This Is My Life!
Brother Luke Huff is a man who is truly embracing life. Currently living out his life’s mission in Atlanta; running his dream barbershop/community space; and being the best friend, mentor, counselor, brother, and yes – grandfather that he can possibly be. Once you get to know him, it’s easy to see why folks call him “Big Luke.” Whether for his big boy sexiness, his big booming voice, or possibly his big and welcoming heart – the title fits perfectly. Luke so eloquently shares his life’s journey with us.
On my first few visits to DC in 1988 and 89, I fell in love with the house parties that spilled out into tiny creative alleyway style backyards; and my beautiful Black gay brothers with the look of wonder and excitement in their eyes, WOW. Yeah, I knew I had found my new home. Thanks Rodney for the introduction. (LOL)
During my last few months in the Army in 1989, my friend, Narvin would call me and ask me to move to DC. He and several of our other friends were in the process of renting a house on Capitol Hill. I said “I want to go to barber school. If you can find me one I’ll move there.” He said okay, and called me back with a barber school number. I rang them and they said I could start next week, so I packed my car and moved to DC.
I didn’t have a bedroom in this house. I decorated a large bay window in the living room with a day bed and curtains. I noticed everyone that came over complimented it whenever they saw it. I got a job waiting tables at Pizzeria Uno’s in Union Station. It was a couple blocks from the house we rented. My great serving skills earned me the best tables on the best days ($$$). Thanks to The G.I. Bill from the Army I began school at the Academy of Professional Barber Stylist in Wheaton, MD.
My last two months of barber school were quite challenging without a car. Because I had moved to Forestville, Maryland with two of my friends, Alvis and Keith, and my car had stopped working, and was towed away. Yikes! I was determined to finish the necessary school hours required to graduate; even though I had to take a bus, a train, and another bus to get there.
I was hired by a new barber shop owner in the city of Silver Spring, Maryland before I had even graduated. I was so fortunate for my first shop to be owned by Mr. Patrick Sullivan, what a godsend. He was an excellent barber mentor. His silent but powerful professionalism and excellent work ethic has resonated with me until this very day, thank you forever Patrick. I managed to establish a great clientele. I also moved into a gated apartment complex with my longtime military friend, Alvis. It was 1992.
Around this time, I came out to my family members as a gay man. Their unconditional love and support empowered me. And just in time. A female coworker who wanted to have sex with me but I rejected her, decided to call me a “faggot” in front of the entire shop. But knowing that I had my family’s support and unconditional love gave me the backbone that day to back her down and come out to the shop as a proud Black gay man. The entire salon embraced me. But this dramatic incident led me to open my first shop; located inside the Wingate Apartments – The BigHead Barber Salon. It was 1994, and I was an official “Fly Guy.” I owned a barber shop; I had the most beautiful boyfriend most people had ever seen in person; I had the first cell phone that could fit into your pocket; I wore Polo from head to toe; I drove a Bronco (LOL); I had the most handsome and popular friends…I was “Luke The Barber.”
Around this time, I also became friends with a number of different strong Black gentlemen: a famous party promoter and gay activist by the name of Alonzo Fair (who passed in 93), Lonnie – a friend who has always told me I was more than just a barber (even to this very day), Dennis, Greg, Jason, one of my closest confidants – Dion, and two amazing straight friends – Lafayette and Nikk. All of these people empowered and supported me. Thank you and I love you all.
In 1996. I began to throw parties with a group of my friends, we called ourselves “Brothers In The Life.” But when I began to throw parties with my lover Ty (who I eventually was with for 10 years) is when things really took off. I didn’t play house music like most Black gay parties. I played hip hop and R&B. And we drew all the boys, the dudes. Over the years our parties became so popular that my best friend, Casinova suggested that I take it to a club. I remembered a promoter by the name of Raymond Carter. He had thrown an unsuccessful party at this hidden gem of a place. A perfect spot for a low key gay hip hop party, Jenny’s in Waterside Mall. I wasn’t just “Luke The Barber” anymore, I was becoming someone bigger. It was the end of 1998 and I was the hottest new Black gay club promoter in D.C. I was “BigLuke” baby!
In 1999, my Friday Night “BigLuke’s Hip Hop and R&B Groove @ Jenny’s Party” was in full swing. Thanks to DJ Markie B, my hand picked fine and mostly straight security, my microphone skills, Ty, Greg, excellently made cocktails and the hundreds of brothers who loved it! All without texting folk to death or hiring NeNe to come wave at the crowd. (LOL) Shoot, Janet and Madonna’s dancers would come hangout and give us a dance routine whenever they were in town. It was the Hot Friday Night Party! It even shut the Edge down for a few years. (Oops) I loved talking to my brothers, giving away prizes and spreading good news and positivity. It’s who I am to my core. You feel me now! On Memorial Weekend/DC’s Gay Black Pride In 2000, I came up with an idea to take the party into the mall. I called it “3,000 Men In A Mall” and it was that and more each year. My brothers and sisters (Margi, Matt, Cathy, James) would drive up and help. It was amazing! My mother always said something that I’ve never forgotten, she said ” I’ve never known a club to ever end well.” And neither would this one.
Two guys got cut up in the mall restroom by another guy and they were suing the mall, Jenny’s, and me. At the same time, an article came out in the Washington Post about a DL Gay Club in Waterside Mall. The article was supposed to be about gay men and hip hop. The mall didn’t like the idea of a club in their shopping center since they had a shooting incident before, so we were given the boot. We re-established ourselves at the 501 Club. The passing of Aliyah and 911 sent people into a partying frenzy! The club would be packed! But the club owner lost her liquor license messing with GoGo Bands, so we moved to Club Abyss. After a year the club owner began to disrespect my crowd. Saying for such a large crowd they weren’t drinking enough. He would turn off the AC and make crazy and threatening announcements. Peace to the Abyss.
It was 2002, and for a couple years afterwards, another promoter; a man I thought was cool began to challenge me for Friday nights. The old crabs in a barrel. At first, he was no match. But because of my many moves he was able to slip in. My Friday night DC reign was over. During this four-year reign I had opened another shop. I was just starting to think of opening my own bar – NOT! But I had purchased a home of my own. The best decision I ever made, and my second-best decision ever was to sell it ($$$). I was debt free and I had money to relocate and re-establish myself. I decided to move home. Statesboro, Georgia – here I come.
It was between New York and Statesboro. I could’ve taken a chance acting in NYC to make use of my acting classes I took at the Shakespeare Theatre in DC. But I owned a clothing store with my sister in downtown Statesboro. I decided to open up a barbershop right next-door to our clothing store. Moving back home turned out to be great I was able to reconnect with my nieces and nephews, my brothers and sisters, and enjoy time with my mother and father. After four years I sold that first shop. I opened up another shop, a thrift store and I ran a small juke joint with my cousin, called The Boondock Cafe. But I wasn’t enjoying myself there. I eventually began a relationship with a guy named Coy. He had lived in Atlanta for 13 years and was looking forward to returning. Soon we found ourselves preparing to move to Atlanta, Georgia.
On our many trips to Atlanta. I noticed how many Black gay men lived there. I thought I could open up a barbershop strictly for us. A place where we could be ourselves. I wanted it to be a place that I could live and work in. When I discovered how Facebook worked, I knew I could use it to establish myself as a barber in Atlanta but on the low low. One day while looking at rental property on Craigslist I came across a house that had a circular driveway, a small parking lot and a separate entrance into the basement. I knew this was the house I was looking for. We came, we saw, we rented it, we cleaned it, we painted it and we moved in. I named it BigLuke’s Creative Space. I didn’t want to call it a barbershop because what I learned over the years is that a barber is not all I was; nor all I aspired to be. I decorated and built it out to be a loungy bar-like comfortable place to brand myself as a person who aspires to own a bar & grill. I even came up with a party concept for the 30 and up crowd.
After being here a year, I realized many of the clubs didn’t cater to someone in their 40s+ like me. I was cutting an older and unappreciated legendary DJ’s hair and I told him about my idea for the 30+ crowd and my concept to change the music to fit them. He liked it. I promoted it and it was a success, pulling in nearly 250 to my house. I immediately thought of a powerful promoter that did business here in Atlanta. I could see him stealing my idea because it was so hot and I had seen it happen before. Well a couple of days later my DJ friend called to tell me just that, and the promoter had asked him to DJ. I was shocked and floored. He asked me what should he do? I said, “You don’t have a job and you’re a DJ. I don’t like it but go DJ.” It took me a few months to step foot inside this club, but when I did I was flattered. I saw all the guys my age having such a great time dancing and enjoying themselves inside of this idea that I had created. Even though I wasn’t reaping the benefits, it made me happy. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that a Black man stole that idea from another Black man and took it to a white man’s club and made him wealthy enough to renovate his whole club off of that idea.
Life goes on. I love Atlanta, and I hope to be able to afford to still live here with it growing all day, every day. My Creative Space is more than just a barbershop. It’s a place where positive and
progressive Black men meet and support each other with positive dialogue. Matter of fact, if you’re not like that you can’t continue to come here at any time for any reason. I don’t care who you are. Negativity has no place here. It’s also a place where I can express myself by creating art and repurposing furniture and things discarded. Hopefully one day soon sell I’ll them to the public.
What’s next for BigLuke and my Creative Space? Well there will always be haircutting and conversations, but I’m also looking forward to creating music and discovering and supporting new artist with my amazing friend, Ak. And continuing to throw Peace & Love based parties until it becomes a true front street, legit business. You feel me! Look, I ain’t scared! Ain’t never been scared! It’s not even in my bloodline!
Follow Luke on social media at:
#BigLukeSaidIt, #Brave2017, #BeBrave; Facebook: Luke Huff; Instagram: @biglukescreativespace