Whenever Wayne (Bumpsey) Ward walks down one of his neighborhood streets, playing children twist out of each other's half nelsons and race toward him. Laughing and tugging at his pants, they vie for his attention.
It's not money or candy they want. It's an appointment at Total Expressions, Ward's community-based hair boutique-educational center set up in the storage basement of one of the four-story apartment buildings in Northeast's Kenilworth Courts.
At 20, Ward knows he has the proven expertise in barbering and hairstyling to earn him a well-paying job at just about any of the District's top hair salons and boutiques. But he's staying in the projects where he grew up because the people are banking on him.
After graduating from Chamberlain High School last year, Ward made a deal with Kimi Gray, head of the College Here We Come programs, also based in Kenilworth Courts.
Under the arrangement, Gray's program, which helps send deprived youths to college, paid the $1,200 tuition fee for Ward's training at Monique's Beauty Academy. In turn, Ward agreed to open a nonprofit, multipurpose hair salon on the grounds of the pulbic housing project after completing his training last May. He also agreed to train local youths to be hair designers. The D.C. Property Management Administration lets him use the basement rent free.
Fired up about his work, Ward is usually in the shop from 2 p.m. until about midnight everyday but Sunday, talking to kids, cutting, braiding and styling hair at little or no cost. He is also showing several trainees the ropes.
"My main goal is to get people in here and get then well-groomed so they can feel good about themselves," he says. "Sometimes I start wondering if it's money that makes you a success or is it helping others . . .? Right now I'm happy just getting into the kids. The more they ask of me, the more I want to do."
The apartment building where he shares a three-bedroom home with his mother, aunt, two brothers and a sister is cater-corner from the building which houses Total Expressions.
Three months ago, the basement where he founded Total Expressions was a damp rat haven with gray cinderblock walls caked with mildew. Neighbors from all over over the Kenilworth Courts community -- wanting to be a part of Ward's unique project -- donated much of the necessary equipment and accessories to operate the salon: large mirrors, electrical wiring, chairs, lamps, hair dryers, manicuring talbes, rugs. Monique's Beauty Academy donated the three barber chairs.
Now, one 20-foot long basement wall is a colorful collage of magazine photographs. Another wall shimmers with bright red, orange, white and blue paint all donated and applied by volunteers.
An adjacent room, equipped with barbells, gymnastic mats, a television set and blackboard, serves as an education-recreation room.
"I know that a well-developed community is an educated one," Ward says, "so we have little study sessions for the kids. We want the kids to learn at a young age to take care of their hair, their skin and their bodies.
"[But] I teach them that a healthy appearance is only one factor which affects the way you feel about yourself. You also need a healthy body and a healthy understanding of the things that are going on around you. That's why we teach from the TV and the newspaper."
After setting aside a small amount of cash for himself, Ward, who makes about $100 a week, says he uses most of the money either to buy shampoo, blow dryers and other materials for the shop or donates it to College Here We Come for scholarships.
"I got into hair because I wanted to do something great," Ward says. For that same reason, Ward, who had played basketball for Chamberlain's junior varsity team, had originally dreamed of becoming a sports superstar. But he set his sights on the barbering business after a long talk with John Brown, a barbering instructor at the school.
Brown, who had seen hundreds of other bright youngsters waste their time chasing that illusive dream of becoming another Dr. J., took freshman Ward aside and found him willing to listen to some good advice about the real world and the benefits of having a marketable trade.
Amid high praise from his instructors, Ward met some of the leading hair designers in the D.C. metropolitan area. Two of them, Richard Ashley and Floyd Kenyatta, impressed by his charismatic enthusiasm, each offered him internships at their beauty salons.
However, Ward took the hair designing skills his education and mentors taught him and is developing a style of his own. The reputation he's earned as a hair stylist, coupled with his easy manner of handling kids, has won Ward the admiration and trust of many mothers in his neighborhood.
"Most of the little boys say they want to be like him," smiles Helen Drake, whose three children are regular customers."I like him because he doesn't allow people to smoke in front of the children."
Ward was the last of five children but the first to graduate from high school. His mother, Diane Ward, a secretary at the Internal Revenue Service, says he learned from the mistakes of his older brothers and sisters. "He's always wanted to show me that he could make it," she said.
Ward's father left the family years ago. "He couldn't make enough money to support his family," Ward says, "so he felt the best thing was to leave. I don't fault him for that."
Now the Kenilworth Courts barber is recognizing that he is growing into a role model himself. "At first I wasn't too sure of myself," he says. "Now I feel it's best. It's going to make me excel much, much more because I know somebody's going to follow in my footsteps, I have to be an example. I have to be a leader."