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‘There was no hiding our love’: Baltimore mom recalls her son, a popular barber, photographer, after shooting

Kenny Whitley, a graduate of Edmondson-Westside and Morgan State, worked in Northwest Baltimore as a barber and photographer.
Kenny Whitley, a graduate of Edmondson-Westside and Morgan State, worked in Northwest Baltimore as a barber and photographer. (Courtesy of Catherine Whitley)

Catherine Whitley had cameras all around her house. Her 33-year-old son lived with her in East Arlington in Northwest Baltimore, and the two of them would use the electronic eyes to check in on each other.

Frightened that she or her son could wind up like the victims they saw on the news, she wanted to be as safe as possible.

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Most times when they got concerned about their well-being, it would just be a neighbor knocking or making noise next door.

But on Thursday, Catherine Whitley found herself rewinding the tapes to aid detectives. The cameras that had kept the two safe for so long were now helping a homicide investigation.

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Her only child had been shot dead.

Kenny Whitley was visiting his friend’s house nearby, in the 3400 block of Dolfield Ave. in East Arlington. His mother said she thinks her son was walking to his car when someone started shooting at him. He was hit twice in his back and once in his arm.

Police said they found Kenny on June 27 around midnight. He had collapsed in the street after he knocked on doors and yelled for help. Kenny was taken to Sinai Hospital where he died shortly after from his injuries.

Police viewed her footage to confirm what he had been wearing when he left the house, according to Catherine.

“Even as a grown man he’d tiptoe into my room and plant a big ol’ kiss on my cheek,” Catherine Whitley said of her son Kenny, above. “There was no hiding our love.”
“Even as a grown man he’d tiptoe into my room and plant a big ol’ kiss on my cheek,” Catherine Whitley said of her son Kenny, above. “There was no hiding our love.” (Courtesy of Catherine Whitley)

Police say they do not have a suspect in Kenny Whitley’s fatal shooting, which is one of over 155 homicides in Baltimore this year.

Kenny “Bean” Whitley was a beloved barber and photographer known throughout the city, as evidenced by an outpouring of grief on social media. A Baltimore native, he attended Edmondson-Westside High School and graduated from Morgan State University with a degree in psychology, his mother said.

After he struggled to find a job in the field, Kenny confided in his cousin, who suggested he become a barber, Catherine Whitley recalled.

Kenny studied under a master barber, carefully examining his every move, his mother said. He stayed up late watching videos on how to cut hair and persuaded his friends to be his guinea pigs.

Eventually, he opened a barber shop at 6609 Reisterstown Road in Northwest Baltimore. He had a single chair and started bringing in one client after another. Thanks to his humorous personality and social media presence, Kenny became so well known that several Ravens players came to get their hair cut by him, according to his mother. And one time, six Harlem Globetrotters visited him specifically to get a trim before a Baltimore show — an accomplishment Kenny’s mother cherishes as she looks back at the photographs.

Though he had some “celebrity” clients, Kenny mostly cut children’s hair. His mother said he had a way with them and could always make them smile and laugh.

Kenny Whitley, in the middle of the image with his cap on backward, poses for a photo with the Harlem Globetrotters who all got their hair trimmed before a performance.
Kenny Whitley, in the middle of the image with his cap on backward, poses for a photo with the Harlem Globetrotters who all got their hair trimmed before a performance. (Courtesy of Catherine Whitley)

Brian Harvey Sr. first heard about Kenny from a friend 10 years ago while looking for somebody trustworthy to give his 1-year-old son his very first haircut. Harvey went first, and it became an easy decision to trust him with his son. Kenny’s passion for his trade and finesse with the clippers were obvious.

“Whether he was cutting my son’s hair or another child, he always made them feel comfortable,” Harvey, 34 said. “He just had the natural ability and personality to make it more than a cut.”

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Kenny imitated people and made funny faces to get the kids content sitting in the chair. Harvey said that during haircuts his son laughed as if were watching his favorite cartoon.

And even though Harvey moved 30 minutes away from Lansdowne to Cedonia, making it hard to keep Kenny as their barber, the two still kept in touch.

Kenny’s clientele inspired him to expand his business to also taking photographs of people.

“He used to say, ‘If you’ve got a fresh haircut, then you should have a photo to look good,’” Catherine Whitley said. “His mind was always working, looking for ways to improve and help people.”

Kenny Whitley took his mother on a cruise to Bermuda and the Bahamas for her birthday last year.
Kenny Whitley took his mother on a cruise to Bermuda and the Bahamas for her birthday last year. (Courtesy of Catherine Whitley)

His mother said even though Kenny didn’t get a job in psychology, he would use his education to connect with teens as he trimmed their hair, talking about keeping their heads on straight and getting outside local communities to educate themselves.

Tevin Jones, 21, met Kenny nearly five years ago through a cousin. Not only did Kenny cut his hair but he also mentored him, giving him advice about his rental home and house flipping business based in the city.

Just last Sunday, three days before his death, Kenny told Jones to keep his “head on a swivel.” With a growing business, he might have a target on his back.

“’Because in Baltimore, people hate more than they love’” Jones recalled Kenny saying to him.

“That’s going to stick with me forever because of what happened to him,” Jones said.

Kenny was always looking for ways to expand his business. So, he also sold a line of children’s fashion and helped out at children’s birthday parties.

He used to tell his mom that one day, he was going to make $1 million, pay off their house and buy her a big new one.

“And I always believed he would,” she said.

The two shared a close relationship as Catherine was a single mom. Every morning the two would exchange “I love you” texts and phone calls.

“Even as a grown man, he’d tiptoe into my room and plant a big ol’ kiss on my cheek,” she said. “There was no hiding our love.”

Catherine was looking forward to planning another cruise with her son. Last year, as a gift from Kenny, the two voyaged from the Port of Baltimore to Bermuda and the Bahamas for Catherine’s birthday.

Instead, Catherine is now preparing herself to see her son one last time. She wants to hold her only son in her arms, kiss his cheek and say, “I love you.”

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