Madison’s first black barber Taylor “Smitty” Smith was a legendary and inspirational pioneer in his trade. He was also a very special person for Jeff “JP” Patterson, owner of JP Hair Design on Madison’s west side.
“Smitty was all about community. He never talked about, ‘Let’s make more money.’ He was all about servicing the community. That’s the biggest thing I took away from him,” Patterson tells Madison365. “He didn’t pull me aside and teach me anything as much as he taught me by the way he ran business and by the way he acted. I learned a ton from him and I am grateful for that.”
Smith passed away in 2016 at the age of 92 after more than six decades in the barbering business. Patterson feels that a great way to honor his legacy is with the Taylor “Smitty” Smith Scholarship – the first recipients will be awarded this summer.
“I’m very excited about this scholarship. When he passed, I talked to his wife and decided to develop this scholarship for him for apprenticeship students and it will pay for their schooling and their equipment for the two-year program,” Patterson says. “We’ve raised about $5,200 right now and that will give us two scholarships of about $2,500 apiece.”
The scholarship is for the Cosmetology & Barbering Apprenticeship Program at Madison College and can be accessed here. Who exactly is the Taylor “Smitty” Smith Scholarship for?
“We’re looking for anybody who is interested in getting into the barber/cosmetology industry,” Patterson says. “As a person who’s been involved in the business for a long time, I can tell you that it’s a fun and rewarding career. It’s very social and you meet a lot of people. You make people look good and feel good. It’s the thing to do right now.”
Patterson and JP Hair Design, like Smith before him, are all about being strong in the community and working to provide young people with opportunity and connections. JP Hair Design has become home to the Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association (RLWA)’s Men’s Health and Education Center (MHEC) where the west side barbershop has been working to make health education more accessible for men of color. JP Hair Design annually provides thousands of free haircuts to kids going back to school, too.
It’s hard to believe, but JP Hair Design is celebrating 20 years in business this year and they are planning on having a big party this summer. “We’ll be having a black-tie event on June 2 and that will be when we distribute the two Taylor ‘Smitty’ Smith Scholarships,” Patterson says. “We’re really looking forward to that.”
Patterson’s relationship with Smith goes back more than two decades, the two first meeting back in 1995. After graduating from Scientific College of Beauty and Barbering in 1996, Patterson found his first job working with Smith at Style and Grace, the shop once owned by Ben Parks on Gilson St. on Madison’s south side.
“I learned a lot from watching him talk to people. He led by example,” Patterson says. “He’s the first black barber in Madison. He brought me in. I just want to always show that I appreciated working with him. He was an inspiration to me.”
Patterson used to cut Smith’s hair at JP Hair Design and that’s where they had some of their memorable conversations. “I was his barber, so I always had an opportunity to chat with him and talk to him. Smitty was my mentor. He was the guy that I always wanted to put my best foot forward – I wanted to let him know I was doing the right thing. He kept me accountable,” Patterson remembers. “And not in the way where he would say something to me, but just in the way that I always tried to do the right thing because I didn’t want to disappoint this man.”
Patterson says that he really admires the way that Smitty was a mentor and a positive influence on the younger generations. Barbershops in the black community are a place where generations collide, community members socialize and network, and relationships are built. Smith was always a powerful elder and influence on young people. Patterson wants to be that same powerful influence on young people today.
“I want to be able to give back and to influence the younger generation like Smitty once did to me,” Patterson says. “Smitty was somebody I looked up to and I think with this scholarship – and with JP Hair Design being the lead on it – I think people would feel accountable to us in a way that I was accountable to Smitty.
“Smitty was all about giving people opportunity,” Patterson adds. “That’s why we’re doing the scholarship – to give opportunity for a young barber to get in the field and have the same success that Smitty had and that JP Hair Design has had.”