Laura Flanders: Community wealth building from Detroit to Ferguson, this week we hit the road to see Tef Poe's new barbershop and more. It's all coming up on The Laura Flanders Show, the place where the people who say it can't be done take a backseat to the people who are doing it. Welcome.
Laura Flanders: I couldn't be more honored or happier to be in St. Louis with Tef Poe. Tef, you last saw in our reporting from Ferguson. We're here today to do a little update on what's happening around here, and especially to celebrate the opening of this place.
Tef Poe: We're here at Frontline Styles Barbershop. It's a barbershop that me and my friends founded. We came up with the idea during the protests about retaining some of the property, retaining some of the land, and we wanted to just bring something new and unique to the community and have a different type of theme with a new cutting-edge beautiful barbershop for North St. Louis.
Laura Flanders: Now we have to say we're here the day before the opening. What will we see? What will people see here tomorrow?
Tef Poe: Okay, so tomorrow it will be a full-fledged barbershop. We'll have the stations stocked with barbers. By then, the artwork should be on the walls. Hopefully, we'll hang that tonight.
Laura Flanders: What kind of artwork is that going to be?
Tef Poe: We're going to do artwork that's rooted in pro-blackness. We want people to be able to come here and feel good about their identity, for this to be a safe haven for the community, a place where you can learn, come get your hair cut, a refuge, a place of solitude, education, entertainment, all in between.
Laura Flanders: Who are we going to see on the walls?
Tef Poe: You know you got to have Malcolm X on the wall. You throw maybe a little Muhammad Ali. I'm hoping we got one of Assata.
Tef Poe: This is my guy, Sol. I met Sol in Ferguson when everything was going on. He used to cut a lot of our hair for free. His barbershop also became a safe place for the community, a place where we knew we could go, trade ideas, talk about things we wanted to do, even talk politics if we wanted to, everything from politics to music.
Tef Poe: Stress, growing up in the ghetto.
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Tef Poe: Everybody in the city knows Sol. We know him cause not only was he the barber for the movement, he was also part of the movement itself out there several times when things were going on. We had the idea that we wanted to do this a while ago, and we just didn't have the resources to pull it together. Finally, this year some things happened where we could make it a reality, and here we are.
Laura Flanders: Can you tell us a little bit more about what happened to make this a reality? What on the business side made it possible?
Solomon Neely: Things had calmed down a little bit in his life, my life. He was out of town, I was still here. I seen an opportunity, I called him and our other partner, and he said, "Let's go," so we made it happen.
Laura Flanders: What's your vision of the work this barbershop will do in this community economically and spiritually going forward?
Solomon Neely: It creates jobs. The people that will come work here and the people that will see the people working here, they got a job they can take anywhere in the world with them, so they're self-sufficient. You can make a living doing what you love to do.
Tef Poe: You don't exclude people from a barbershop. You could talk to anybody from just a 16-year-old kid in the community to one of the elders down at the mosque to even an off-duty police officer in there who may have some different feelings about what's going on. In the barbershop, you can get the real opinion of that person versus the opinion in the real world. A lot of nuance and crazy conversations will happen. People disagree, people agree. I wish they had presidential debates in barbershops.
Laura Flanders: I wish you really a lot of luck with the opening tomorrow.
Tef Poe: This is where I live. I ended up coming back to the Northside after moving away for a while. This is where we do all our community programs. This is where I live, too. It's really important that I came back over here, because gang violence dictates a lot in St. Louis. Typically, somebody like myself, like you see me right now wearing all red, nobody else could come down this block wearing all red.
Tef Poe: My parents moved us from this neighborhood to that neighborhood in hopes of having a better life, thinking that if we moved to North County, things would be okay. They'll be able to put us in better schools. My mom and them bought a house for the first time, even though they couldn't really afford it. It was just an opportunity to get off Section 8, try to do the American dream thing.
Tef Poe: We grew up with the animosity of the police in that area, 'cause that's not our neighborhood. Black people been in that neighborhood maybe 20 years at best. White flight caused it overnight to be a black neighborhood. When we moved in our block out there, it was a couple white families on the block that had been there since the '60s, and by the end of the summer, the whole block was black.
Tef Poe: In Ferguson, you'll still find well-to-do white people. Some of those houses in Ferguson, you would consider mansions. Then they got the low-income apartments, which is where Mike Brown was killed at. It's just traditional racism out here. It's just classic Missouri racism.