Michael Brown Sr. steps out of a white Yukon at the Top Notch Barber and Beauty salon on Chambers Road. He’s here for his weekly trim.
Everyone knows him, including the customers, and even if they didn’t, they’d recognize him instantly. He cuts an imposing figure, tall like the 6-foot-4 son whose death propelled him unwittingly into the headlines.
Through the necessary niceties and greetings, Brown, 38, rarely lets a smile slip. When he does, the florescent glare of the overhead lights glints off his grill.
“Hey, hey,” he says, shaking the hand of barbershop owner Gregg Davis. Another friend asks if Brown wants a drink.
“Snapple,” he says.
Barber Anthony Mallory has been cutting Brown’s hair for years, since Brown was 13. These days, Mallory makes sure his client’s clean-shaven head stays shiny; the trickier task is trimming around Brown’s beard, long and thick enough to pass muster in the most conservative mosque.
“My strength is in my beard,” Brown says. “It’s almost 1 year old.”
He stopped cutting it on August 9, 2014 — the day his son died.
“Every strand of hair means something,” he says, settling into the barber’s chair.
Mallory drapes a black and white printed cape over Brown, covering up his red T-shirt with his son’s face emblazoned across the front. The back reads “Chosen For Change,” the nonprofit he launched in his son’s memory to empower black youth.
A movement, not a moment
The barber gets into a groove, electric clippers gliding back and forth over Brown’s head, before I ask about the upcoming anniversary.
The question takes Brown back to that August day when it was hot and sticky as it is this evening, the haze so thick that the air-conditioning vents are blowing puffy clouds.
He had stood waiting, numb, about half a mile from here on Canfield Drive, with his wife of three weeks, Calvina. He rushed there after the police called him and his son’s mother, Lesley McSpadden. They all stood before a body covered by a sheet, surrounded by police cars, flashing lights, yellow crime scene tape and a crowd that grew larger by the minute.