Wayne & Aaron, Then & Now
We first met Wayne Brewton & Pastor Aaron Hannah on the 600 block of Cherry Hill Road back in 2017. This episode, we reunite with Wayne & Aaron, we listen back together to their original recordings, and we ask them, “How’s life changed in the past four years?"
Aaron Henkin: It’s Out of the Blocks from WYPR and PRX. I’m Aaron Henkin. Back in 2015, we did an episode of the show down in South Baltimore’s Cherry Hill neighborhood and one of the folks we met on the 600 block of Cherry Hill Road was Pastor Aaron Hannah from @South Church, where he preached every Sunday. This episode, we’re gonna check back in with Pastor Hannah and we’re gonna also catch up with Wayne Brewton. We originally happened to meet him when he dropped into a local barbershop on the block. Coincidentally, Mr. Brewton at that point had just been released from prison earlier that week after serving thirty-eight years.
Wayne Brewton: It’s strange, you know, like, coming out of a coma.
AH: Coming up, we’ll listen back with Mr. Brewton and Pastor Hannah to their original segments and we’ll hear how life’s been going for them in the years since, right after this.
Pastor Aaron Hannah: This place… people counted it out to drown. But Cherry Hill is literally like, “I don’t care how much water you surround us by. We are a hill that will always stand and it will always be bold.” I am Aaron Hannah. I am the pastor @South Church in Cherry Hill. I think when you are a believer, it should show up in your way of life and you don’t have to put it on and cut it off. It’s a part of you. Grace has freed me to be able to believe about God, to be able to cry about God, to shout. I am forty years old. I have lived in Cherry Hill my entire life. My father owned a clothing store across the street from this shopping center. I spent most of my life from 1986 up until two years ago when I retired… I had my own barbershop for twenty years in this shopping center. The barbershop helped me to understand people. It’s helped me to have conversations that I would never have ever. I’ve seen people that have failed come back to life, all by encouraging words. And then we were… This was different religions, like I was Christian, someone else was Jehovah’s Witness, another guy was a Muslim… So, you would see, like, a banding together, a common thread about God. We didn’t necessarily talk about Jesus necessarily. We just kind of led a faith-based barbershop without even knowing it. So, we kind of just had a common ground about God and you would see men being encouraged. Oh my God, it’s phenomenal. You would see people literally just start laying out their particular bits of thought down and lifting up God, without saying, “God, God, God, God.” It became so positive and, after a while, it got so great that we started playing Christian music in the barbershop. That never happens in a barbershop. But it wasn’t loud. It was kind of like Chick-fil-a, you know? The music was pretty low but you felt good. It’s a reason why Chick-fil-a has it going on like that, right? So, the barbershop became that kind of hub of, like, a refugee. You would see guys come in and they would literally close their eyes and go to sleep and lay their head back on the wall. And I couldn’t understand why they were so at peace because my home was peaceful. But for some of those persons, where they would normally go at and do things wasn’t that kind of peace. So, to see these kind people come in and be peaceful and love and, you know, digging your hand in French fry bag, “Give me one of those fries!” You know, men don’t just share like that but we’re sharing French fries, throwing a piece of chicken out. “You want some of this? You hungry?” You know, you should see these guys start caring about one another. And one thing about the hood--because this is considered “the hood” at times--the hood, they share. So, if I had a sandwich and I think you’re hungry, I don’t offer you a piece. I offer you half. Like, my guys. Guys that they consider to be “street” and “hood.” They give you half. That thing has allowed me to be a better man. I approach people with at least half of everything now. It’s helped me in ministry because ministry doesn’t always teach you to give half. So, it’s allowed me now to give hope.
AH: (2021) When we met you, you called your neighborhood a hill that’s always gonna stand even though people have counted it out to drown. That was four years ago. Talk about the Cherry Hill neighborhood these days. What’s changed? What’s still the same?
PAH: This community is still a beacon of light and it is still strong. And as a matter of fact, we police ourselves. You’re talking about a whole year without a homicide in a city that has had homicides. You know, Cherry Hill was known for homicides. Now, we have people playing tennis in a sports league through Cherry Hill Eagles organization. There are people that are rowing in this neighborhood. Man, this is a great neighborhood and, listen, there’s still much drug activity as well but by God’s grace, he brings us encouragement and he brings us strength and gives the ability to be able to decipher what needs to be done and what kind of conversations that we need to have. And policing doesn’t always mean a weapon that will fire and kill, but sometimes the weapon is a conversation and love.
AH: Talk to me about your own life personally over the last four years and maybe the ups and downs of the church. I mean, the pandemic has happened since we recorded with you.
PAH: Well, since we talked last, I’ve been there four more years.
PAH: Thank you, sir. April, May, twenty-four years of marriage with my wife and I. Since we’ve talked last, I’ve got a grandson.
PAH: I’m grateful about that. My daughter’s credit is good. I’m grateful about that. And my son still answers all my texts and says, “I love you, Dad.” So, I’m a pretty grateful guy. My life has changed some. More so evolved. This pandemic brought a great challenge. I said, “God, how are we going to pay the staff? How are we going to continue to do ministry? What about these souls? How are these people going to stay connected?” And most importantly, “How am I gonna stay connected to them? How do I find them and place them in a green pasture that is digital?” And since then, I’ve seen almost eight-hundred people join the church through social media, so the church has quadrupled in size. This pandemic was not what I thought it would have been, by God’s grace. He’s done something amazing in it.
AH: There’s a miracle of some sort in the mix there. And now… As you’re talking now, you said you just started having in-person services just over the past couple of weeks, yeah? What’s it been like to get back in the same room together?
PAH: Just started. I’m able to talk to all these amazing people and I’m so grateful. And I get to meet so many new people. This is strange. I know everybody. This go around, I’m like, “Hey! Are you a member of our church?” And they say, “Yeah! You’re my pastor!” And I’ll be like, “I’m your pastor? I’m so happy to be your pastor!” So, everybody’s coming back together. We’re laughing again. We’re joking again. We’re praising God together again. We’re leaping again and our faith has definitely increased because of the resilience and we hung in there and God did what He said. According to Hebrews 11:6, it says he is a rewarder to those that diligently seek him, and I think we earnestly did that and contended in the faith and heaven’s algorithm opened up a window that gave us blessings that we did not have or received.
AH: You have a passion and an energy behind the pulpit that I could only imagine that someone with your preaching style… It had to have been so weird to do that in front of a Zoom camera instead of a live audience. I mean, how did you adjust the idea of connecting and the idea of getting the energy you need to deliver that message.
PAH: To convey that was God. Sitting behind two iPhones and an iPad that’s in front of me playing the music… Getting tripods that fit my footprint in my kitchen to sit at my table… So, let me tell you what happened. So, we have this bench that’s at my table. So, my table seats a decent amount of persons. But this bench was so nice and fluffy before the pandemic. Midway--six months into this thing--my wife sat down on that same bench and she said, “Babe, there’s a dent.” [laughs] And I’m telling you, in those times God moved with great energy in the room. On my hardwood floors, there are marks there from the four legs that came from me going back and forth, rocking and shaking, until I felt the anointing of God’s overflow literally leaping from my heart to my lips, from the sound to the screen. And those persons…you would see tear emojis and hearts and you would see things happen and man, it was amazing. That energy… So, it wasn’t just my energy now. They gave me something back that made me say, “Keep going, keep going.” And I never thought that this could ever happen and by God’s grace, that energy wasn’t just me. They talked back to me, we spoke, we cried, tears came down. It was amazing and when I tell you I’m grateful to God that he would allow me to have a voice to be open while things were shut, that someone would still desire what God was giving me… Man, somebody lost anxiety, somebody suffered from depression and left that, somebody got healed… People’s lives were still changed while doors were closed.
AH: You’ve been… I remember you saying you’ve been in this neighborhood, you grew up in this neighborhood.
PAH: All my life.
AH: I wonder if you want to leave us with a benediction for Cherry Hill.
PAH: Benediction… Aaron, you are the man, bro. A benediction is a blessing and in the culture of church that I’ve come from, it is given at the end on your departure. I will say this… I speak a blessing, a contiguous blessing, over Cherry Hill. I believe God’s gonna do something amazing, even the more. Where we were weak, God’s going to strengthen us. Where we were torn down, he’s going to build us back up. Where there was confusion, he’s gonna give us peace. He’s that kind of God and we are grateful. That’s my benediction.
AH: Pastor Aaron Hannah, @South Church on the 600 block of Cherry Hill Road. We originally met him back in 2017. It’s Out of the Blocks. More in a moment. Hair Personalities Barbershop was a mainstay on the 600 block of Cherry Hill Road back in 2017. That is where we met Wayne Brewton, who you’re gonna hear from near the end of this segment from our original episode on the block. The segment starts with the owner of the shop, Keith Person.
Keith Person: Being a barber, one of the most important things you have to learn is to be able to listen. My name is Keith Person. I am fifty years old and I am the owner of Hair Personalities Barbershop here in the Cherry Hill community. I was born and raised in this community. Schooled here, and after high school I went into the service. When I came out of the service, I interviewed with a guy named Mr. Heavy who owned a barbershop at that time. About four years I worked with Mr. Heavy. Unfortunately, in about the fifth year, I got introduced to drugs. It took me down some dark roads and, because of my struggle, I seek to do better in life and it pushed to pull myself out of the situation I was in. And that’s when I came to know there truly was a God. People who I used to maybe do things that were unpleasing with, some of the same people are now coming into my shop, Hair Personalities, and they know my story. So, when they see the change, they know that it’s nothing fake about it.
Mike Brown: My name’s Mike Brown. Yeah, I been here for two years and I’m a master barber. I do women hair, too. Where I come from, I come from here. I used to use drugs. Like, that was my life. I wake up, use drugs. You know, I used to love it, you know what I’m saying? I went to jail, came home, and just decided a different way of life. Like, you know, it’s not all to it. So, a lot of guys watch me. They watch me. There’s a lot of young guys. They knew my past life and they’re like, “Wow, if you changed… Wow.” Like, all of us had basically the same walk, you know? And it’s better to be an open book.
Dana Smith: You can kind of say what you want to say, what’s on your mind in the barbershop. It’s all taken with a grain of salt, so even what insults…. Sometimes people get into it over a chess game and screaming, all cussing and fussing… It’s not personal. [someone shouts an expletive in the background] Yeah, see? It’s not personal. [laughs] My name is Dana Smith. I started getting my hair cut in this shop when I was eight. So, I’ve been in Cherry Hill my whole life. Coming to the barbershop, you want to get a good haircut, get some fresh vibes, and feel good about yourself walking out the door. So, hopefully you take that with you throughout the rest of your day. Fridays is my day before I go into work. I’m self-employed, so I come in on Friday mornings, get a haircut, talk to the fellas… I’ve been here since--what time I got here, Bob? I got here about 8:00? So, I don’t know what time it is now but it’s one of joys of being self-employed, though. My clock starts when I start it.
WB: I was seventeen. I’m fifty-six now. So, it’s been a long time. I missed my twenties, thirties, forties… I’m pushing sixty now, so I ain’t trying to catch up, I’m just trying to move on.
Wife of Wayne Brewton: That’s my husband and he’s just coming home--that’s Wayne Brewton--from doing thirty-eight years in prison. So, tomorrow we are renewing our vows.
WB: Thirty-eight years. I just came home Monday. It’s strange, you know, like, coming out of a coma. You know, so, just trying to gather my thoughts. I’m taking baby steps now. Yeah, so tomorrow we’re renewing our vows, you know, and I can’t wait.
AH: (2021) What’s it like to listen back to yourself at that moment in time?
WB: It seems surreal. You know, I remember it like it was yesterday, so… Good memory.
AH: I just want to say I’m really sorry to hear about the loss of your wife. That happened just in the past year.
WB: Yes, thank you.
AH: The day after we interviewed you, you guys were gonna renew your vows. Tell me about that day. Share some memories of that day. It must have been pretty incredible.
WB: Oh man, it was pretty incredible. Me and my wife, my beautiful bride, as always. So, second time around is the charm I guess. But being able to have our family and friends present… I think that right there was more for them as opposed to us. It was an awesome feeling.
AH: How did you guys meet?
WB: We met when we was children. She lived in Lexington Terrace Housing Projects and my grandma lived in the Poe Homes low rises, so we got reintroduced when I was incarcerated. And so, once we reconnected, we reconnected, so…
AH: When we met you, you’d done thirty-eight years in prison. You said you’d just gotten out that Monday, and that it was like coming out of a coma. It’s been four years now. I wonder how that feeling has changed for you with the passing of time.
WB: Well, I have--at this particular moment--I have a mix of emotions as a matter of fact because I just lost my wife, August of last year. So, I’m still going through that process and that. I’m beginning a new journey, but being able to live out my dreams and the goals I had when I was incarcerated… And one of those was to be free and be a service to the community and I enjoy providing people with service and helping people, so I’m happy in that regard.
AH: I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about the kind of work you’re doing these days.
WB: At present, I’m the Violence Prevention Coordinator for Safe Streets Baltimore, the Penn North site, and Safe Streets Baltimore is a public health initiative to reduce homicides and shootings in particular sites throughout the city. And I’m also house manager for Gaudenzia [00:20:33], a drug program in Crownsville. And also, I’m an advisor for Panacea Media Humanization Foundation, where we bring offenders and victims together for healing and reconciliation, and we do this to… All in the hope that we can have some forgiveness so everybody can get the opportunity to clean their souls, man, and try to bring some peace in this world.
AH: Thirty-eight years in prison. Four years since you got out. This is still a relatively new chapter of your life.
WB: It’s a new beginning because you have to be mindful, when I was released I came home to a wife and my wife is no longer with me, so this right here is a new journey because it’s the first time in my life I’m paying bills, you know, on my own or being responsible. There’s so much where Vickie took care of basically the household, but now, you know, I got to make sure the mortgage is paid. I got to make sure the car payments are made. I got to make sure, you know… So, you end up where you’ve been looking and stuff like that and you know I know it’s a journey, you know, so all I have to do is continue to pay forward and, you know, and try to save some lives.
AH: Wayne Brewton. We originally met him on the 600 block of Cherry Hill Road in 2017. That’s gonna wrap it up for this episode of Out of the Blocks, an original production of WYPR and PRX. Big thanks this episode to Pastor Aaron Hannah and Wayne Brewton. Thanks also to my co-producer Wendel Patrick, who creates an original musical score for every 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. Until the next time, 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.