for right now, I’m going to keep building my brand on social media and dropping haircut tutorials on YouTube,” Akway said.