The rapper Drake played on the overhead speakers in the Weave Bar on the 5600 block of Germantown Avenue.
Black leather swivel chairs lined two of the walls in the salon, and sunshine poured in through the large storefront windows. The sound of lunchtime traffic on the cobblestone street melded with the conversations between the stylists and their customers.
When the topic turned to Donald Trump, stylist Renata Alexander wasted no words about the 45th president of the United States.
“In four years, we’re free,” she said.
Alexander’s distaste for Trump mirrors the opinions of several dozen other people in Germantown who shared their views at barbershops and hair salons up and down Germantown Avenue, traditional places of conversation in the predominantly black neighborhood.
The wall, health care and immigration
The interviews, conducted as Trump approached his first 60 days in office, found people most concerned about three things — plans for a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border; repeal of the Affordable Care Act; and the temporary ban on immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries.
“We’re in for it now,” said Marc Miller, the owner of Cuts by Us at 5104 Germantown Ave.
But despite their opposition to Trump’s agenda, many people in Germantown were optimistic about the ability of the African-American community to bounce back from the Trump presidency.
“We’ll survive this.”
“We survived Nixon, we’ll survive this,” said Jeff Johnson as he joined the conversation at Miller’s bustling shop.
A barber at the Foxy Diva Hair Salon a few blocks up the street expressed the same sentiment. “I feel the fear,” he said of Trump’s clampdown on undocumented immigrants. Even so, the barber pointed to the long struggle for freedom waged by African Americans.
“Us, as African Americans, have been through the struggle. We’re barely out of the woods. But four years of Trump? We’ll get through it,” he said.
Taking “the cover off” racism
One man, Shariff Muhammed, said he disagreed with Trump’s policies but asserted that Trump had done the country a favor by revealing the racism that he said underlies much of American society. “Trump took the cover off,” he said.
The mood in Germantown today is decidedly different from the mood in 2008 when Barack Obama, a little known senator from Illinois, ran a successful campaign against Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) to become the nation’s first African-American president.
Recalling Obama in 2008
Two weeks before the election, Obama drew more than 18,500 people to a campaign rally at Germantown’s Morton Park where he stood on a podium and asked the crowd, “Are you fired up? Are you ready to go?” The crowd roared its approval.
Today, following Trump’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, Germantown residents are scared and angry about what the Trump presidency may mean for the country and for the African American community in particular.
“I just don’t like him,” said Jarome Stephenson, 21, as he waited for a fresh cut at the Next Level Barber Shop at 5050 Germantown Ave. “I do not like what he stands for, and he’s too barbaric to lead the country.”
Dominique Early, 18, a worker at the shop, chimed in, saying Trump has no interest in the needs of the African-American community. “He’s all for himself, not the people,” she said.
Memories of Jim Crow
Linda Singleton, a former counselor at Germantown High School who now owns Thelma Walker’s Beauty Salon at 6515 Germantown Ave., is worried for her bi-racial grandson, a student at Boston University. Authorities, she fears, might mistake him for a Latino immigrant and arrest him for not carrying his birth certificate.
Singleton, 72, recalled her own youth during the Jim Crow era in the South. Her father was a Tuskegee Airman, one of the African-American pilots during World War II, and she followed in her father’s footsteps when she began her own college career at Tuskegee University, a historically black school in Tuskegee, Ala.
“I knew what it was like when they had water fountains that said ‘for whites only,’” she said.
A woman called Miss Sadia sat in the middle of the Foxy Diva Salon and recalled a terrifying incident several weeks ago at a school in Delaware where she works as a substitute teacher.
Word had spread that federal officials might raid the school, looking for undocumented children. Fearing that, about half the students didn’t show up for class that day. To protect those who did attend class, the school went into lock down for a half hour and then dismissed classes early.
Hiding students from the feds
“I felt like Harriet Tubman,” said Miss Sadia as she put a hand over her heart. Her eyes closed as she shook her head. “I didn’t cry until I got back home. I never thought I’d live to see a day where we had to hide kids to keep them from being removed from the city.”
Kiera Green, who works at the Philadelphia Hair Co. at 5805 Germantown Ave. decried what she characterized as Trump’s racist rhetoric, and said she was opposed to his immigration policies and his plan to build a wall along the Mexican border.
“I voted for Hillary because of her healthcare policies and because she is pro-choice,” Green said.
While Clinton ran up 95 percent of the vote in Germantown’s heavily Democratic 9th, 12th and 22nd wards, well ahead of her 82.3 percent showing citywide, black voter turnout in Germantown and other predominantly black areas of the city wasn’t enough to overcome Trump’s support among white, working-class Republicans in central Pennsylvania.
The result: For the first time in 28 years, Pennsylvania went for the Republican presidential candidate.
“Trump is ignorant — and so are the people who didn’t vote,” said Tianna Valentine, owner of the Style and Grace Salon at 6336 Germantown Ave., who voted for Clinton.
While Clinton got 32,576 votes in Germantown compared to just 869 for Trump, Clinton’s sweep belied the softness of her support among African Americans, who make up about 84 percent of Germantown’s population.
In interviews, some voters said they cast a ballot for Clinton only to stop Trump. Others saw Clinton as part of the political establishment and said they would have preferred independent Bernie Sanders. Still others questioned Clinton’s integrity and said they voted for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate.
Clinton support soft
“I think Clinton most definitely pandered to her audience,” said Jamal Trusty, a public school employee, as he sat at the Philadelphia Hair Company. He said he originally supported Sanders, but switched to Stein after Sanders lost to Clinton in the Democratic primary.
Some who were strongly opposed to Trump’s policies said they did not cast a ballot despite their political leanings. Rochelle Gaines, for instance, was too overwhelmed with the challenges of daily life to vote on Nov. 10. As a new mother, however, she is deeply concerned about Trump’s support of privately-run charter schools.
“Are there still going to be any (public schools) left?” she asked as she held the handrail of her son’s stroller while waiting for a bus at the corner of Germantown Avenue and Armat Street.
Gtown helping Gtown
Kelija McKeithan, who was getting her hair done at the Style and Grace Salon, also didn’t vote despite her worries about the possibility of another recession. “The people of Germantown need to help the people of Germantown,” she said. “The community needs to help the community.”
Lisa Barnum, who works in a retirement home in Center City, said the community needs divine intervention to deal with Trump. “I’m under Christ Jesus’ law,” she said as she sat in the III Dimensions Spa and Salon at 6620 Germantown Ave. “We must all pray, no matter what generation.”
(Also contributing to this report were La Salle University student journalists Aaron Brown, Chadd Catrambone, Destiny Hatcher, Sam Mabin, Joshua Maddox-Crum, Tommy McIntyre, Jared Pederman, Hank Shafer and Shanta Tumawoo.)