Sundiata Osagie and Andwele Ra opened the doors of Reflection Eternal, a barber shop just south of North Charles and 25th streets, in 2008. Always intended to be something more than a barber shop, Reflection Eternal has become a community and personal development resource for Baltimore’s Charles Village area. Osagie described the vision for the business as “a barber shop that was more like a forum for people to come in and have open discussions. The logo on the window says it all.”
An eye reminiscent of an Egyptian hieroglyph adorns the shop’s window. Where the pupil resides stands the image of a man, arms crossed, looking back towards the eye that reflects his image, a symbol of the self-reflection and dialogue the shop hopes to inspire among its patrons. “The idea is for you to leave here with a different perspective on how you see things,” Ra said.
To that end, the shop sells books on history, plays documentaries on issues affecting the African-American community, and seeks to cultivate cross-cultural engagement. “What’s your history? What’s your culture? How can I learn from you versus dealing with these prejudices that we have about each other,” said Ra, adding later, “When we come into the barber shop it’s neutral ground because nobody’s going to tell me that I can’t talk to you. Nobody’s going to tell me I can’t have dialogue and get to know you and understand you.”
Beyond having an opportunity to learn from others, those dialogues also enable Osagie and Ra to build partnerships with other members of the Charles Village community, enabling a ground level effort aimed toward community development.
Osagie and Ra link patrons in need of work with more established professionals who can help place them in jobs. Young men who never thought college was an option for them are connected to college professors who mentor and guide them through the college application process and direct them to educational resources.
Osagie and Ra have also partnered with the Academy for College and Career Exploration High School, taking on two students per year as interns, teaching them about running a business but also that success is more than red or black ink on a ledger. “Success in not always money,” said Ra of the lesson he and Osagie seek to impart on their interns. “Success is . . . supplying jobs for other people. There’s brothers out here that are looking for jobs but can’t find jobs, but I have the ability to employ a man. All our chairs are filled, so that means somebody’s not going hungry.”
In the same vein, Osagie and Ra are keyed into a community of Black businesses in the Charles Village corridor that help sustain each other through collaboration and mutual promotion. Need a place to eat? Osagie and Ra might direct you to the Terra Cafe, a restaurant on 25th and St. Paul whose owner, Terrence Dickson, once did plumbing work for Reflection Eternal before transitioning to starting his own business.
Osagie and Ra assist Maurissa Stone-Bass, the owner of the Living Well, a community development space operating across Charles Street, by holding onto a key for the studio that persons renting the space can pick up when assigned to use it.
In return, Osagie and Ra will be able to use the space for a chess tournament that they hope to put on in the near future. Chess, Osagie explained, requires the sort of thinking skills Reflection Eternal was created to promote and cultivate.
“We want you to leave out of here with something that makes you say, ‘Damn, where am I at in my life? What am I doing? Where do I want to go?'” said Osagie.