Policemen sparing the razor to fund cancer research

By James Saxton
Times Correspondent

“We’re a clean-shaven organization,” the boss said.

Yeah, okay. Not this month, boss.

For the Henry County Police Department, this is No-Shave November, a national movement which spurs charitable giving for cancer research and builds awareness of the needs of cancer patients by allowing participants to skip the razor for a month.

Pensively stroking their new beards, grown to benefit cancer research in the Henry County Police Department’s participation in No-Shave November, area, from left, Lt. Mike Ireland, Ofc. Michael Smith, Sgt. Danny Stapp, Ofc. Robert Parker and Ofc. FTO Kevin Burkholder. Photo by James Saxton

The basic premise of the event: Instead of dishing over money for fancy razors or expensive salon treatments, No Shave November asks you to donate those dollars to cancer research.

When the “boss” heard about the idea more than a year ago, he said he liked it.

“One of my sergeants, Sgt. John Mathis IV, asked permission to participate in “Movember,” which is the similar except with growing a mustache,” said Capt. Scott Gray, North Precinct commander of the Henry County Police. “We looked at what else was out there and found the No-Shave November foundation, which benefits several kinds of cancer research. So we wrote up a proposal, sent it through the chain of command and spoke with Chief (Keith) Nichols about it. He thought it was a great idea that we raise money for cancer research and, by using this visible sign, raise cancer awareness.”

Mathis and Gray were particularly mindful of cancer’s impact after a fellow first responder died from cancer, Gray said. Brian Waits of McDonough, a firefighter and paramedic for the Henry County Fire Department, died August 19, 2015. He was just 45. “Yeah, that weighed on us all,” Gray said.

The event is part of a growing commitment by officers, Gray said. “We look at giving back to the community as a law enforcement organization. We do Sirens for Santa through our Fraternal Order of Police, we have bass fishing tournaments for our chaplaincy program, we have charity rides we set up for other nonprofit organizations, we help sponsor (American Cancer Society’s) Relay For Life, and we do other events, all geared to give back.”

“This is one more thing to show our citizens that we are human,” he said, “that we do care, that’s it’s not always about arresting the bad guy. We show the softer side of us, the side that hurts just as much as anyone else when we lose a loved one to these diseases.”

According to www.no-shave.org, the movement’s national website, “No-Shave November is a month-long journey during which participants forgo shaving and grooming to evoke conversation and raise cancer awareness.”

Contributions to the organization, whose slogan is, “A unique way to grow cancer awareness,” go to organizations such as the American Cancer Society, the Prevent Cancer Foundation, the Fight Colorectal Cancer community, and the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

The tradition of No-Shave November can be traced to Australia in 2004, when a group of 30 men organized an event and grew mustaches for 30 days to raise awareness for prostate cancer and depression in men. The charity became known as the Movember foundation. Others began campaigns on social media sites like Facebook, diversifying the liberties from mustaches to beards.

In fall of 2009, No-Shave November became a small Facebook project of a suburban Chicago family after patriarch Matthew Hill’s November 2007 colon cancer death. The following year Hill’s eight children advanced the organization to a website whose social media posts went viral.

“We want every participant to embrace their hair for the many cancer patients that lose theirs due to vigorous treatments,” the children wrote on the website. “We believe that together, anything is possible, and we’ll get closer to eradicating cancer one whisker at a time.”

For just a month, that works for Chief Nichols, who waived his department’s grooming policy for those who want to get involved. Officers are required to pay a $50 fee as their donation to the foundation.

The ladies can get involved, too. The department has organized a Best Beard Contest for Tuesday at 2:30 in the training room at the HCPD headquarters in McDonough that will feature six or more female officers who each donated $10 to the cause.

Earlier this week, North Precinct office manager Trish Warren said the HCPD had raised $3,860 so far. As this is the second year the department has participated, Warren said there was excitement as the total exceeded last year’s donation of $3,695. “It is all for charity and for a very worthy cause.”

The reaction from officers has been keen enthusiasm, Gray said, “They are ecstatic. They ask if they can pay another fifty bucks and continue through December,” Gray said, laughing. “But, no. Come Dec. 1, as much as they may like it, the facial hair has to come off.”

It’s all fun and goes to a great cause, Gray said. “It’s something positive and we hope it becomes an annual tradition here.”