Tige Wardlow is a licensed barber/stylist who cuts hair at the Millionaires Barber Shop located on Beloit Avenue just opposite the entrance to the Park District of Forest Park. He is good at cutting hair. One customer on Yelp used words like “craftsman,” “professional” and “highly skilled” to describe Wardlow’s work, but Tige himself doesn’t see cutting hair as his primary vocation.
“Barbering is way more than cutting hair,” he explained. “Every barber you talk to says that barbering is mostly counseling. I’ll never forget this guy who told me that a man will open up in one of two places: on a bar stool or in a barber chair.”
Tige said that after the first two haircuts he basically knows everything about a man. “It’s a privilege to be a barber,” he said, “because men really let their hair down. Men say what’s on their heart. I deal with men who want to leave their families and I deal with kids who are being abused.”
That’s why, he said, barbers have to have their own act together.
“Cutting hair is just part of what we do,” he concluded. “The reality is that we help people see that it’s going to be OK and that they’re not crazy. There are barbers who are very talented, who can out-cut any other barber, but what are you getting from them besides a haircut?”
Tige acknowledged that most of his customers are black men but was quick to add he serves men of all races. That point is important to him because he sees his calling in life not only as being a counselor but also a bridge-builder between groups who think they are different from each other.
When the Black Lives Matter movement came up, for instance, he said, “I understand where they’re coming from. Growing up on the West Side and then even after I moved to Oak Park, I’ve been stopped by the police. I see women clench their purses when I step into an elevator. I see subtle and overt racism, so I identify with them.”
But in his characteristic way of trying to see all sides of an issue, he added, “I think the image of the angry black man is perpetrated by the media. I think it’s also perpetrated by some of our own people, to be honest.
“I also understand the other side of it,” he continued. “I understand that many police officers are risking their lives every day. I understand that they are doing a very dangerous job, and if something happens here at the shop, the first people we are going to call are the police.”
To show his appreciation to the Forest Park police and fire departments, on Monday, Aug. 1, he started offering free haircuts to all firefighters and police officers who came in. “Part of my motivation is to tear down the perception of black against blue,” he explained. “We serve in this community just as they do and although their job is more dangerous than ours, we deal with many of the same issues.”
The two or three officers who came that week, Tige reported, appreciated the haircuts they received but also let their hair down by venting a lot of their frustrations about being police officers. For the Millionaires Barber Shop, it was business as usual.
Tige believes that the fundamental gap he is trying to help bridge is nothing less than the gap he sees between God and human beings.
“I understand that black lives matter. I understand that blue lives matter. I understand that all lives matter, but the issue isn’t any of that. The true issue is the sin issue and anything beyond that, you’re going to look at the symptoms and not the real cause, the real infection.
“That’s why we’re not taking sides between black lives and blue lives,” he said. We’re not taking either side because our side is the Lord’s side, and it has nothing to do with anything else.
“I think that if we get caught up in race or any other issue, we’re going to have problems,” he explained. “Growing up like I did on the West Side and in Oak Park, you can be angry as a black man. Trust me, I have felt all those things. But when I discovered who I am in Christ, he began to change my heart. He began to change who I am and how I see things. That’s why I don’t look at race as the problem. I look at it as what it really is. We have a sin problem, and the cure is the Lord and Savior.
“That’s what we’ve been put here to do at Millionaires,” he concluded, “to be a light in a dark world, not just to be transformed on the outside by getting a great haircut, but our purpose is really to transform men from the inside out.”
When asked what congregation he belongs to, Wardlow replied that the name of the church is Jericho Road, that it meets right there in the barber shop at 11:15 on Sunday mornings and that its pastor is Jeff Russell, the owner of the shop. The Sunday following our interview, five African American men entered the shop, sat in a circle and for an hour and half shared what was going on in their lives and applied Scripture to their experience.
Not your ordinary barbershop. Not your average church.