Slices of Life: Entrepreneur has spent much of his adult life belying a label from his high school days

December 4, 2013
John Dixon/The News-Gazette

By Phil Johnson/For The News-Gazette -- Cutting hair in the barbershop no one ever expected him to own, Seon Williams entertains in frenzied, fluid motions. In front of him rests a client, to the left a ringing phone he will not answer, to the right one of 30 or so visitors who stops by every day to show love.

The 42-year-old's 2008 black Mercedes-Benz SL 550 convertible, visible through the window behind him, sits parked out front of The Whip Hair Designs in Champaign. Newspaper clippings, plaques, neighborhood event fliers and funeral programs paint his walls. Photos of friends and family frame his faded mirror. A scissor cut here, a close shave there, and Williams steps back to admire his work.

Later today, he and his funeral director will take a body resting in his funeral home across town for cremation. He will also sell a family its first insurance policy. He will return to his shop intermittently for scheduled haircuts. He hopes to have time to attend tonight's Champaign City Council meeting.

But, right now, something he heard at church last Sunday has Williams reflecting on the meaning of real friendship.

A razor wrapped in the long, thick brown fingers of his right hand waves side to side as he speaks.

"Pastor Johnson over at Jericho said if we just listen, we will see who our true friends are," he says as his soft brown eyes widen from ovals to circles as if to say, "Think about that." His eyes do that a lot.

The topic is critics, or as Williams calls them, "dreambusters."

"They everywhere, man. People always wanna doubt you. They see you doing well for yourself, and they feel insecure. They can't feel good for you and show you love. What I'm trying to do is provide an example and opportunities for others to succeed."

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This story was written by a University of Illinois journalism student in Professor Walt Harrington’s Literary Feature Writing class taught in collaboration with The News-Gazette. Funding for the class, which was taught at the newspaper’s headquarters in downtown Champaign, came from the Marajen Stevick Foundation. The story was part of an occasional series titled “Slices of Life” that ran in the newspaper’s Sunday Living section. All the stories in the series are also collected in the book “Slices of Life.”