James Brown and the Bootblack


“I was my father’s partner from age 5.”

Earl Reynolds came to StoryCorps with his daughter, Ashley, to share memories of growing up as a bootblack in his father’s barber shop on Henry Street in Roanoke, Virginia.

Earl remembered shining the shoes of the Godfather of Soul, who advised Earl, “It’s an honorable profession. You just need to think about what else you want to do with your life.”

Earl heard similar advice while working as a garbage man for the city of Roanoke. He loved the job because of the camaraderie among the workers, but remembered his coworkers telling him, “Even though you like this job, and you’re good at it, you need to do something else. You can do better.”

Earl’s struggled to tell his father that he planned to attend college and would not take over the barber shop. Yet, he knew all was forgiven when he saw his father in attendance at his graduation. After earning two college degrees, Earl went on to work in community development and in the nonprofit sector, earning jobs as the Assistant City Manager for Roanoke and the Martinsville City Manager. Although he hadn’t planned to attend college, he passed the value of education onto Ashley, who is currently waiting for the results of her bar exam.

Earl and Ashley Reynolds


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2 Responses to “James Brown and the Bootblack”

To preserve the StoryCorps mission and experience for our readers and participants, comments are subject to the StoryCorps Terms of Service. Comments may be held for moderation or removed if deemed offensive or off-topic. Please do not resubmit your comment if you don't see it right away, it will be approved as soon as possible. Thank you.

  • great story! when does the james brown initiative start?

    Comment from Matt on October 8, 2008 at 10:09 am - Reply to this Comment
  • Nice linkage. Great painting.

    Comment from Nina on October 7, 2008 at 11:21 am - Reply to this Comment

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