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Tymekia & Will, Then & Now

Photo credit Wendel Patrick
Photo credit Wendel Patrick

We first met Tymekia Spellman and Will Jackson on the 4700 block of Liberty Heights Avenue back in 2015. This episode, we reunite with Tymekia & Will, we listen back together to their original recordings, and we ask them, “What’s changed in your life in the past six years?”


Aaron Henkin: From WYPR and PRX, it’s Out of the Blocks: the final season. I’m Aaron Henkin. Here is how the 4700 block of Liberty Heights Avenue in Northwest Baltimore sounded back in 2015.

Jean Johnson: I’m Jean Johnson and I run Repetez Nearly New Shop.

Khan Noor: My name is Khan Noor.

Shah Noor: My name is Shah Noor.

KN: From Afghanistan

SN: As-salaamu alaikum.

KN: New York Convenience.

Tymekia Spellman: Tymekia Spellman. My business is Flawless Hair LLC.

Flip J. Harris: My name is Flip J. Harris, everybody calls me Stacks. The name of the store is Barbara's Groceries.

Pooja Shrestha: My name is Pooja Shrestha. I work at Boost Mobile store. This is 4724 Liberty Heights Avenue.

Unknown Voice: You know, I’ve lived around here for a minute.

AH: It’s been six years since that episode, and this week, we’re reconnecting with a couple folks we met back then. Tymekia Spellman ran a salon on the block called Flawless Hair.

TS: I had to leave that location. There was a lot of murders that happened and they were all friends of mine.

Will Jackson: You know, nature, the universe is really looked out for me.

AH: That’s Will Jackson. He was an apprentice barber on the block at Blank’s Hair Care. We’re gonna listen back with Tymekia and Will to their original segments and hear how life has changed for them in the years since, right after this.

TS: Tymekia Spellman. My business is Flawless Hair LLC, 4726 Liberty Height Avenue. I’ve been doing hair and my neighbors’ hair since I was twelve years old. My mother couldn’t afford to take me to the hairdresser so I decided to go into the bathroom and do some tricks, and they worked and I was good at it. So, people around the neighborhood saw. You know, “Who did that?” I’m like, “I did it.” You know, so they started coming to my house for ten dollars a pop, no matter what it was. So, I’m sitting there doing braids for eight hours for ten dollars. [laughs] So, I was a kid so it didn’t really matter to me and I loved to do it. The happiest moment of my life has to be the birth of my three children because they’re my life. My darkest moment was when I was a little girl and my mother didn’t believe that I was being sexually molested by my stepbrothers and she allowed them to stay there. I started getting molested at the age of two, and then I was always thrown around, thrown around, thrown around. And I didn’t… My mom wasn’t there. I didn’t have her as a mom. And I remember when I was five years old, she asked me, “You know I love you? You know, Grandma’s not the only one that loves you.” And I always… My grandmother’s the one that took me out of there. She came over at 2:30 in the morning because my stepfather would beat us and beat her too, my mother. So, we would get beat every day but it was… We knew that we were going to get a beating. So, as a child, I thought that taking our clothes off and getting beat everyday was normal. I thought that my mother getting beat up was normal. You know, I would go to school like, “Did your dad hit your mom yesterday? No? Well, it’s going to happen tonight.” Like, I was sure it was. Because that’s what I grew up with and after I broke and was able to tell my grandmother, “You know, we get beat every night. We get home, gotta get undressed, we gotta get beat, then we eat dinner. Then, we have to do our chores.” So, I didn’t have a childhood. My childhood was horrible. Very horrible. So, I want my children to get the best out of theirs. The fact that I can sit here and talk to you and smile after everything that’s happened to me, the fact that I can do that… That’s only God.

TS: (2021) That version of me has been all my life, so of course it makes me emotional because that was a part of my life, but my thing is if I can help any young person to realize that they’re not the only person that goes through things like that, then I’ve done my part.

AH: When we met you, we met you on the 4700 block of Liberty Heights Avenue, Northwest Baltimore. We’re not there today, when we’re doing this interview. Tell me where we are, tell me what you’re doing, bring us up to the present.

TS: We’re at 1045 Taylor Avenue. It’s still Flawless Hair LLC, different location. I had to leave that location. There was a lot of murders that happened and they were all friends of mine. And after the third time, after getting yellow tape inside… I just had to find something else. It got too real for me, too emotional for me, so I had to find somewhere else. And, actually, I was scared to go to the east side, because I had been on the west side for the last fifteen years. [laughs] So, I was very nervous to go to the east side, but I had to just put my faith in God and go to the safer spot for me.

AH: When we met you, I asked you about the happiest moment in your life. You said it made you think about your three children. Catch us up on what they’re doing now, over the past six years. They’re bigger now.

TS: My son is in college in Florida. My daughter graduated last year. During the pandemic, it was very hard, so she couldn’t have a graduation. So, I rented her a stage. And there were limits on the amount of people that could come to the graduation. And she was the valedictorian and it was awesome. She did a little speech. It was so awesome. It was great. And my baby girl just turned eighteen and she’s in her last year of high school, which she will be graduating with an Associate’s degree because she goes to Bard Early College.

AH: One of your kids is following in your footsteps professionally.

TS: The youngest, that I just spoke about. She’s going to do an apprenticeship under me. And all I asked her to do is get her business degree, and she’s amazing! She has clientele. She has a station here in my salon. She watches everything that I do. She’s amazing, so right now, I’m just feeding her clients and she’s getting her own.

AH: What do you think has been your proudest accomplishment in the last six years since we talked?

TS: I first started off doing an hour at a school that I’m in and I slipped and fell into eight.

AH: Now, when you say “doing an hour,” you mean you came in to teach kids.

TS: I came in to not teach.

AH: No.

TS: I came in to coach. Just for an hour. Cheer, do some cheers. Just for some recreation for this… Because it’s more than a school. It’s a school, it’s a rec center, it’s pre-k, it’s all those things… It’s a daycare, it’s all in one. It’s called Little Flowers. The late Crystal Floweres was the director and she passed away New Year’s Eve. And she gave me an amazing opportunity. Amazing opportunity. One hour turned to three, and I love to cook. So, somebody was like, “Well, how would you feel about doing cooking and cheer?” I’m like, “Okay.” Then, I turned to cheer, cooking, and step. And then it turned to, “What do you think of four hours?” And then it turned into, “What do you think of going to class?” And I’m like, “Hmm…” I went and got my ninety hours and I just started getting into this educational thing. And it’s nothing wrong with having more steps under your belt, more notches in your belt. You know? Yes, I have my license. I’m a master stylist, I’m a senior stylist. But it’s nothing wrong with having more things under your belt and the kids that I help… These are… I work off of Penn North, and these are very unfortunate kids. Everybody can’t deal with these kids, but I love them and they know me. Even when I was a little girl, you’re going to remember that one person who had an impact on you and I’m positively sure that there’s about thirty kids right now that it’s going to impact their lives thirty years from now.

AH: So, your own three kids are grown, but now you’re surrounded by more kids than ever, every day.

TS: Yep.

AH: What do you think has been your biggest setback, or your biggest failure over the past six years?

TS: Honestly, my toughest moment was 2020. I’ve had at least twelve deaths in my family this whole year.

AH: You lost people to COVID?

TS: Yeah. I lost my uncle to COVID, my daughter lost her godmother to COVID, I lost my director to COVID. I actually had COVID. I almost died from COVID. I was sweating, I couldn’t taste anything, couldn’t breathe very well. But, you know what? I chalked it up as, “It’s my heart condition.” I had two heart attacks. 2014 and 2015. So, I’m like, “Oh, that’s just my heart. I just need to call my doctors and chalk it up. I need to drink some water.” Stupid of me, but that’s what I was saying to myself. I came in here and I had a client. I did one braid. No, I’m sorry, I’m lying. I tried to do one braid, and I couldn’t get through it. I kept walking out, saying, “I’m sorry.” I just didn’t want to alarm them, I didn’t want to alarm my daughter. Thank God my daughter was there. I passed out here. My daughter called the ambulance. They immediately put me on oxygen. They said my oxygen was below 80. They said I was gray. They took me to the hospital and it was like, “We can’t let you go.” The fourth day I was in the hospital, I woke up. It was doctors all around my bed. I was like, “What y'all trying to say?” “Your white blood cell count is a one.” I said, “What does that mean?” [laughs] They said, “Your body’s not fighting anymore,” and they said, “We think you should call your family.” And I don’t know what happened, but the two days after that, they came in and were like, “We don’t know how your blood cell count went back up but your white blood cell count is back up.” And I was grateful for that, so thank God for that, and I’m here and I’m okay now. But it was a big scare and it was a big scare because I lost so many people to COVID. So, in 2021, I want to focus on Tymekia. Because I constantly… My kids are grown now. Like, for instance, my kids are sending me to Mexico for my forty-fifth birthday. I think that’s kinda awesome, you know? I’ve always… And they’re like, “Mom, you always do everything for everybody. You make sure everyone is okay. And no one does that for you, so we’re gonna do this for you.” And it’s nice to know that they see that in me, because that is me. That’s the type of person I am. I want to see people smile, I want to see people happy, so it’s disappointing that I put myself in the background but it’s going to change.

AH: Paint a picture with words about what an average day is like for you. Like, an average workday because you’re busy all day and then you come here.

TS: My average workday is from 7:30 to 5:00 and then I work here from 6 to when I’m done, Monday through Friday.

AH: So, you’re with, like, preschool to fourth graders from 7:30 to…

TS: To sixth graders.

AH: Ah, wow. And then you come here and do hair.

TS: And then I come here. That’s my day, like… And even though they’re jobs, they’re both very exhausting and tiring at times, but they’re both very rewarding. So, when you do things that you love to do, it’s not a task.

AH: I’m glad to know you. Thank you. I look forward to the next time that we get together

TS: Absolutely.

AH: Tymekia Spellman. We first met her on the 4700 block of Liberty Heights Avenue in 2015. It’s Out of the Blocks. More in a moment.

Alan Blanks: My name is Alan Blanks. Blanks Hair Care Center, 4715 Liberty Heights Avenue. My establishment started back in the ‘80s and we’ve been thriving ever since.

Will Jackson: My name is Will Jackson. I’m actually under Mr. Al as an apprentice barber. I’m trying to get to the level where he’s at, because he’s like still water and I’m still in the rapid phase. And I’m trying to get to that part of the riverbank. I’ve been dealing with homelessness for, like, a quarter of a year. Being downtown, many people say that was the bottom, yeah. But I didn’t realize I had a padded floor when I hit the bottom. I could bounce back up. Being able to put your own key in your own door. I’m already in an ownership sense of mind, just being here cutting hair. I own my place, I own my… I own me, again.

AB: We touch individuals on a daily basis as well as kind of, like, sculpture their future. Because sometimes the individuals...they might not get that type of relationship at home.

WJ: (2021) A lot happened since then. Hearing that brought a visual of where I was and I really wanted to focus on cutting hair, getting my barber license, and all that stuff. But when the pandemic hit, a lot of barbershops shut down and then I had to do something because, you know, the bills come. No matter what your situation is, the bills are gonna come. They don’t care. So, I joined an armed security company and that’s when things started to look better. I could relax more, financially, where I could actually pay my bills with no late charges. And people out there that’s familiar with late fees, you can’t live with late fees. So, I was still out there trying to survive.

AH: Bring me up to the present. Paint a picture of… Well, actually, just say where we are right now, what you’re doing. You’re on duty right now.

WJ: Yeah. I’m at Fells Point, security, just dealing with intoxicated mind frames and just make sure people are safe and nobody’s trying to do any kind of damage to the property or each other.

AH: Having a job like a security guard, especially in a party, bar-crawl part of town, must be such an interesting parade of humanity everyday, walking by. You just get to observe human beings having fun but also making a mess of themselves.

WJ: Oh yeah. The emotions… People on the ground crying… You see all levels. You see the fun side, the crazy side, and the sad side all in the same night within minutes of each other. So, you just gotta process all of that. As I’m approaching the situation, I’m processing everything. How I’m going to deal with it, if it’s a violent type of situation I have to get my mind ready for that… Just try to de-escalate stuff that’s negative and still have that respect held for me and everybody in the situation.

AH: You are an armed security guard. You carry a service weapon. How hairy has it gotten? I mean obviously, it sounds like de-escalate is job number one, but have you ended up in precarious, dangerous situations?

WJ: No. Thankfully, no. And just so everyone knows, there’s a difference between security guards and security officers. I’m a security officer because I’m armed. Security guards are not armed at all. It’s a different level of respect when they see what they see. If they do see a firearm, the respect level is a lot better, you know. But also, you have to have that respect as if you were that person too, you know? So, I come with the respect that I demand in return. But as far as uses of my firearm, I’ve never… I’ve never even had to reach for it.

AH: That probably means you’re a really good security officer, right? If you can avoid having to pull that thing out, you’ve done something right.

WJ: Yeah. There’s been a couple of times where I’ve let out enormous sighs of relief. Like, I’m glad it didn’t go that route. But for the most part, people… When they hear that respect come from me, they--9.5 times out of 10--they give it back.

AH: Have you kept in touch with Mr. Blanks?

WJ: Not since I left the barbershop. It wasn’t really a positive note that I went my own way. But I plan on going back over there.

AH: When I listen back to that segment with you, I hear you say about Mr. Blanks, “He’s still water. I’m still in the rapid phase. I’m looking to get to the riverbank.” You feel like you found a riverbank yet?

WJ: I had a feeling you was gonna ask me that specific detail. Like, if I know Aaron like I know him a little bit, he’s going to point that out. I think I’m actually on shore now. A lot of things have been working out. You know, nature, the universe has really looked out for me. You know, at that point, you know, I was on my knees, crawling. Now, it’s like I’m actually able to walk. I’m actually able to walk so I think I got to the still water part and then I actually got out that boat and I got to put my feet on solid ground now, if you want to go with that metaphor.

AH: If you could travel back in time and give some advice to the Will Jackson who was in the barbershop six years ago about the future, what would you tell him?

WJ: I would tell, I would tell me first, to calm down, close your eyes, breathe. I would have to constantly repeat to myself, “It’s gonna work out.” Keep your head straight, and you will be able to live. You will be able to live more than survive, and it’s coming and it’ll be here before you know it.

AH: I’m really glad to know you. It’s been really great to catch up with you.

WJ: Oh yeah, it’s been really great seeing y’all. Really good seeing y’all, six years later. It’s crazy. Six years later.

AH: Will Jackson. We first met him on the 4700 block of Liberty Heights Avenue in 2015. That is gonna wrap it up for this episode of Out of the Blocks, an original production of WYPR and PRX. Big thanks this episode to Will and Tymekia, and thanks also to my co-producer Wendel Patrick, who creates an original musical score for each episode of the show. Wendel also photographs the people you hear in this series and if you go to wypr.org/outoftheblocks, you can see then-and-now portraits of everyone we’re featuring on this final season of the show. We’re back with you next week when we’ll check in with some old friends from the 2100 block of Edmondson Avenue in West Baltimore. Until then, I’m Aaron Henkin. Thanks for listening. Out of the Blocks is supported by PRX and produced with grant funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, Patricia and Mark Joseph Shelter Foundation Inc., the William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, creator of the Baker Artist Portfolios online at bakerartist.org, and the Maryland State Arts Council at msac.org.

Aaron creates and produces original radio programs and podcasts for WYPR. His current project is The Maryland Curiosity Bureau. Aaron's neighborhood documentary series, Out of the Blocks, earned the 2018 national Edward R Murrow Award. His past work includes the long-running weekly cultural program, The Signal, and the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings series, Tapestry of the Times. Aaron's stories have aired nationally on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
Wendel Patrick has been referred to as "David Foster Wallace reincarnated as a sound engineer" by Urbanite Magazine and as "wildly talented" by the Baltimore Sun. He has been referred to by XLR8R magazine as "a hip-hop producer that could easily make any fan of Squarepusher, Boards of Canada, or Madlib flip out." The alter-ego of classical and jazz pianist Kevin Gift, Wendel Patrick is rapidly making a name for himself as a producer to be recognized. His five albums, "Sound:", "Forthcoming", "JDWP", "Passage" and "Travel" were all produced without the use of samples, with Patrick playing every note of every instrument. What is perhaps most astounding and perplexing to listeners is that there are actually no instruments...he crafts all of the instruments, and every note, electronically.