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  • They call this part of Baltimore “Pigtown.”

    Troy points out the picture window of his barbershop to a nearby street, the path they used to use to bring livestock to the slaughterhouses of South Baltimore, and then to market. There aren’t pigs in these streets anymore—but there is still a sense of the fragility of life. Instead of the doomed livestock, there is something residing here that acquaints mothers with emergency room trauma centers, and small boys with the feel and weight of guns. This is a place where teenagers do stand on corners, where shootings are nearly twice as frequent as in the rest of the city, a place where tragedy is commonplace. This is where Troy cuts hair.

    Mr. Troy is what the neighborhood kids call him. “Mister,” not uncle, like many other men in the community. He’s a big man, plaid shirt buttoned up to his neck, soft spoken and deliberate in his words. But more than what he says, there is visible evidence of who Troy is, and who he aims to be. He covers the walls of his barbershop with paintings. Miles Davis in cornflower blue and sea green. James Baldwin, John Henry Clarke. Malcolm X, his face haloed in orange and gold. Thelonious Monk with his hands on a purple piano.

    His barbershop seems to be a kind of haven. “I’m no angel,” Troy says. “I am the individual you seen on the corner.” But he tells me he believed in something more than that, and has lived that belief. He has lived a life of slowly accumulated respect, gathered through years of grooming the heads and faces of this community. Through years of the steadiness of his voice, giving informal art lessons to his customers over a shave or a trim. Through years of choosing paintings for his walls that prove a black man is not one color, one shade.


    [Note: this interview was originally conducted for State of the Re:Union’s Baltimore episode: http://stateofthereunion.com/home/season-3/baltimore-md ]
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