Antonio & Pat & Andrea, Then & Now
We first met Antonio McDuffy and Pat & Andrea Wills on the 400 block of E Patapsco Avenue back in 2015. This episode, we reunite with them, we listen back together to their original recordings, and we ask them, “How’s life changed in the past six years?”
Aaron Henkin: From WYPR and PRX, it’s Out of the Blocks. I’m Aaron Henkin. Here’s how the 400 block of East Patapsco Avenue in South Baltimore’s Brooklyn neighborhood sounded back in 2015.
Multiple Residents: We’re on the 400 block of East Patapsco. This is South Baltimore and once you cross over Hanover, over the Hanover Street Bridge, you pass Cherry Hill, this is the last part. But it is Baltimore. It’s the back corner. You can feel it. Like anywhere else in Baltimore City, a lot of people with lost hope, trying to make something out of nothing. It’s a lot of things going on around here that hasn’t been told. It’s a whole ‘nother ball park, you know what I mean? This block is my block!
AH: It’s been six years since that episode and this week, we’re reconnecting with a couple of folks we met back then. One of them is Antonio McDuffy, a neighborhood barber with a higher calling.
Antonio McDuffy: God moves in mysterious ways. The barbershop was my first church.
AH: We’re also going to catch up this episode with a mother and daughter who run a family business on the block, Wills Printing. Daughter Andrea is still trying to keep up with her mom, Pat.
Andrea Mayer: I mean, she’s just kicking ass. Yes, I’m cussing a lot. I apologize, Mom.
AH: We’re gonna listen back with Andrea, Pat, and Antonio to their original segments this episode and we’ll hear how life has changed for them in the years since, right after this.
Antonio M: Well, each clipper that I have has a specific job. The master clipper, all-purpose clipper, a detail clipper, a 76er… This is the most powerful clipper in the industry, a barber’s ace in the hole clipper. These Wahl’s trimmers are usually for young men, for kids. These trimmers right here are for people that have what I call “short forehead.” This clipper right here is quiet but it’s also powerful and you have to be careful with this clipper because it will do surgery. It has what they call a surgical blade on it. Hello, I’m Antonion McDuffy, owner of Antonio’s Hair Design, 419 East Patapsco Avenue. As my card says, “Antonio’s Hair Design - making a difference in the way you look and feel,” and that’s who I am. In this barbershop, we don’t play any rap music. I’m an old school guy, so I like old school music. When I started this business, I was actually the first black barbershop in the area and coming to Brooklyn was a challenge and I took a chance, but it has worked out where I have a relationship with everyone. I am an ordained minister, also an elder at my church, so I do relay that type of faith to my customers in conversation. Not beating them down with religion, but just to empower them that they can have a better life, a better situation, and there is hope for whatever they’re going through. In our neighborhood, in this community, to be honest, there’s drugs, there’s prostitution… You have to command your area. This is my area. This is where I make a living. I can’t have a lot of negativity around because that will kill my business, which kills my livelihood, which kills my ability to take care of my family. To step out there and step up and say, “You can’t do that around here.” It’s all in the way you present it. Those same guys that come through here that were doing bad years ago, they come back and tell me that they’re trying to get their GED, they’re trying to find a job, you know? I had a young man this morning come in that was out there selling drugs and I used to always talk to him. You know, he asked me about a job but then he relayed to me that he can’t read. You know, that was my opportunity to tell him, “This is what you need to do.”
Antonio M: (2021) Amazing. Amazing that the words that I was speaking at that time… I didn’t recognize how much power they had. And now, to see where we are today, where I am today… Not just myself and my wife, who is my business partner, you know, to move further, you know, within even our own block to now we are the pastors and co-pastors of a church.
AH: Talk to me about where we’re sitting and speaking right now. We’re on the same block: 400 East Patapsco. But we’re not in your barbershop. Your barbershop is still there, but where are we right now?
Antonio M: Yes, yes, yes. It’s amazing. God moves in mysterious ways. The barbershop was my first church. I was ministering in helping people in the barbershop, which led to us opening within the same block, to open Empower Church Ministries. Who would’ve thought that we would be the pastors of this church? To be able to bring together… It’s amazing. It’s amazing. Never would have thought, never would have dreamt it, and that’s why I say, “God moves in mysterious ways.” Even before we can see things, God is preparing us.
AH: I can tell that yours is a gospel of good works. Just on the walk over here from your shop to the church, there was a neighborhood activist asking you about helping to plan an event for the block. Just outside your office door here, you have members of your church packing food for a food giveaway. Talk about the fabric of this block, the fabric of this neighborhood, and how that ties together with your faith.
Antonio M: Well, you know, first you have to have hope. You have to have hope, you have to have faith, you have to have confidence that what you’re seeing is not all that there is. We see hope in this Brooklyn community where, you know, we don’t just look at the drug addiction, we don’t look at just the drug activity, or the prostitution, or the run-down buildings or the homeless. We see hope and our church, Empower Church Ministries, is about empowering, encouraging, and inspiring others that you don’t have to stay in your situation. But it’s not just talk. There’s action that goes with it. Our food pantry that we give out a hundred bags of food every other week, we have an outreach that gives out clothing, school supplies, so, even counseling.
AH: And you still give haircuts on the block. Your shop is still up and running and you’re staying busy at least for part of the day doing that?
Antonio M: Yes. We have served… We just celebrated--April 2--twenty-one years in this community, which is a blessing, which is a blessing. And as bad as things are, we still feel good about where we are. We still feel good.
AH: In your time pastoring on this block, are there certain passages that you return to over and over again to the Bible that you use as words of wisdom or inspiration for folks? I wonder if you might share some words of inspiration with me and with the people listening.
Antonio M: Yes. One of my favorite passages in the Bible talks about Peter, and Jesus had just fed the five thousand with the bread and the fish, and he had just fed the five thousand, Jesus had went away to pray, but the disciples--Peter and the rest of the disciples--got on a boat and as they got on the boat, the winds and the rain and the waves were just tossing the boat to and fro, and they were afraid. But then they saw Jesus walking on the water and they didn’t recognize who Jesus was and Peter was the only one that recognized Jesus and he said, “Lord, if it’s you, bid me to come.” And I just preached a sermon called “I Will Not Be Distracted.” So, in that passage, there were distractions before Peter even got off the boat because he wanted to be where Jesus was and the waves were the distractions, the winds were a distraction, the rain were a distraction to Peter, but Peter still had the faith to step off the boat, even if there were distractions already set before him. He still had faith. And Peter began to get out of the boat and walk towards Jesus on the water and in that, as he was walking towards Jesus, there still were distractions, but he kept his focus and his eyes on Jesus, and what I try to tell my congregation that you have to continue. You have to have the faith of Peter, even though I see what’s going on around me, even though we see what’s going on in this Brooklyn community: the drugs, the violence, the prostitution, the poverty, even though we see… We still have to have the faith to get off the boat. We still have to have the faith to get up every morning, to move on in life, that because there’s something better. And even though--and I wanna say this to you, Aaron--distractions never leave us. This is life. Life happens. Distractions happen. But Jesus will never leave you or forsake you. He will reach down. All you have to do is say, “Lord, save me.” And they both got in the boat, and you and Jesus can begin to walk together. There’s hope.
AH: Pastor Antonio McDuffy. We first met him on the 400 block of Patapsco Avenue in South Baltimore’s Brooklyn neighborhood. It’s Out of the Blocks. More in a moment.
Pat Wills: I’m Pat Wills, owner of Wills Printing Company, 417 East Patapsco Avenue, Brooklyn, Maryland. We’re what you call an old-time printer.
Sean McClymond: : Sean McClymond, and I've been here about seventeen years now.
Jamie Gaines: My name is Jamie Gaines, and I've been here about eight years.
PW: We would be nothing without these two employees. Wills Printing Company wouldn’t be here.
JG: This is an AB Deck and it runs two colors.
SM: This is a Heidelberg windmill machine.
JG: This is a thermography machine.
SM: This is an industrial paper cutter.
JG: This is a folder and it does exactly what it’s called. It folds paper.
PW: And we print letterheads, envelopes, a lot of tickets, labels, and we’ve had a lot of the same customers for forty, forty-five years. Mr. Wills is still alive but he’s eighty-two and he’s really not physically capable to come in the last twelve years. We met at a local restaurant called the 4100 Club, which is about three blocks from here, and I was a year out of high school, he was an older man. He was thirty-two, I was nineteen. I know that sounds shocking now. But we got married about six months later and when we first married, which was forty-eight and a half years ago, he decided to go into his own business.
Andrea M: They want to know if there’s any other besides the white gloss. There’s two different sets they want, so if you can call up Xpedx and find out if they have, like, an ivory, or a black… I didn’t think so. No, they said the regular stock would be fine. My name is Andrea Mayer and Pat Wills is my mother.
AH: And also, I guess, officially your boss as well, right?
Andrea M: Yes.
AH: What’s it like to have a mom as a boss?
Andrea M: Interesting. [laughs] That’s a loaded question.
PW: Well, in high school, I wanted to go to college and I tried out for University of Baltimore to become a teacher and I’ll have to say this… I hate to say it, but my mother was discouraging because she was like, “Why go and waste your money on college when you’ll probably just get married anyway?”
AH: So, you ended up getting married right out of high school, but now you’re also running your husband’s business. You probably didn’t imagine that would be happening.
PW: Probably not.
Andrea M: I didn’t get married until I was thirty-seven or thirty-eight. I don’t want to say I felt sorry for that generation, but I think having the ability to take care of yourself is really important and that’s something I’ve had the benefit of and I think a lot of women my mother’s age… That wasn’t an option for them. I’m sure once I take over the business in about fifty years there’s certain things I’ll definitely change, you know? Hopefully it will make more money, but yeah, we’ve kept it running for a long time. And you saw the updated equipment we have out there. [laughs]
AH: (2021) It’s been six years since we last talked. How’s life at Wills printing? How’s the past six years treated you?
Andrea M: We’re hanging in there.
PW: Now, the difference is Andrea is running the place because I was laid up with a hip thing and an ulcer operation, so I really didn’t do too much for about three years, so she’s come up with new innovations and new machines to buy and different products to do besides the printing, especially with COVID going on, so…
Andrea M: No, I’m not in charge. I’m just keeping things running.
AH: Tell me about the pandemic. You guys, I imagine, like everyone else had to figure out a way to keep yourselves busy and stay afloat.
Andrea M: Well, we were able to stay afloat because we own the building, so we didn’t have a mortgage payment. If we had to pay rent, we would be out of business. There’s no doubt about that. And we’re just now barely getting work back, but we really didn’t have any work at all. So, we started making face masks. We have a huge homeless population in Baltimore City and we’re like, “We have to do something,” so we started doing that.
AH: Did any of your equipment here come in handy?
Andrea M: No, we bought sewing machines. They’re right there.
AH: Do enough people need to get things printed in this digital age of 2021 to keep you guys in business?
PW: We have some of the same clients we’ve had for fifty years. It’s just that people weren’t having events like [00:15:17] and things like that. But they are slowly coming back, which… She’s underestimating some of the stuff that she did. She didn’t talk about this distribution of things to the homeless like sanitizers and toothbrushes and toothpaste, and making up bags for them and going down to distribute them in the city. She was heavily involved in that to try to give back to the community.
AH: You guys mentioned Mr. Wills, who operated the business, and Pat, you took over when he became unable… How is he doing?
PW: Well, Mr. Wills is no longer with us. He passed away six years ago, quietly, at home at eighty-four. But he technically started the business in 1945 in his parents’ basement, here in Brooklyn.
AH: What a legacy he’s left behind with the two of you and the fact that you’re still up and running today. That must be cool for you guys to think about even though he’s gone.
PW: It is.
Andrea M: Definitely.
AH: Pat, when you think about your daughter Andrea, what about her and her life and her path makes you the most proud?
PW: That she’s a happy individual and if I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times, “You’re daughter is so wonderful. Your daughter is so happy. Your daughter is so pleasant to deal with in the business.”
AH: And Andrea, when you think about your mom, what do you admire most about her?
Andrea M: There’s a lot of things. You’re gonna make me cry! Sorry. I had so many more opportunities than she did and she wasn’t encouraged when she was younger and it breaks my heart when I heard that she wanted to be a teacher and her mother never encouraged her to do that.
PW: They didn’t back then.
Andrea M: I know. There’s so many women that didn’t have that encouragement and I’m just so grateful that I wasn’t stuck in that position. Sorry, I didn’t think I’d get this emotional.
PW: I got to teach, volunteer teaching at their grade schools to help out.
Andrea M: I didn’t know you wanted to be a teacher until I heard it.
PW: Because I didn’t mention it.
Andrea M: I know. But it was just… It’s just amazing to me. I’m just really grateful that I was encouraged and wasn’t held back. I’m grateful for that. I really am.
PW: I’m glad. I’m glad that you feel that way. That’s good.
Andrea M: Here’s a part for example, too, about what a badass my mom is. Sorry, but it’s true. So, when she said that she was laid up for a while, she almost died. She had to have emergency surgery. Yeah, and it was like a lot of people… When they get older, they would have just curled up into a ball and let everything fall apart. She didn’t.
PW: It’s because I had you taking care of me and stuff, you know, in the nursing home.
Andrea M: But now she’s back, she’s in her own home, she’s driving on her own. I mean, she’s just kicking ass. Yes, I am cussing a lot. I apologize, Mom.
AH: It’s been such a pleasure to get a chance to visit with you guys again and see your faces and thank you for being a part of this project. It means a lot.
PW: Thank you. We appreciate it.
Andrea M: Thank you.
AH: Andrea Mayer and her mom, Pat Wills, at Wills Printing. We first met them on the 400 block of Patapsco Avenue in South Baltimore’s Brooklyn neighborhood back in 2015. 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 Andrea Mayer, Pat Wills, and Pastor Antonio McDuffy. 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 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.