The Darby Project: LGBTQIA+ Cosmetology Student Scholarship was created as a GoFundMe effort in February 2022 to honor and celebrate the life of Darby Backes. On behalf of Brian Backes, Diane Backes, Elizabeth Leary and WhiteRoom, we celebrate his legacy by establishing a scholarship in his name that is open to anyone who is identifies as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and is accepted or currently enrolled in a cosmetology program. #thedarbyprojectLGBTQ

The first recipients of this opportunity are:

Michael Johnson-Wright

Paul Mitchell The School in Lexington, KY

Follow their journey on Instagram wicked_hair_by_mik  

Mik has been passionate about the beauty industry since a very young age and has faced many challenges associated with being Queer in Kentucky.  He faced a lot of discrimination for his choices on who he wanted to love, but hasn’t let that deter him from making the world a more beautiful place.  Instead of retaliating with hate, he chose to educate bullies and help them understand how everyone is different.  Mik strives to live his authentic self at all times with no apologies. In school, he was often scolded by teachers who would say “this isn’t hair school” when he would get caught helping someone with their hair. “Well guess what, I made it to the big leagues now, and no one is stopping me!”

Learn more about Mik by watching their application video HERE

Hanna W.

Paul Mitchell The School in Charleston, SC

Follow their journey on Instagram at h.worel

Hanna, even as a little girl was drawn to the beauty industry.  She believes the goal of makeup and defining your hair style is not to change who you are, but to match the beauty from within and bring it out for everyone to see.  “Society has a way of making us (the LGBTQIA+ Community) feel like we are wrong and not good enough, just because of who we love. I take every opportunity to let our community know that that’s not true. They are loved and they are valid.”  Being a creative person, she says that deciding to make cosmetology her career will support her passion for art.  People are her canvas and with all the new techniques, products and services, endless color combinations, bright, fun, loud colors all for her to master.  She can’t wait to flourish in this industry.

Learn more about Hanna by watching their application video HERE.

About The Darby Project

Darby Joseph Backes passed away in his sleep on January 5th, 2022, after a short unknown illness. Loved deeply and mourned by many in Minneapolis, New York City, Los Angeles and beyond, his passing at the unimaginable age of 30 invites us to celebrate and reflect on the life of a loving son, fierce friend, and trusted hairstylist.

Darby’s professional career began after graduating from the Aveda Beauty School of Minneapolis in 2013. Darby took his talents to New York City, with two suitcases, a few hundred dollars, and a one-month sublet. He went door-to-door handing out resumes and quickly found work at Mizu salon on Park

Avenue, marking the start of his illustrious 8-year career in hair in NYC. In 2017, he moved his career to Brooklyn, where he would eventually rise to the rank of senior stylist at WhiteRoom.

In addition to building an impressive, celebrity-studded client roster at WhiteRoom, he also taught classes on haircutting, gave free and discounted haircuts to the LGBTQ community, and donated his tips once a year to Transgender affirming surgery funds. As a gay man in New York, Darby was passionate about the queer community and was an active member of many party scenes and social groups.

Darby was passionate about making people feel beautiful and loved to help his clients express their identities and perspectives through cut, color, style, and texture. A stickler for technique, he strived for perfection in his craft and truly treated it as an art form. As a highly social person, he thrived when he was able to maintain genuine connections with his clients and kept hundreds of them coming back again and again.

He left this world having accomplished his dreams and was ready to tackle a set of new ones surrounded by the people who loved him most. Darby leaves behind his parents, his brother Nick, his dog Dagger, and a whole host of friends and clients whose lives were touched and changed by him, grateful we had a chance to bask in his magic.

I like to explore peoples’ perspectives to see how they can express themselves in subtle and explosive ways through their style, cut, and color. – Darby Backes