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Lennard "Bae-Bae" Jenkins turns his life around with Progress Village barbershop

The Rev. Eugene Johnson and Lennard “Bae-Bae” Jenkins opened Bae-Bae’s Beauty and Barber Shop.

Special to the Times

The Rev. Eugene Johnson and Lennard “Bae-Bae” Jenkins opened Bae-Bae’s Beauty and Barber Shop.

They locked away Georgia Johnson's son in 1997, but they couldn't lock up the love she possessed for the man everyone called Bae-Bae.

As Lennard "Bae-Bae" Jenkins spent his days behind bars, Mrs. Johnson spent her days planning how to help him when he got out.

Jenkins, 45, had cut the hair of neighbors and friends since he was 14 and continued to style and groom while in the military. He even trimmed hair while in prison after being convicted of armed robbery and assault.

But Mrs. Johnson, a longtime educator for the Hillsborough County School District, knew her son would find it difficult to successfully run the gantlet of background checks and probing questions he was sure to face once he got out.

So she envisioned a barber and beauty shop that he could call his own, a place where he could use his skills to start a new path.

Last month, Bae-Bae's Beauty and Barber Shop opened in a shopping center on the corner of Madison Street and 78th Street in Progress Village.

Inside, chairs for barbers, hairstylists and nail technicians sit on a spotless, white tiled floor. Behind each seat, customers will find dark wood cabinets with marble counter tops. Tasteful art hangs on the wall.

Emblazoned on the decorative price list sign: "We Doo It Right And Keep It Tight."

It's everything she hoped for. Mrs. Johnson's dream lives — even though she died in 2008 from complications related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Jenkins had been out of prison for only a year, but now he's steeled by the fact his mother's vision has become a reality.

"It's exciting," Jenkins said. "It gets me here every morning. It's like she's here, and I take care of it just like she would."

The determination of Jenkins and his stepfather, the Rev. Eugene Johnson, brought the shop to reality, but Johnson said it wasn't without trials and tribulations.

They initially sought a small business loan to get started, but couldn't find a bank in this struggling economy willing to help. So Johnson put up his own dollars, crediting guidance from God and the memory of his wife.

"When the Lord spoke to me about it, he said, 'You got it (the money), use it,'" said Johnson, who commutes across state twice a week to pastor at St. Annis Primitive Baptist Church in DeLand.

"I wanted to make sure her dream was carried out. She was a tremendous woman and a wonderful wife. I can't imagine finding another one like her."

Johnson and Jenkins said faith and the help of others sustained the effort through the difficult beginning. It has helped that both, especially Jenkins, are well-known in the Progress Village community.

Jenkins has stylists and barbers who can do all kinds of hair, and the customer base includes a number of Hispanics.

"We're not a black business, we're a hair business," Johnson quipped.

And just as the barbershop serves as Jenkins' source of redemption, the proprietors want it to be a place of opportunity for others. Johnson said they have already helped some hairstylists from the neighborhood get licensed so Bae-Bae's could serve as their first job in the industry.

"This isn't just a business, this is a ministry," Johnson said.

With the business fulfilling his mother's dream, Jenkins offers an easy smile to customers. He's upbeat about the future but won't forget what it took to get him on the right path.

He can recall the exact date he was arrested, and the exact date he was released: Nov. 22, 1997, and June 12, 2007.

"Those are days you can't forget," Jenkins said. "You don't want to forget them because you always want to stay away from them."

Finally, Georgia Johnson's son has every opportunity to do it right and keep it tight.

That's all I'm saying.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this story.

Lennard "Bae-Bae" Jenkins turns his life around with Progress Village barbershop 07/07/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 7, 2011 4:31am]
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