FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A Fayetteville business owner goes beyond the doors of his salon not only as an author and drag performer, but also as a pillar of the community.
North Carolina native Joshua Gray-Heim, 35, started his professional career at the Carolina Academy, a Paul Mitchell partner school. Now he and his husband Adam own J. Co. Salon & Blo’Dry Bar, located at 417 Hay St., Suite B.
“I was really looking for something that enveloped a sense of community, a sense of family and I really couldn’t find what was my vision, so we decided to open J. Co. Salon and Blo’Dry Bar,” Gray-Heim said.
Gray-Heim describes his salon as a community-based business with the motto “make a difference instead of a dollar.”
“No matter what we own in this life, our goal is always to give back and pay rent, and how you pay rent is by giving back to your community,” he said.
Suzy Hrabovsky, executive director of CEED, described Gray-Heim as very giving.
“He’s just a good community service person; he’s just all in. It’s refreshing to be around,” she said.
She added that not only does he help everyday people within his community but also other business owners.
“A lot of business owners are kind of scared about talking about what they’re scared about or talking about maybe some of the things that they’ve done,” she said. “Josh will share all of his experiences. He’ll share the things that he did right, he’ll share the things that he did wrong.”
Aside from his salon business, Gray-Heim also recently published a coming-of-age book titled “Repentance of the Southern Burden.” The book is a fictional depiction of real-life events on the burdens of growing up in the South with southern obligations.
“It is a raw depiction of what that self-discovery is in learning to be true to oneself without outward influences,” Gray-Heim said. “So, it’s a coming-out story of a teenager who is discovering his relationship with a higher power, meaning God and religion, and understanding his place on Earth with being gay.”
Some of the southern obligations include taking food to someone after a death in the family or mastering a recipe after you start a family.
“There’s a whole aspect of being from the South that is understood,” Gray-Heim said. “I’ve always said when you get your driver’s license it should come with a handbook of understanding of what it’s like to be from the South and what’s expected of you.”
He plans for the book to be part of a series.
Gray-Heim prides himself on helping LGBTQ youth in the community.
“I find myself being almost a big brother or a mentor to a lot of LGBT youth,” he said. “I find myself wanting to share that story more and that’s where the book series came from.”
Elizabeth “Liz” Varnedoe has known Gray-Heim for about eight years, originally starting out as neighbors.
“He’s just a great guy, he’ll help somebody,” she said. “He’s just always there, always a smile on his face.”
According to Vernedoe, he also has helped Cumberland County Business Network with things for the community like Toys for Tots during the holidays.
In addition to everything else he does within the community, he is also an entertainer through his drag performances. He performs as Hannah Rae Rinse with one of his recent performances being held at Dirt Bag Ales Brewery and Taproom.
Gray-Heim said drag is another way in which he can help youth who feel as though they might not belong.
“My husband and I live by this law — this is our law — is relatives God gives you by blood, but the family you choose,” he said. “We instill that in the young people that we may not be your relatives, but we are your family, so we are here for you. Doing drag is one of the things that allows for me to be able to have that; stretch those arms a little bit wider.”