Tears started flowing at the first snip.
In a matter of seconds, 23 inches of Jerry Brown Jr.'s hair was in the hairdresser's hands. The young teen wasn't crying, though. His mother was. His aunt was. His grandmother was.
The stylist handed the first ponytail to his mother, Lisa Brown. She clutched it as family members gazed at the strands that have grown, completely uncut, since Jerry was born.
"I can see his neck," said his grandmother, Roni Flynn, half-crying, half-laughing as the snipping continued Wednesday afternoon at the Great Clips on State Road 54 and Little Road.
Smiling, Jerry shook his head, surprised at the missing weight.
No one had ever seen Jerry, 14, without a mass of curls around his face or without his hair tied up and hanging low on his back. In a nod to his Cherokee heritage, his parents never cut his hair when he was little. As he got older, they told him the decision was his.
Since he'll be starting high school this fall at Genesis Preparatory School, Jerry figured it was time for a change — and time to help a child elsewhere feel a little more normal.
Jerry is donating his hair to Locks of Love, a nonprofit organization that provides hairpieces to children in the United States who suffer from medical hair loss. The pieces help children feel more confident dealing with alopecia or cancer, according to its website.
"I imagined it before and I would hate it," Jerry said of the idea of being bald. "If they felt the same way, I want to help."
Jerry started thinking about this cut three years ago. His father, Pasco firefighter Jerry Brown Sr., also had long hair honoring their American Indian heritage. Then one day, Brown Sr. picked up his son from school with his usual baseball cap — and a newly shaved head.
"Dad cut it off because he was losing it," Jerry explained.
His mom giggled. "His hair was thinning," she added.
After the initial shock, Jerry started thinking about doing the same. The two agreed that whenever Jerry was ready to cut his hair, they would both donate to Locks of Love. Jerry Sr. saved his 18-inch braid until Wednesday so he and his son could donate at the same time.
Jerry Jr. ended up donating twice as much hair as the typical Locks of Love donor. Still, it was an emotional transformation for the family to watch.
"Not that hair defines somebody, but it's always been a part of who he is," said mom Lisa Brown, who works as the budget and finance director for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
Lisa Brown clutched a tissue and held her husband's arm as the hairdresser went to work on their only child.
"But we're happy for him and that he's ready for a change," she said.
For the last few days, Jerry had worn his hair down, with his multi-toned curls hanging close to his waist. He often tucked it behind his ears or used his hands to brush it away from his neck.
He won't miss the way his hair was constantly getting knotted, or the way it trapped unsuspecting pieces of gum and, one time, a brush.
But his hair was a great look for jamming on the bass guitar, Jerry said.
"I kind of like the rocker look," he said.
Jerry said his heritage is still important to him, and he's found a new way to keep that connection alive: He's learning the Cherokee language.
"It's going slowly because it's very hard," he said.
The language is something he can always keep, though. Jerry knew eventually his hair would have to go. He aspires to attend West Point after he graduates from high school.
And that will mean a buzz cut.