By Chanda Temple
When West End native Tommy “TJ” Dudley Jr. was 22 years old, he told a barber shop owner that he wanted to be a barber.
Dudley’s interest in being a barber was met with doubt and discouragement with the owner telling him, “Naw, this ain’t for you” and that Dudley had waited too late in life to start a new career.
But Dudley didn’t let the negativity cloud his vision. The next day, he enrolled in barbering school at Lawson State Community College in Birmingham.
“I don’t know if (what the shop owner said) was motivation. But I do know that I don’t like people telling me what I can’t do,” said Dudley. “So, it was just like, ‘Let me prove to you I can do this.’”
Today, the 38-year-old Dudley owns two, local barber shops, King’s Grooming Lounge. But that’s not all. In 2022, Dudley received a call from someone who was over the hairstyles for an upcoming movie. That call would eventually lead to him cutting the hair of the main villain in this summer’s mega release of Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3.”
Dudley cut the hair of actor Chukwudi Iwuji, who plays the film’s purple-clad evil scientist, The High Evolutionary.
“I was his personal barber for that movie as well as other events that he had just from working on that movie, which was filmed in Atlanta in 2021,” Dudley said.
So, how did Dudley get such a job?
He started attending barber summits, which are like networking and traveling events. From there, one of the barbers in the group was asked to try out for the slot to be Iwuji’s barber for the film. That barber was not able to do it, but told the movie rep about Dudley.
“I got the phone call at 12:11 a.m., and I had to be in Atlanta by 4 a.m.,” Dudley said. “I just told my wife I had to go. Opportunity called.”
Dudley packed his clippers and drove straight to Atlanta. He didn’t know which movie it was or which person’s hair he’d be cutting. He just knew he couldn’t ignore this big chance.
Once he arrived, he learned about the movie and what they wanted him to do. “They gave me a picture of how they wanted his hair cut,” he said of the skin fade he gave Iwuji. “I had one shot. I did it. And I got the job.”
In The Moment
Dudley, a 2002 graduate of A.H. Parker High School and a member of Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, said he wasn’t nervous. He was in the moment.
“I walked in the room as if God sent me,” he said. “I just know my purpose in life. I just don’t like people telling me what I can’t do.”
Since “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3,” he’s been asked to cut the hair of extras appearing in the upcoming “Captain America” sequel, which is filming in Atlanta, too. He’s also cut hair on the set of the Netflix series, “Outer Banks.” “I’ve done so many things just with being with Marvel,” he said.
His new career called for Dudley to spend time away from Birmingham. He credits his shop manager, Rocki McKeithen, for handling things at his shops, and he praises his wife, Tera Dudley, for running their household and working with their three children while he worked out of town for months at a time.
He also credits his parents, Tommie Sr. And Laura Dudley of West End, for building a solid home life for him as a child, which helped him on his path to success.
“God always puts someone in position for you to win,” he said of his wife, his parents and McKeithen. “Through it all, I just ‘BRETHE,’ and that means ‘Barbers Risking Everything To Have Everything.’ “
Next up for Dudley is to raise $8,500 to help send one of his clients to college. The recent high school graduate has been Dudley’s client since he received his first haircut at the age of 1 from Dudley. Dudley said the client and his mother remained committed to Dudley through everything, even price changes and the pandemic. Now, Dudley wants to help his client, who lives in Jefferson County, reach a goal, and that’s to go to college.
“God told me to do this. I’m just very spiritual, and I pay attention to signs,” he said. “His mother was venting in the shop about being a single mother, and she was crying that she couldn’t afford to send him to college and still run her household. And I just thought raising money for him to go to his dream school was something I could do. And I thought I would ask clients to donate money to help him go to school.”
This is just one way Dudley is reaching back to help young men. He’s served as a mentor to at least 10 to 15 male teenagers interested in becoming barbers. At least one has already opened his own shop, he said.
“I don’t look at myself as being bigger, better or anything like that,” he said. “Everybody’s got a dream, and I say, just chase your dream. I’m just chasing my dream and helping others to do the same.”