Robert Dunham woke up in June with a feeling that he needed to bring his hair clippers to work.
The Carver Elementary School teacher had talked to his students the day before their “moving on” ceremony, a graduation from fifth to sixth grade, and they said they would be looking their best. When he was getting ready for work, he felt that some of his students — many of whom reside in Richmond’s Gilpin Court public housing community — might need a haircut.
He was right.
It started with one haircut, a lone student needing some tidying up. Then another teacher asked him to cut another student’s hair, then another. Dunham estimates he gave seven haircuts that day.
A photo of him giving them went viral soon after, making the rounds on social media and in media outlets across the world.
On Thursday, Dunham’s act of kindness made its way onto “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” Since the June event, Dunham has started a nonprofit, Be the Change RVA, that partners with local barbershops to give free haircuts to students.
“I really didn’t expect any of that to happen,” Dunham said of the photo getting international attention. “It’s just been surreal.”
Actor Dax Shepard, hosting “Ellen” for the day, called the haircuts “a very beautiful gesture.”
Shepard surprised Dunham with $10,000 to pay off his car and an additional $10,000 toward a trip to Disney World.
“It’s really positive recognition for all of the good things going on at Carver,” Richmond schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said of the elementary school that last year found itself embroiled in a test cheating scandal. “Obviously, we have a lot to do, but I think it’s a great start.”
Dunham flew to Los Angeles last week to film the segment — his first time to the city — and watched it with his family Thursday, he said. He now teaches at Overby-Sheppard Elementary School, also in Richmond.
“It’s something I will never forget,” he said in an interview Thursday afternoon, adding a request that people “go back to your community and show someone else a random act of kindness.”