Friday Snapshot: Nashville Barbershop

Commentator Jeff Obafemi Carr sends this week's Snapshot from his favorite Nashville barbershop. Carr, a Nashville native, is a writer, actor, licensed Baptist minister, and the host of the weekly radio program "Freestyle."

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CHERYL CORLEY, host:

And it is time now for our Friday Snapshot. This week, we turn to Jeff Obafemi Carr. The Nashville native is a writer, active actor, licensed Baptist minister and host of the weekly radio program, "Freestyle." And he sent today's Snapshot from his barbershop.

Mr. JEFF OBAFEMI CARR (Host, "Freestyle"): The other day, I needed a haircut -badly. So I called up Keno(ph), one of my favorite barbers, and asked if he could squeeze me in. Now, Keno was not my childhood barber. So things are a little different at his place. When I was growing up, I get my cuts at Charles and Eddie's economic barbershop(ph), or Mark and Reverend Dickson's Community Barbershop in my South Nashville neighborhood.

In both places, a new generation of civil rights leaders were raised on stories told from one chair to the next. They would catch who had marched with King and shed blood on the very downtown streets I walked when changing buses. Forget school. When you sat on that barber chair, buddy, you are going to get lectured. And you had to do more than listen in the hot seat. You had to fuel questions thrown with sermonic fervor. Looking back, I'm all the better for it.

My new barbershop isn't quite like that. My barber is a 30-something like me and a lot of the cats cutting in his spot are even younger. BET is often playing on the flat screen in the corner or the latest theatrical release, courtesy of the friendly neighborhood film distributor.

When I walked in recently, two brothers were sitting in the corner, playing chess on a large glass board. I love to see that because chess is a thinking man's game, a game of power, strategy, yeah. That's good stuff for the brothers. And it fit right in with that image in my head of the barbershop as a sort of training ground for minds of young and old.

So I took my up in the chair and chatted lightly with Keno, catching up on what's going on in his life and updating him on mine. I also kept my eyes on those brothers in the corner. But it didn't take long for the confusion to set in. At first, I thought it was because I was trying to talk and watch the match at the same time. But I knew it wasn't just me when one of those chess cats moved a knight diagonally across the board, then removed his opponent's pawn and rook. I don't know what they were playing. But one thing is for sure. It was not chess.

It took me a minute to give my bearings and another to restrain myself. I wanted to interrupt, ask what they were playing, and maybe show them how it's really done. But I didn't want to look ignorant, or worse, uppity. So I shut up and watched.

There had to be rules because they were playing it lightning speed and they were chatting about other things at the same time. Well, whatever the rules, I never figured them out. I just got frustrated. Why don't the brothers just play the game the right way, I wondered. Then again, they were having a ball doing it their way. That's when I realized that I was frustrated and only because I felt left out of the fun.

In the story of America, we have a history of rewriting the rules, whether it's in music, with the blues, jazz, or hip-hop, or in athletics, with the bump and run, or 360-degree dunk, or in writing with the choreopoem(ph). Black people innovate. That's what we do. And most of the time, the world is made all the better for it. So I didn't say a word, paid my barber for a really fly cut, and made my way to the door.

But before I left, I looked back at the brothers in the corner. Nah, it wasn't chess. But it brought two people together in conversation, in laughter and in brotherhood. Isn't that what a game is supposed to do? Maybe next time, I'll be bold enough to ask about those rules. And maybe, just maybe, they'll even let me play. If so, I'm sure I'll be the better for it.

CORLEY: Commentator Jeff Obafemi Carr lives in Nashville, where he acts, he writes and he hosts the weekly radio program, "Freestyle."

(Soundbite of music)

CORLEY: And that's NEWS & NOTES. To listen to the show or subscribe to our podcast, visit our Web site, nprnewsandnotes.org. No spaces, just nprnewsandnotes.org. To join the conversation or subscribe to our newsletter, visit our blog at nprnewsandviews.org.

NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

I'm Cheryl Corley. Farai Chideya will be back on Monday. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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