By Joel Hall
Inconspicuously tucked away in the Shops on Tara Shopping Center on Southside Commercial Parkway in Jonesboro, Tattoos and Piercing by Randy is not your average tattoo parlor.
While Lil' Wayne pumps out of loud sub-woofers in the back of the shop, a Japanese rock garden, complete with a pond full of live koi, greets visitors at the door.
The shop -- a perfect blend of urban and Zen -- is reflective of the shop's owner, Randy Harris, the son of a Japanese seamstress and an African-American, Korean War, Air Force veteran.
Since moving to Atlanta in 2000, and opening his shop in Jonesboro in 2003, Harris, a Dayton, Ohio native, has developed an all-star clientele, including Denver Nuggets starters Allen Iverson and Carmello Anthony, Josh Smith and Marvin, Williams of the Atlanta Hawks, and Hip-Hop/R&B power couple Nas and Kelis.
A graduate of Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, the graphic design artist spent his life before tattoos as a freelance artist, designing bus schedules and promotional materials for the city of Dayton and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. In 1997, he became interested in applying his design skills to designing tattoos.
However, as an African American, Harris found tattooing a hard-to-get-into business, guarded by bikers and the family members of tattoo artists. Until recently, nepotism kept many blacks out of the tattooing business, Harris said.
"We were locked out of this industry," he said. "Twenty years ago, you couldn't find anybody doing it," who was black.
He credited Julia Alphonso -- a white woman and master tattoo artist who migrated to Atlanta from Cleveland, Ohio -- for sharing her expertise with most of the black tattoo artists in Atlanta.
Alphonso has a long list of celebrity tattoos accredited to her name, including the tattoos on the back of deceased rapper, Tupac Shakur.
"She literally taught everybody black who is tattooing in Atlanta now," said Harris. Until then, black, professional tattoo artists were a rarity and black-owned tattoo parlors were non-existent in the Atlanta area, Harris said.
Lonsine Kenyatta Lucas, known by his clients as "Lord Yatta," is a professional tattoo artist who has worked in Harris' parlor since January of 2006. A student of Alphonso, Lucas said that until recently, black artists interested in tattooing had difficulty finding apprenticeships and attracting clientele, due to a "criminal" stereotype associated with blacks and tattoos.
"I've never been to jail in my life," he said.
"When I started tattooing, I didn't know that race could play a part, but as I got into it, I learned how cliquish it could be," said Lucas. He explained that tattoo artists were hesitant to teach outsiders their craft.
Also, he said the "stereotypes of criminality are fading. The artistry has changed and the attitude has changed."
Harris said television shows like The Learning Channel's "Miami Ink" were breaking down the barriers associated with tattoos and bringing a new generation of artists with degrees in graphic design -- as well as clientele from all walks of life -- to the table.
"With the TV shows, it helps people who are old and conservative, who wouldn't come in here, get a tattoo," said Harris. "We get kind of a cross section of everybody from a doctor to a student. We kind of help out everybody the same."
While Harris' clients vary from the average citizen to the rich and famous, Harris said all of his customers come back for the same reasons -- his honesty about how a requested tattoo will look, and the work ethic instilled in him by his Japanese mother.
"A lot of my success is because I work so hard in comparison to other tattoo artists," said Harris. "This is one of the most successful shops that you will ever go to. If you don't see us open for a few days, you will see a lot of sad faces."