University of Missouri

Mizzou athletes mourn death of barber James Carter, founder of JT’s Cutz

James “JT” Carter II (right), founder of JT’s Cutz barbershop in Columbia, died Oct. 29.
James “JT” Carter II (right), founder of JT’s Cutz barbershop in Columbia, died Oct. 29. Submitted photo

Inside JT’s Cutz, beneath papers on the barbershop’s wall closest to Old Highway 63, is a gold, rectangular display that portrays the Missouri Tiger logo’s evolution. On the opposite wall, both Kansas City Chiefs and Royals hats are propped up.

Each team held a dear place in the heart of James “JT” Carter II, a Kansas City native who founded JT’s Cutz in 2006. The barber loved the teams like he loved his customers, whom he considered friends. Former Missouri wide receiver L’Damian Washington was one of those.

Washington was a regular in the right corner chair every Thursday. But he had to reschedule last week’s appointment to Saturday because of work. Early that day, he received the tragic news.

Carter was killed around 6 a.m. Oct. 29 in a car crash on Interstate 70. He was driving eastbound near mile marker 125 when his Buick Lacrosse was struck head-on by Vanessa Beatty, 28, who was driving a Hyundai Sonata westbound in the eastbound lanes. Beatty also died. Carter was 42. The crash is under investigation.

“A guy from the barbershop actually called me because he knew that (JT and I) had a good relationship,” said Washington, who was introduced to Carter his freshman year at Mizzou by former Tigers linebacker Darvin Ruise. “He kind of broke the news, and I thought it was a joke at first.

“I was more in shock than anything … you just gotta value relationships while people are here. You just never know when you’re going to get a call like that. You just have to value people while they’re here.”

Name any Missouri athlete, odds are they’re familiar with JT’s. Michael Sam still visits when he comes to town, as does former Missouri defensive end Marvin Foster. Carter had a “great” relationship with former Missouri basketball coach Mike Anderson, according to Carter’s significant other for 17 years, Sharmain Collier.

When a new Mizzou athlete puts on the black and gold and is looking for a barbershop, JT’s is the go-to.

It’s a special visit each week for Tre Williams, a Missouri freshman defensive end and alumnus of Columbia’s Rock Bridge High School. Williams’ hair has been shaped by Carter since ninth grade.

“It feels like JT’s is where greatness goes to get their haircut,” Williams said Monday. “We’d always have good conversations. We’d be talking about somebody, and next thing you know, that person walks in.”

When Williams was a junior in high school, Carter was talking about Missouri junior defensive end Charles Harris. Three days later, Williams went back to get a design put in his mohawk and Harris walked in. The two sparked a friendship, one that was influential in Williams’ decision to play for his hometown Tigers.

On Monday, Harris spoke of Carter’s passing.

“I just got my haircut last Thursday, and James was in there last Thursday,” Harris said. “(To see what happened), it just makes you want to appreciate life more.”

Carter’s appreciation for everything and everybody who came his way always impressed Maurice Strickland, Carter’s uncle and co-worker.

Prior to his time as a barber, Carter lifted weights. After graduating from Center High School, Carter moved to Colorado Springs, Colo., and competed on a USA Junior World Weightlifting team that took him across the world.

Bruce Williams, now a weightlifting coach at New Smyrna Beach High School in Florida and a teammate with Carter on that team, remembers playing Tecmo Bowl in the dorms, and Carter obsessing over the Chiefs.

“Sports were his passion,” said Williams, who added that a blown out knee in a weightlifting competition in San Antonio, Texas, ended Carter’s pursuits.

So, he became a barber, and for years, Carter and Strickland went to work at 6 a.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday until all the haircuts were finished. On Fridays and Saturdays, they’d arrive at 4:30 a.m.

Why so early?

“He wanted to make time for everyone,” Strickland said.

Outside of his shop, he’d make time for his kids: Ja’Marii Tucker, 17, James T. Carter III, 14, Ja’Tahjia Collier, 13. Not to mention, Carter had a continued want to assist the Columbia community.

In the past few years, Carter helped programs for students such as back-to-school supply and Thanksgiving meal giveaways. He also launched a reading program for kids visiting the barbershop.

Strickland, who now mans JT’s Cutz, was crushed when he heard the news. But he wasn’t alone, and he takes pride in upholding everything his nephew built.

“(James) seemed like the type of guy that’d live forever,” Tre Williams said.

Yet he will, in more ways than one.