Isaiah Valdes becomes first Smitty Scholarship honoree to finish apprenticeship, get barber license with JP Hair Design


Isaiah Valdes recently finished his barber apprenticeship with JP Hair Design and became the first person to get his barber license under the Smitty Scholarship in honor of Madison’s first Black barber Taylor “Smitty” Smith, a legendary and inspirational pioneer in his trade.

Taylor “Smitty” Smith

“For me, it was incredible to get this scholarship. I remember being very happy when I found out a few years back,” Valdes tells Madison365. “At the time of receiving the scholarship, I didn’t know much about Smitty. I just knew that he was one of the first Black barbers and one of the pioneers here in Madison. After receiving the scholarship and working alongside JP for the last three-plus years, I was able to hear a lot about him from JP and his clients.”

Valdes says the experience of working alongside Jeff “JP” Patterson, owner and founder of JP Hair Design, the past few years has been “awesome.”

Isaiah Valdes, pictured here with Jeff “JP” Patterson, owner and founder of JP Hair Design, receives the Smitty Scholarship check. (Photo: JP Hair Design).

“I feel like he really teaches you how to grow your business, how to be professional, how to be organized,” Valdes says. “I feel like it’s so different in comparison to working in other barbershops.”

Patterson tells Madison365 that he is excited about Valdes completing his apprenticeship and earning his cosmetology license.

‘I have enjoyed working next to this young barber, he has taught me some new techniques and kept me up to date on new trends,” Patterson says. “Smitty would be proud of Isaiah. He works hard and takes pride in his work. I am sure Isaiah has a little of Smitty in him by working next to me for 3 years.”

Taylor “Smitty” Smith passed away in 2016 at the age of 92 after more than six decades in the barbering business. Patterson felt a great way to honor his legacy was with the Taylor “Smitty” Smith Scholarship.

There are three other barbers that are currently in the process of finishing up their apprenticeships from the program.

“Right now, we have three apprentices active with Smitty Scholarships including Ryan Connor at The Edge of Freshness Barbershop and Berry Colar and Ace Rogers at JP Hair Design, Inc.,” Patterson says.

Valdes remembers getting started by cutting his own hair back in the day due to a lack of funds.

Isaiah Valdes with his cosmetology license

“I never really had the means to go to a barbershop. Usually, either my dad or my uncle would always cut my hair,” he says. “And I remember once I did start to have a job, like around middle school, I did have enough money to go to a barbershop once in a while. I would go to this walk-in barbershop and one day, I think the barbershop was either about to close or I didn’t want to go wait in line, and I remembered my dad bought me this self-grooming kit and I started practicing cutting my own hair and watching YouTube videos. And I just learned like that.”

Valdes started to cut his friends’ hair, too, before he was alerted of and applied to the Smitty Scholarship as a 16-year-old. He would go on to win the scholarship which awarded him $2,500 – $2,000 to cover tuition and $500 to cover supplies.

Now as a mature 19-year-old, he is excited to embark on his journey. Valdes says that he really enjoyed and is “very appreciative” of the apprenticeship at JP Hair Design.

“I came to love the community aspect of it. I feel like seeing JP’s clients every week and seeing the guys at the barbershop, I just feel like it’s become a family,” he says. “At first, I really liked just the art of cutting hair, which is kind of what got me into doing it at the level that I do it now, but once you get to cut in a barbershop, I feel like you get to love other aspects of the industry other than just the actual art of cutting hair.

“I’m very thankful for the scholarship. It’s been an amazing experience,” he says.