His gaze fixed on his reflection in the barbershop mirror, Juwon Farri sits quietly in a leather chair as Karim Bevans reaches for an electric clipper. It’s an early October afternoon in Gaithersburg, and Farri is at Bevans Grooming with the shop’s owner.
Northwest’s star running back didn’t come just for the temple taper, though. Farri’s also here to check in with the foremost male figure in his life.
“Am I going to have to check those grades?” Bevans asks. Farri flashes a mischievous grin.
On Friday nights, Farri goes by “Flash,” and he lived up to the nickname by finishing the regular season with 918 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. But he is also a 17-year-old working his way back from tragedy.
In 2014, Farri’s father, Shamsideen, died after a brain aneurysm. Farri’s mother, Tola, was living in London at the time, so the freshman crashed with friends and relatives while Tola shifted her life to America.
Bevans, a graduate of Gaithersburg High who served two stints in prison for financial crimes, helped fill the void. Following his release from prison in 2014, Bevans decided to use himself as a cautionary tale for young men in the area.
He learned about Farri’s situation from a friend, and the two clicked. They started going out to eat and catching movies. Eventually Bevans began teaching Farri life skills. Farri will go off to college next fall, probably on a football scholarship — he said he has offers from Howard, Campbell and Sacred Heart — and maybe far from home. But Farri and Bevans are confident their relationship will persist.
“He loves to help me out and loves to be there for me,” Farri said. “I’ve never met somebody like that.”
Born in the United States, Farri lived with Tola in London before moving to Maryland at age 10 to live with his father. Their bond blossomed in Shamsideen’s cab. Farri sat in the front passenger’s seat, offering his father directions and customers chitchat. His dad was like his best friend, Farri said.
On a rainy afternoon in October 2014, Shamsideen was found slumped over the steering wheel in his taxi. By the time Farri got to Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, Shamsideen was in a coma and on life support. Farri rested his head on Shamsideen’s chest and let out a soft whimper: “Dad.”
Three days later, doctors halted Shamsideen’s life support. He was 54.
Farri bounced around homes as his mother worked to come back to the United States. He was living with the family of Elijah Payne, now a senior receiver at Quince Orchard, when he met Bevans during the winter of his sophomore year.
When Bevans heard about Farri’s situation, he knew nothing of his feats on the gridiron. He merely thought of himself 20 years ago. Without proper male guidance, Bevans said, he was incarcerated for bank fraud and later real estate fraud.
Bevans offered Farri a free haircut and gave him his card. “If you ever need to call,” Bevans told him.
Soon they were hanging out on weekends and texting daily. Bevans suggested Farri shovel snow with friends to make money, then brought him grocery shopping and taught him how to spend his earnings smartly.
“I had no one in my ear. I made choices without thinking,” Bevans said of his upbringing. “I don’t want him to be like me — 41 years old and trying to turn your life around.”
Farri helped Bevans set up Bevans Grooming this summer. With no air conditioning and in a 10-by-20 studio, the two lugged boxes of chairs and mirrors and barber supplies, then assembled it all.
Last Friday was senior night at Northwest. Farri didn’t play because of an ankle injury but was honored before the game. Tola and Bevans were by his side.
“No. 1, Juwon ‘Flash’ Farri!” the public-address announcer boomed, and the three walked to the track together, Farri and Tola’s arms interlocked.
Bevans will be watching from the stands at Northwest on Friday for the second-seeded Jaguars’ Maryland 4A West Region semifinal game against No. 3 seed Richard Montgomery. Afterward, he will wait for Farri at the entrance of the locker room to debrief, as he always does, before hopping in his car and sitting in the parking lot.
“He’s like a diva,” Bevans said, a hint of playful condescension in his voice. “Sometimes he’ll be the last person to come out, still stinking. I don’t know what they’re doing in there. They’re not showering.”
And he will sit, growing impatient as the minutes tick by. &pizza, Farri’s favorite, closes at 10 p.m.
“It’s something to look forward to,” Farri said.