The Barber of Little Rock: One Man’s Fight to Close the Racial Wealth Gap

[gentle music]

[Arlo] Economic justice

is actually having the opportunity,

a real opportunity.

How you create generational wealth.

How you teach others

to create generational wealth.

The racial wealth gap

is not a million dollar problem,

is not a billion dollar problem,

it’s a trillion dollar problem.

It’s been a never-ending story.

It is a challenge

when you can’t put gas in your car,

when you can’t buy food,

you can’t pay your light bill

or you can’t pay your rent.

Life is going on,

life is happening, you know,

and trying to put a bandaid

and stop the bleeding

on the effects of generational poverty.

Investments and resources

that are meant to get to these communities

haven’t gotten to ’em.

There has to be economic warriors

in the community

to create economic justice.

Hey, what’s going on, man?

Everybody good?

My name is Arlo Washington

and my purpose in life

is to advance equity

and create opportunities

and build the community.

Just for the sake of teaching you to parting,

I want you to do this right here.

Now watch this.

Watch this right here.

We’ll go a fourth of inch in,

we’ll go a fourth of inch into the eyebrow,

take the point of your comb,

you put it on the scalp,

take the other hand right here

and we’ll put it back here in the nape area.

And then we’ll just take that point of that comb

and just keep it on the scalp

all the way till you feel that point

with your index finger.

When you feel that point with your index finger,

just slide your finger up the comb that way

and pull it out to the side.

That’s one side.

All right?

But you really want a good straight line

so you can always go back and do it again.

You just need to put a little bit more pressure

on the scalp when you’re going through.

So I’m gonna take that and clamp that up.

Yeah, there we go.

Appreciate that.

So for the first couple of weeks,

this is all y’all doing.

Six sections.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

How long it take?

Five minutes.

[Arlo] Now you ready to move on

to something else,

but let me let you try it.

Good job.

Good job, Mr. LeBron.

Good job, Hughes.

Used some of the techniques?

[Speaker] Yeah.

[Arlo] But you got that looking smooth.

What we gonna talk about, JB?

[JB] Get our foot in the game.

[Arlo] How to get your foot in the game?

Build your clientele up,

learn the business,

get a name for yourself out here

and then open your barbershop up.

When I was 20,

I opened my first barbershop.

I worked in my partner’s shop

for two years first

and built a clientele up.

Right?

So I had about maybe 80, 90,

100 people coming to me every week.

Then I opened up the barbershop.

But right now,

while you in school,

be patient, practice,

cut as many heads as you can.

When you leave and go home,

if you got little cousins,

you got people in the neighborhood,

cut, cut,

cut as much as you can

’cause the more you cut,

the better you get.

[upbeat music]

Hey, hey.

What’s up, Bronson?

What’s going on with you?

[Bronson] I just been busy.

[Arlo] You getting through that application?

[phone ringing]

[Speaker] Good afternoon.

Thank you for calling People Trust.

How can I help you?

[Client] Yeah, it’s my credit score,

it’s gonna mess me up, ain’t it?

No, ma’am.

We don’t base it off your credit score.

Trucking Logistics LLC.

Yes sir.

This your plan right here.

Have you got any business funding

or you’ve been doing this all out your pocket?

It’s just all out my pocket so far.

As far as just driving,

I’ve been in the business for 10 years

and my dad is a driver as well.

I’ve covered every corner

of the transportation in the industry,

so I would want to create those jobs

for other people.

Tell me what it is

that you want to do.

Long term,

I would ultimately like to have my own salon

or become an instructor.

Okay, okay, okay.

And you’ve been traveling to your customers?

Yes.

[Arlo] Like their homes?

Yes.

[Arlo] Oh, okay.

Yeah.

Do you have any operating capital right now?

Unfortunately, I do not at this time.

Okay, okay.

So you need gas money.

Correct.

You need food money.

[Client] Products.

[Arlo] Products and supplies.

And I have a business name.

I made my own logo.

I’ve been working.

So we spoke on the phone.

You were saying you are interested in a loan?

Yes ma’am.

Okay.

I’m just gonna get this out.

So tell me about

what you’re doing with your businesses.

I’m Barbara.

I do credit restoration.

I also have a T-shirt and decal line.

Okay.

Due to the things

that I deal with in life,

such as sickle cell,

having a pacemaker,

having 80% mass in my right breast,

going to treatment once a week.

And then you still run three businesses?

Yes ma’am.

I heard that now.

[gentle music]

You know,

capital is the lifeblood of a community.

If the blood ain’t circulating

then you going to have some issues.

So the blood has not been circulating

for a long time.

Why is it that we overlook

this economically segregated community?

Why is the issue

swept under the rug and not talked about?

[Interviewer] What do you think and feel

when you hear the word ownership?

For me, when I think about ownership,

it’s owning my own home

so that I’ll have something

to pass down to my children.

Nobody in my family own anything.

So, ownership is important to me

because I want to create jobs

and opportunities for my boys

and my little cousins and my nephews.

My oldest is 27 and my youngest is 7.

And I think about it a lot.

Of course, nothing was passed down to me

and I don’t have anything to pass down to them.

It just feel good

to know that you have something that is yours

that nobody can take away.

For so long

we haven’t had anything that was ours.

Yeah, we damn proud of,

you know, when we do own something,

whether it’s the Cadillac

or a house or a boat.

It’s the idea of it belonging to you

and that you can self-determine

what will happen to it

without having to ask anyone.

You don’t have to ask for permission.

Come on in.

All right, thank you.

How you doing?

Hello.

I’ve been making Philly cheesesteaks in Hogan

since I was 16 years old.

I’ve been in the restaurant business

for 26 years.

You have a food truck?

I have a food truck.

But my ambition within 12 months

is to have a brick and mortar.

[Arlo] So who you bank with right now

and did you consider them

for getting the loan?

They gave me an understanding

that they wouldn’t loan me any money.

Really?

They still want my business,

they still want me

to process my credit card payment.

Your business is still making deposits

in this bank?

Yes.

[Arlo] That in turn

will not make you a loan?

Yes.

The wealth gap has grown tremendously.

The CDFI

is a community development financial institution.

All people matter

regardless of their credit history.

We are not restricted.

I was at a traditional bank

for nine years.

Sadly, Banking while Black is a real thing.

They don’t necessarily train you

to know that,

but once you get in there

and you actually see

that the person coming in,

if they’re white,

they’re gonna offer them credit cards,

they’re gonna offer them loans, financing,

you know, all of those.

But you come in, you’re black,

there’s no services offered.

Sometimes the interaction with the teller,

you know,

you can see the difference

in how they treat you.

So I just don’t use banks.

Banking while Black does exist.

Banking while Black,

Driving while Black,

Eating while Black,

your waiter or your waitress

can treat you differently.

I mean, there is just so many things.

It’s crazy the things

that black people have to deal with.

It becomes an experience

that you try to avoid,

the disappointment of it.

And rather than go through the frustration,

you work around it.

It’s a workaround.

[Arlo] Big banks,

they don’t know the community,

they don’t know them,

they don’t have a relationship.

You want to be able to be sustainable

and you wanna be profitable

and you wanna be scalable.

But we just want you to think about every aspect

and best position yourself.

This helps you to really build

your credit profile

so we can provide you

with some ongoing technical assistance

to kind of help you along the way.

We got the name People Trust

because trust in the financial system

is just not there.

My goal is to restore the trust

in a system

that may have not been built for you.

So we try to see what’s the problem,

how can we help?

We find a way.

I’ve always wanted to own my own business.

[Arlo] I hear so much,

If you could just gimme a chance,

just gimme a chance

to prove that I’m trustworthy,

that I’m credit worthy,

that I can run this business successfully.

[Speaker] Y’all ready?

All right.

One.

Two.

Three.

Four.

Five.

Six.

Seven.

Uh-uh.

That should be a backhand.

She knew.

She knew.

Come on, let’s go to one.

[Arlo] Historically,

barbers have been the go-to in the community,

one of the oldest

and most prestigious professions.

They were the doctors,

they did the blood lead,

they did the tooth pulling,

they were the priests.

One customer lost his job

and he had been a faithful customer

coming all the time,

I mean, bringing his family,

his kids, everybody, you know.

He said, Mr. Washington,

he said, I’m down really bad

and I need to borrow $150.

I’ve been a barber in the community

for over 20 years.

So when the community started hurting,

who do you think they gonna come to?

They came to the people

that they can come to for help.

He said, I’m getting a job

and I can pay you back in 30 days.

So I made him a loan.

You know,

I didn’t think he was gonna pay it back

when I gave him the loan at the time.

But he came back and he paid it back.

And a couple weeks later,

he came back again.

Guess what he did?

He paid me back.

So I made him another loan

and he paid that loan back.

So then we started thinking about,

well, how can these small loans at that size

really have an impact?

If they don’t have credit,

then they can’t get a loan from a bank.

That means they have to go to a loan shark

or they have to go to some payday lender

that’s going to never let them pay them off.

And I thought about it and I said,

wait a minute,

this is what’s affecting my community.

So you see it built up now?

Nah, we didn’t service like 2020,

we serving 900 folks.

And so what we did

was we applied to become

a community development financial institution,

which was put in place

to be able to help

low and moderate income communities

that wouldn’t otherwise receive the opportunity.

[Speaker] Let him down and let him go.

[Arlo] Come on in.

In April this year,

my house caught on fire.

So, you know,

I was pushed out.

Mm-hm.

[Client] I was calling

to inquire about your rental assistance.

You’re behind on rent now?

I forgot your name.

Give me your name again.

Candace [indistinct].

Okay.

Cancer survivor.

Yeah.

[Employee] Unfortunately

it’s just a one-time deal.

I believe we’re the only rapid re-housing

that is in Central Arkansas.

How much does it cost you

to live every month?

I don’t know

’cause I ain’t never been on my own.

[Arlo] Okay.

Have you been looking around?

Yeah.

I had a landlord in today and I asked,

and he doesn’t have anything.

And when you move,

we’ll pay the security deposit

and your first three months rent.

Let’s talk about a budget.

How’s the job looking?

Well, it is really that-

It’s hard because I don’t have nowhere

to shower and stuff.

Right.

That is one thing about Little Rock.

There’s just really

not a lot of affordable housing.

[Arlo] There’s a huge housing need.

Correct.

There’s just too many people waiting for help.

You’re four months behind.

But did she tell you the balance?

This is a grant,

just an emergency grant.

As I heard you say,

you didn’t have any clothes,

you didn’t have any transportation.

You know, everything burnt up.

For 17 days in a hotel?

Man.

[Arlo] There you go.

How much is the weekly rent?

The weekly rent?

Uh-huh.

It’s not weekly.

She was just gonna charge me

like 525 a month.

[Arlo] My mother,

she passed away with cancer.

And so I’m just thinking

since you, you know,

in that situation,

maybe if we was able to do,

you know,

maybe a grant for a month

that’d give you time to find a place.

How do you think that works?

It’ll help me a lot.

I think that’ll help.

What you think?

It’ll help me a lot.

[Arlo] Most of the time

it’s state of emergency.

Like, I needed help, like, yesterday.

We never got the 40 acres and the mule

that was promised.

That’s like the big elephant in the room.

This was promised to you.

You never got it.

Nobody never talked about it.

It didn’t come up

in any type of other political discussions.

And the fallout is what we see.

A huge racial wealth gap,

economic injustices,

and not really an end to it in sight.

[gentle music]

[Speaker] Here in Little Rock

there is a physical divide.

Have on one side,

have not on the other.

It’s not a wealth gap.

It is a wealth chasm.

I-630, the great divide.

How’s it going, man?

You ready to ride?

You know,

when we cross out 630,

you can tell a big difference.

This neighborhood

is the heart of the black community.

There are no banks over here

and you got about 30,000

community members over here.

[Speaker] You’d be hard-pressed

to find an ATM.

That community has been economically segregated.

[Arlo] Look at this.

We got four, five boarded up houses

on this little half a block.

So we crossed I-630

and now we’re going into the heights.

And in the heights,

maybe 8,000 in population,

but you got 14 banks.

And you don’t see a boarded-up house.

Not one.

[Speaker] Well, you have commerce here.

You have places where business can exist.

You don’t see that on the other side of town.

You know, then,

of course you had redlining

where banks would not make money accessible

to people who lived in certain areas.

And oftentimes

those certain areas

were areas where black folks lived.

This phenomenon of building interstates

through black communities

and they bring about destruction.

[Arlo] I’m gonna take you

and show you our new location

where we opening up.

That’s redline.

This is the first financial institution

ever in this community.

[Speaker] And it looks good, too.

[Arlo] Thank you.

We’ve been working hard.

[Interviewer] Do you believe

in the American dream?

What is the American dream?

You tell me

and we’ll both know.

I was told this growing up,

you work hard,

you do what you’re supposed to do

and you’ll achieve your goal.

Right?

And in essence,

that’s supposed to be true.

But I have to say

that I’ve sat at the table

in front of my children and said,

As much as this is supposed to be true,

it is still possible that

that may not happen for you.

Nice house, cars,

family taken care of,

bill-free.

Well, no, I’m just out here surviving.

I’m just trying to make a way.

So I couldn’t just elaborate

what the American dream is,

I wouldn’t know.

[gentle music]

[Arlo] There was a time in my life early on

when I wanted to fix

what my mother was going through,

trying to take care of me.

She had me when she was 16 years old,

had to drop out of school,

get a GED.

So when I was born

I was brought home to this house

and my grandmother was a single parent

with 16 kids in the house.

And now my mother at 16

was bringing home another addition to the family.

You know, watching my mother

early in my life

and watching the sacrifices that she made

for, you know,

folks in the neighborhood.

She wanted to be an inspiration

to the folks that lived in the housing projects

to let them know

that they didn’t have to stay there.

This is where my mother was eulogized.

She had cervical cancer.

Two weeks before I graduated high school

my mother passed away.

She didn’t see me walk.

That was tough.

I felt lost.

That left me lost,

feeling lost.

Okay, what do I do now?

You know, I have two younger sisters.

Where do I go from here?

Hello.

[Arlo] Hello.

How you doing?

I’m good, how are you?

I have an eighth month old.

Like, you can’t be without no lights.

[Arlo] I think the first thing

is to get you off the streets.

We’re gonna do you an emergency grant.

Let’s do a $1,500 grant.

This is a new beginning.

You know what I’m saying?

I kind of adopted some of the mission

that she had

that she didn’t get a chance to live out.

Thank you.

Yeah, absolutely.

Thank you very much.

I appreciate you.

[Arlo] It fell on me to carry the torch.

My mother provided such a great example

of humanity and having compassion

and understanding

that life circumstances happen

and when they happen

that people need compassion,

people need restoration,

people need rehabilitation,

people need love.

I want you

and I want you

to stand up for a second.

I’m gonna show you something right now

that we don’t hardly ever do.

But I want you to,

for two minutes,

I want you to look at him in his eyes

and I want you to be with him

and I want you to be with him

for two minutes.

All right, come closer.

Right here.

Now, don’t look off.

When you look in those eyes,

think about your kids,

think about your loved ones,

think about the setbacks and the wins,

all the hard lessons,

and just see all the hurt,

see all the pain.

Be with him right now.

Time.

It’s all right.

It’s all right.

It’s all right.

It’s all right.

I ain’t seen my big brother.

I ain’t seen him since I was 12 years old.

[Arlo] I say a lot.

Tell a whole story,

you know,

and that was uncomfortable for them.

I know it was

’cause I’ve done it before.

But that’s an exercise that will help you

if you’re somebody that’s introverting,

you’re somebody that’s kind of in a shell

and help you be more assertive

and help you to be more, you know,

understanding to what other people

are going through.

You went to prison,

and when you went to prison,

what did that mean?

10 years of my life.

[Arlo] And where’d that leave you?

Lost.

So you know,

when you are secluded from the world

for that amount of time,

man, you come behind.

Okay, you 28, 27 now.

What you going to do?

There’s a black man.

No, we not offered opportunities,

especially after times that,

you know,

we might have messed up

or made a mistake in our life.

So it’s like, now, okay,

I gotta do something.

I always could cut hair, you know?

But I just never thought,

Man, maybe I should go to school.

I went in and enrolled

at Washington Barber College.

I learned so much.

Just things that,

you know,

things that you need to know

to sharpen yourself up to be successful.

I did seven years in prison,

seven years, five months,

six days to be exact

on a 30 year sentence.

And I sit before you right now 16 years later

and I’m still not free.

I was homeless three times

from when I got out of prison.

I was homeless three times.

I went on to the shelters,

did what I needed to do,

saved my money up, got out.

But my crime

does not make me an eternal criminal.

Right.

Three of our barbers

that were formerly incarcerated

and they were just each sharing the trauma

that they experienced while being there

and how, you know,

to be out,

it’s a huge adjustment.

So on day one,

if you have nothing,

you ain’t got a tooth brush or toothpaste,

all of those essential things.

You right back at stress one.

Right after they get out,

they call me within 72 hours,

I’m able to send their name,

their release dates

and how much time they did.

And then I just email everything over

and people contact them

and they go pick up a $325 grant,

which I think is so great

because coming out of any system,

especially the jail system,

you don’t come out with any money.

You, Arlo, have made it possible.

You are looking at everything

from the perspective of inclusion.

[Arlo] Absolutely.

Absolutely.

See, where for so many years,

I and so many

have saw only exclusion.

It’s truly community development

and that’s developing.

You can’t develop a community

if you don’t develop the people.

Exactly.

[Arlo] The reason I do what I do

and what gives me energy to keep going

is equity.

Equity, equity, equity.

So that means

if the way it is over,

you know,

on this side of town,

on this side of the freeway

is this way over here as well.

The resources that’s over here,

the resources over there.

The banks that’s over here,

banks over here.

Money over here,

money over there.

Credit over here,

credit over there.

How you doing?

[Client] All right.

[Arlo] You don’t do any bodywork, do you?

Little bit.

[Arlo] Little bit?

Not a whole bunch.

[Arlo] How long you been wanting to do this?

[Client] Been in the automotive business

for 20, 25 years.

Running a Jiffy Lube for the last five.

But the owner came and told me

he was selling the business, so.

When they let you go,

you got to think quick on your feet,

What am I gonna do now?

[Client] Yeah.

And I needed to open up new avenues,

and the biggest one

is being able to get this loan

to get started.

[Speaker] Y’all give it up

for Lencola Franklin.

[everyone cheering]

[Arlo] While you were in the program,

you accessed 3,500 small business loans.

So maybe if we could extend that.

So if we extend the 3,500

that we already gave you

to up to 10,000

and we do it for two years,

your payments will be

at like 452 a month.

[Arlo] How soon would you need

before you start making payments?

[Client] I would say a couple months

just to get me going.

[Arlo] So maybe

if we deferred your payments for 90 days,

that’ll help you to-

[Client] Definitely.

I appreciate that.

[Arlo] All right, cool.

My clientele is building.

Mr. Washington,

he seen what my future may look like

and I’m, you know,

forever grateful for him believing in me.

As of today,

you doing business as Incredible Auto

borrowed $50,000.

So you got a lease going already?

Yes ma’am.

This is the outside.

[Arlo] But how many square foot is that?

[Client] 5,000.

[Arlo] It’s nice.

[Client] It’s like my dream

of finally becoming a business owner

and not having to work for anybody else again.

I work for myself now.

Thank y’all.

I really want to shed some tears

and I don’t have to worry about

somebody selling a business

and somebody coming in and telling me,

Hey, we don’t want to continue

with you anymore.

Here I am.

Three months later.

When you investing in something

that you love to do,

it makes everything a lot easier.

[Arlo] We felt like

that if we could redevelop

and change this corner,

that it would help turn the neighborhood.

Once they can put funds here and deposits,

then we’re not going to allow the money

to go outside of this community.

We’re going to put the money

back into the community.

And it’s gonna scare some people.

It’s going to scare the hell out of them.

Because now

you can see that it can be done.

So you have no more excuses.

Those institutions that are in place right now

are not going to idly sit back.

[Arlo] You don’t think?

They don’t care about this.

Yes, they do.

Because if this catches on,

it becomes a threat.

[Arlo] You really believe that?

Mark my word.

Because it can inspire others

to think that they can be free.

This is about being free.

[gentle music]

[Arlo] Economic justice is righting wrongs,

fixing the system,

you know,

some type of repayment for injustice.

A tree is known

by the fruit that it bears.

So if I don’t see any fruit,

then I don’t see any impact.

So if you have money

and you have wealth

and you can’t create impact,

what’s the point?

What is justice?

What does it mean for me?

What does it mean for people of color?

Justice is just not quite yet

available for everybody.

Justice.

Justice.

It’s just being a black man in this world,

it ain’t a good look.

Justice is something that we need,

but that’s what we’re fighting for.

Right now,

today I can look at justice as empowerment.

Just doing what’s right

and being fair.

[Arlo] You ever heard that phrase,

Get your money right?

I got to help the community

get their money right.

The community has to get their money right

and this is an opportunity

to get the money right.

So I’m on a mission

and it ain’t over.

It’s just begun.

[upbeat music]

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