“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
An Interview with Chet Bennett, our community manager Alisha sat down with Chet to talk about changing the world.
When I interview people for these articles, the focus of conversation is mostly about their lives, and I take the role of a viewer in the retelling of their story. When I spoke with business man Chet Bennett, I was pleasantly surprised when he began asking me about my life. A welcome change and a great introduction to a man who brings this friendly energy to all his relationships!
Chet is the founder and CEO of Bennett Career Institute: a barber and cosmetology school located in the heart of Washington, DC. An alumnus of Morehouse College with a master’s degree from Howard University, Chet has over thirty combined years working in the beauty industry. He started in a tiny salon, a college educated grad, for seven dollars an hour back in 1992 at the encouragement of his pastor, and the rest was history. The Bennett Career Institute opened its doors in 1996, a family business with a desire to educate the next generation (of beauticians, cosmetologists, aestheticians, etc). Being a beauty school that worked primarily with financially disadvantaged individuals, Chet realized one of the barriers to education involved childcare. Thus Bennett Babies was born: a quality childcare facility created to serve students of the Bennett Career Institute that has since evolved into serving the greater Washington metropolitan area.
This story alone is a successful one, but this was only the beginning for Chet. He seemingly had it all: running his own businesses, speaking at engagements, and hosting a radio program. He also had kidney disease that, without a transplant, would ultimately have proven fatal.
Chet describes his diagnosis as shocking, but not surprising. He had high blood pressure, and diabetes. His initially-prescribed diabetes treatment induced gout, ultimately resulting in kidney failure. His doctors warned him this was the path he would go down without a diet change and lifestyle overhaul. An innocuous-enough stomach ache prompted Chet to book an appointment with his primary care doctor, who diagnosed him with kidney failure, and soon he learned he required dialysis to live.
“As a motivational speaker and radio show host, I felt like I failed,” says Chet. He recalled the memory of slinking into dialysis, hiding from anyone who might know who he was, feeling an intense amount of shame around the need for dialysis and a kidney transplant. “I didn’t want people to know Mr. Bennett was vulnerable,” he said.
While waiting for a transplant, Chet had an epiphany. If God gave him the opportunity, if he received a transplant, he would do everything in his power to change the way people look at kidney disease. After a year on dialysis, a donor was found and he received his long awaited kidney transplant, and entered into the next phase of his life.
From this place, the Kidney Kafé was born. What started out as an online talk show turned into a line of seasonings and spices, all with the focus of teaching kidney and dialysis patients how to nourish themselves through food. “So much of our diet is centered on sodium, especially in African American communities,” Chet explained. “And I wanted to show people that flavor can be achieved in other ways.”
With a target audience of 18-30 year olds, Kidney Kafé not only taught people how to cook but provided a jumping-off point for conversations surrounding health and wellness.
His innovation didn’t stop there, and Chet moved into launching the C. Alan Men’s Grooming Salon. The salon is an upscale, modern establishment targeted at men, who are often overlooked in the beauty and self-care industry, not only aspiring to make one look better, but also feel better.
“We want to make the customer feel amazing, special,” Chet said. Kidney disease, dialysis, and body changes can take a huge toll on a person mentally and emotionally, and the need for a safe space where people could come and be taken care of was huge. At the salon you’ll find everything from basic grooming to detoxes curated to what Chet himself needed while undergoing treatment to male units created to combat post-transplant hair loss.
“When you look better, you feel better,” said Chet, “and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Chet hasn’t slowed down in being an advocate for the kidney disease and transplantation communities, and I asked him if he had a chance to talk to himself prior to his diagnosis, what he would say. He told me, “I should have become more of a health advocate.” Knowledge is power, and when you’re able to identify problems earlier, an entire world of options and treatment opens up. Men, particularly African American men, avoid medical visits for fear of what they might find, and this avoidance can create long term problems.
“If I’m not good for Chet, I’m not good for anyone,” he said. “You have to be mature and responsible enough to take that initiative and take care of yourself.”
Chet Bennett personifies, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Even with everything on his plate, this is only the beginning for Chet.
You can find the Kidney Kafé, Kidney Conversations, and everything Chef Benne at kidney-kafe.com
For the shop, speaking engagements, and events, check out calanlifestyle.com
His YouTube channel is Kidney Kafé Chef Benne or you can find him on Instagram @chefbenne_kidneykafe or @chetbeautykingbennett