T erin J.D. starts his tattoo sessions by telling his client he’s going to waste more of their time than anyone else ever could.
On Sept. 24, he was scheduled to create a custom tattoo for Phoebe Powell, 19. It was the day after dozens of people gathered in People’s Park just down the street from Cry Babies Electric Tattooing to protest the Kentucky attorney general’s decision not to charge the officers who killed Breonna Taylor with anything related to her death. Taylor was a Black woman who was killed by police March 13 in her home.
Terin had planned to record portions of that day’s tattoo process for a documentary project, which probably would have been about the protest if he had been able to go. But before Terin sat Phoebe down to start sketching out the new permanent installation of neotraditional art on her arm, a darker shade of melanin Terin specializes in tattooing, he needed her to do something for him.
“Today we’re giving her a lot of Black business,” Terin said in reference to a woman with connections to the store, Moon Stones, a local gem, rock and jewelry shop. He handed Phoebe a few bucks and asked her to go buy something at the bohemian shop and mention she was getting a tattoo next door.
Terin has been in what he calls a “petty war” with the neighboring local business. It started when a woman who has connections to the store, upset that Moon Stones’ employee spot was taken, parked behind some other cars in the lot with her light gold Mercedes SUV. It was a sort of deal the current owners of Moon Stones made — if someone parks in their spot, they’ll block the person in and hope they come into the store to be unblocked. It really blew up on Sept. 14, when, as Terin was cleaning his shop and preparing it for the day, he watched the SUV park in the alley separating his shop from Moon Stones.
Terin stood up from his stool and apologized for what he was about to do.
“It’s like the most petty thing I’m doing right now,” he said, rummaging through signs and canvases in the corner of the room.
Before the woman could get out of her car, Terin was out there, standing up against the wall holding a white canvas spray painted with the words “My parking” with an angry face drawn next to it. He wanted the message to be obvious: The sign was making fun of the owners of the store for getting so mad when someone was in the spot.
When she got out of her car, she asked, “Can I help you?”
He told the woman that blocking people in with her gold Mercedes SUV was the most disgusting example of white privilege he’s seen. She took out her phone and asked him to repeat that, so she could post it on Facebook. He went inside to grab his professional camera to do the same.
She drove off.
Since Terin expressed how the parking situation bothered him, the owners of Moon Stones have instead blocked the employee parking spot with cones to ensure nobody else can park there.
So when Phoebe walked into Moon Stones 10 days later, she did what Terin said and told the woman she felt like popping by to peruse the gems before getting a tattoo at the shop out back. The woman said she’d never heard of the shop out there and asked if Phoebe knew of this other, women-run tattoo place instead. She then asked Phoebe what kind of tattoo she was getting, in which Phoebe responded with “A mom tattoo.”
“Is your mom dead?” she recalled the woman asking.
“No, I just love my fucking mom,” Phoebe responded.
Terin said the idea is to scare the owners of Moon Stones with Black business — that if he keeps this up for a year, any internalized racism she may have as a white woman will make her think something bad is going to happen if she’s continuously getting Black business, bringing her bias to the forefront, Terin hopes. He later sent some of his shop helpers and apprentices over to keep it up. He loves testing white authority in Bloomington.
“You don’t change culture by being quiet,” he said. “The only way you change a market like Bloomington is loudly.”
O nce Terin sat Phoebe down for her tattoo, they started to talk. As Terin pierced her skin, his needle feeling like nails digging into a raw sunburn that would leave a permanent shrine to Phoebe’s mother, he asked her about growing up as a Black woman in Bloomington. She told Terin of the conversations she had with her mom about Bloomington not being a good place for Black people to raise families. Terin agreed, saying it’s hard for people to see that when there are louder voices drowning out those of minorities.
“It’s always white people saying they don’t feel that way,” Terin said. “White people cancel Black talking points here because white people are more respected here, no matter your level.”
The city’s history shows just that: narratives have been created about Black people in Bloomington, and oftentimes they don’t match up with what people have actually experienced. Accounts of some Black neighborhoods are nonexistent, harmful nicknames have been glamorized and Black people have been beaten blocks from their homes, according to documentation from the Monroe County History Center. The Black community has constantly been forced out of spaces in Bloomington, but Terin is trying to fix that.
At 31, Terin has been tattooing for seven years and has lived in Bloomington for 10. He grew up in Indianapolis with a religious mother and a complicated relationship with his father figures, so he changed his last name to “J.D.” He’s a high school dropout. He was the kind of kid to be talkative in class and get yelled at for it, clad in black leather jackets, Hot Topic band tees and pink gem gauges. He loved pushing the boundaries of what it meant to be a Black man and identify as such. He said he loves being beaten up for his beliefs.
Terin ended up going back to school and getting into IU-Purdue University Indianapolis in 2010 where he felt more at home than he ever did in high school. There were Black weirdos, guys who would pierce their noses in class. All the Black artsy kids went to IUPUI, and the Afro punk scene wasn’t hidden in the shadows.
One day Terin was stopped by a woman at the store after she noticed his IU shirt. She asked him if he went there, and out of panic, he said yes. She asked him about the Memorial Stadium construction and how it’s supposed to be more like a horseshoe, and she asked him what dorm he lived in. He told her it was one of the big ones.
Never before had IU really been on the plate for him; it was a big university, something he felt he didn’t belong to. But that didn’t stop him from applying — and getting in. He moved here in 2011 at 21 and finished his bachelor’s degree in studio art.
But Terin has noticed a lack of a scene in Bloomington for Black art students, artists and Black people in general. His business gets a lot of outside foot traffic. He said he constantly sees people stop and grimace at the “Support Black Artists” posters on the windows. When he first moved into the building on East Grant Street in 2018, surveillance cameras showed people tearing down the signs and throwing things at the building. And it’s right down the street from People’s Park, a place for gathering and activism, and a home for many, that was once a Black market bathed in culture and shattered by racist violence.
These instances of overt racism have happened since the city’s inception. Terin said it’s easy to see Bloomington as a progressive oasis because it at least isn’t as bad as other communities.
“We don’t have Black people dying in the streets,” he said. “It’s easy to sit on your high horse and say, ‘We’re a great community. I’ve never seen a cop kill a Black person here.’”
“It’s easy to sit on your high horse and say, 'We’re a great community. I’ve never seen a cop kill a Black person here.’”
— Terin J.D., local tattoo artist
Bloomington’s safe, Bloomington’s easy, he said. You don’t have to worry about getting called out for being racist because there aren’t any minorities to do the calling out.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Bloomington had an estimated population of more than 85,000 in 2019. Around 80% of the population is white, and only 4.3% is identified as Black or African American.
The City of Bloomington explains the history of Black people in the city and key points that shaped the city’s diversity much differently than Black and Brown people do.
According to the City of Bloomington’s African American Walking Tour pamphlet, two Black men bought land the year the city was founded in 1818. The pamphlet gives their names, William Cooley and Aaron Wallace, but that’s all. No more information is available for their families.
The pamphlet also talks of a neighborhood on the east side of Bloomington that was “commonly called ‘Bucktown.’” According to a 2007 written history of Black people in Bloomington in 1922 by Dan Combs and Dr. James Madison, Black leaders in the community didn’t call it Bucktown, other than a couple “bad houses.” Official records of life in this area are practically nonexistent, aside from oral histories and writings from residents.
One account describes the “Bucktown” neighborhood in 1903, when a group of white men called “whitecappers” abducted a young white woman and a Black man, took them to what is now known as Dunn Meadow at IU, stripped them naked and whipped them with barbed wire.
Megan MacDonald, research library manager at the Monroe County History Center, said there isn’t much of a collection on diversity in Bloomington.
“Part of the reason being that Bloomington just wasn’t a historically diverse town, or at least not diverse enough that white folks felt the need to preserve history outside their own,” she said.
The Monroe County History Center is located on Sixth and Washington Streets, where what used to be “The Colored School” stood in the 1800s. It was a segregated school for Black elementary students until 1915, when the increasingly white neighborhood it was located in wanted a Carnegie Library. The students were then moved to a temporary school and then to the Banneker School on the west side, where it stayed segregated until 1951.
Despite these often misleading narratives from the city, there are some residents who have taken it upon themselves to document the stories of people who have actually lived here and faced oppression.
S imilar to Terin, Liz Mitchell, 67, hated Bloomington when she first came here. She and her husband Jim moved to Bloomington in the late 1970s. She was a post office worker and he was a state trooper.
“I went to Indy every weekend just to find my people or even sit at the mall just to see Black people,” she said.
She didn’t feel at home here. She would go all over the city to find a place to get a haircut, but most of the time she had to go up to Indianapolis. Black people were seen as inferior customers or bad business, so no barbers wanted their business, not even Black barbers. There was one white barber who would cut Black hair, but he only knew how to cut it short — Army style.
When Liz and her husband bought the house they’re in now, Liz said a real estate agent told the elderly white woman next door she should sell her house because the neighborhood was going to turn Black. After that woman moved out, a family with kids and a dog moved in. One day their dog got out and the kids were running around the neighborhood calling out its name. The dog was black, and its name was a racial slur, Jim said. Their mom tried to tell Jim and Liz its name was Digger, but the Mitchells knew what they heard.
But for a while there, Jim and Liz had a place they could go to escape white bigotry and be with like-minded people on the west side of Bloomington — Pollard Lodge, better known as The Hole.
“Having that here my first year helped save me,” she said. “I needed to be with my people. I just needed to breathe.”
The two described The Hole on West Seventh Street as a social place where you could get soul food and share stories and experiences with other people of color in the city. There was always music playing. It was a place for people to connect to their culture.
The Hole started out as exactly that, a hole in the ground. There was a door that led to a basement. It wasn’t until years later a story was added on top of the basement. It started up during segregation as the Black Elks Club. Back then, clubs and organizations were heavily segregated. White people had the Masons, the church and lives outside of those things as well. Black people had two Black churches and The Hole.
But as the club grew more and more popular with white people looking for a good time, the neighborhood The Hole was in became more sought after by younger white families, according to a 2018 Bloom Magazine article about the history of The Hole. Houses were cheap at the time, so it was easy for families to get mortgages and start changing the demographic of the neighborhood. More noise complaints were being filed about The Hole, more fights were breaking out. A white couple who lived in the neighborhood in the 1990s was quoted in the Bloom Magazine story saying, “There was a lot of loud partying at all hours. It was definitely out of hand. It got worse as time went on.”
Then in 1997 there was a shooting at the club. A man from Gary, Indiana, got in a fight and shot two rounds into the crowd. The security guard at the time, a former city police officer, shot the man to death.
With the west side neighborhood becoming whiter and rent increasing, the Black owners of The Hole couldn’t keep up with payments. In the Bloom Magazine article, current city council member Jim Sims deemed the circumstances The Hole was facing “the perfect storm.”
The Near West Side Neighborhood Association was then informally organized by white newcomers and a few of the long-established Black residents, according to the Bloom Magazine article. They didn’t like the type of people who hung out at The Hole. Bill Baus, a white resident on the west side, told the magazine, “Some of us decided it was time for them to go. African Americans, or Africans for that matter, could go to any club in town, so they didn’t need it.”
The property was sold in 2006 to a white couple who planned to turn it into apartments. They never did, and the space sits empty today.
“A place to call our own is lacking,” Liz said. “I think it’s needed.”
“A place to call our own is lacking. I think it’s needed."
— Liz Mitchell, Bloomington resident
She said the point isn’t to segregate themselves from people who aren’t Black, but that there are times everyone wants to be with like-minded people. It’s comforting to be around people who have a similar understanding and outlook on life. It’s something she believes everyone needs.
Recently, Liz has been looking into buying the property that was once The Hole and turning it into an African American museum. It would house artifacts and permanent displays, as well as host social gatherings of the Black caucus, NAACP and the Black Business Association.
“It’d be a place to meet and talk about troubles and just to be us,” she said. “We don’t have a place like that.”
Terin’s goal with his tattoo shop has always been to make people feel comfortable and provide a space for Black people and people in the queer community. He’s familiar with some of Bloomington’s history and the struggle Black business owners have faced for years when they’ve attempted to make strides for the Black community.
“If me as a Black man invested every drop of freedom I’ve got into this community, I’d probably end up like the Black Market,” he said.
The Black Market, located where People’s Park sits today, was established in the fall of 1968 by Clarence “Rollo” Turner, the co-founder of IU’s African American Student Association. It was a market with products made by African and African American artists, including African garb, Black literature, records, fabrics and artifacts. In local reporting at the time, the market was deemed a cultural center for Black students when there wasn’t much for people of color to do in the city. It also worked to eliminate “misconceptions about Black people” by exposing both IU students and the Bloomington community to Black culture, according to an article from the Indiana History Blog.
According to the blog, factions within Bloomington were constantly pushing back against the very existence of the Black Market. That became clear on Dec. 26, 1968, just a few months after the shop’s conception. A local man with ties to the Ku Klux Klan threw a Molotov cocktail through the front window of the store, destroying the entire stock of the Black Market and causing structural damage to nearby buildings.
Students, faculty and some community members helped raise funds to cover the store’s inventory, but it never reopened, according to local reporting at the time. Terin’s shop is just down the street from where the Black Market once stood, a place that was dedicated to the people of Bloomington 12 years after the market burned.
“If the Klan burns down my fucking studio, give me a check and I’m opening a bigger one,” Terin said. “I want the same freedoms my white counterparts in this community have. When a Black business burned down, I think that was IU and Bloomington’s way of saying, ‘Thank you, Klan.’”
He said the only way you have the most freedom in Bloomington is by investing your time elsewhere, too, so you have some sense of security and a fallback plan. He started a tattoo shop in Durham, North Carolina, called Critter Swamp with a couple other tattoo artists. He goes there about one week a month with his partner, Korie Pickett. The shop in Durham has already gained publicity for Terin and the other artists, creating a place for Black and queer artists, the same thing he’s trying to do in Bloomington. He said he doesn’t plan to leave Bloomington until he’s established an infrastructure for Black and queer success.
“I want to see young Black kids with nice cars who work at tattoo and piercing shops,” he said. “I want to see what this community really thinks of trans people with money. Since we love diversity, then Bloomington would love that. Let’s test it.”
T erin’s newfound success has come at a price.
His Bloomington studio wasn’t always in the tiny, red historic building in the alley off South Grant Street that he believes exists in its own reality. His first studio was in Victoria Towers just a few blocks away, until his rent was jacked up after the Graduate Hotel opened. He was forced to look for a new place to work out of, and he started to rethink the way he did tattoos.
He didn’t have the money at the time to rent out a new space, and he’s always been interested in documentary videography and blogging. He decided to turn the predicament into an inspirational project, asking his followers to donate money to help him rent out the tiny red building. He wasn’t very serious about it; he went into it with the plan to make a video at the end about failing but at least attempting something new. But he quickly raised the money to rent the space, and his security as a tattoo artist in Bloomington was cemented after he hosted a Halloween flash sale with cheap tattoo deals that earned him much more revenue than expected.
Business had been mostly steady since. After George Floyd, a Black man from Minnesota, was killed by police on May 25, Terin saw a major rise in business.
“I had a lot of guilt for a long time,” he said. “I kind of think I always will. I felt like I was profiting off of Black death.”
It felt like it was the first time anyone was paying attention to the work he was doing to advance people of color and queer people in Bloomington. He had to tell himself the uptick in business wasn’t because of Floyd’s death, but rather the movement that followed and a change in younger generations’ mindset.
Money began flowing in over the summer as people started paying more attention to Black businesses in the wake of racial injustice. With that money, Terin was able to secure his deposit in Critter Swamp in North Carolina and begin a new chapter in a new state. He was able to buy updated equipment for the shop here to make sure his handful of young apprentices have all they need.
“I thought the blow up would happen in another way,” he said. “The rest of my life my career will benefit from his death.”
He’s open about his life with his clients, and he says they probably know him better than anyone else in his life. He encourages them to open up about themselves and talk to him about things they’re struggling with. He does the same in return.
This summer, a young man from Bedford, Indiana, painted a confederate flag on the back of his truck and hung a noose over it. After photos and videos of the truck and its owner went viral, a Bloomington resident asked Terin to help solve the problem.
Rachael Himsel, a Bloomington resident involved in the arts, was in contact with the Bedford man after a Black peer explained to him the issues with the flag and the noose. The owner of the truck said he felt bad and wanted to make things right. Himsel reached out to Terin over text, asking him to paint an American flag or a bald eagle over the confederate flag for $100 after a mutual friend had suggested Terin’s work. She’d go with him to take some photos, and she thought it would be a good way to show that people can “change their hearts if you just TALK to them like his classmate who is black did,” she wrote in a text message.
Terin told Himsel he didn’t want to do the artwork.
“It doesn’t feel safe for me, or any Black creative for that matter, to pursue painting over a hate crime,” he texted back. “It is not only this kid involved. He comes from a community that didn’t stop him from displaying it in the first place. I would be putting myself and my business at risk by participating in this.”
“To be a leader in Bloomington you got to let go of something special. After you lead and everything else, it’s a community that will never thank you. It will only come for you, try to destroy you, try to take everything from you.”
— Terin J.D., local tattoo artist
He went on to say he didn’t want to paint over it with an idea that wasn’t his own. He said the flag doesn’t represent freedom for him like it might for the guy who originally painted the Confederate flag.
“It’s not appropriate to ask Black people to do the work to correct the wrongs that continue to be done to us,” he said.
She told him she didn’t think a Confederate flag on a truck is a hate crime, and that at the end of the day it’s his truck — he can paint it plain or have something made that is more beautiful on it.
Terin also took some time off around Election Day due to some suspicious activity he saw around the shop. He said there was a large truck with a large Trump flag, a Blue Lives Matter flag and an American flag that pulled up to the shop, sat in front of the doors and then drove off. A little later, another truck did the same. Luckily, he lives nearby, so he kept an eye on the shop from a distance.
He recently had another Halloween flash sale, but it didn’t garner as much attention due to the COVID-19 pandemic limiting the number of spots open for tattoos. He’s never been much of a fan of Halloween; his religious mother never let them celebrate. Instead, they went to church. He always starts to fear for the future of his business once the weather starts to get cold. It signals the start of the slow season for his shop.
“Every time it’s this time of year I’m a little bit nervous for what’s next,” he said on Oct. 28.
Being in a city like Bloomington, a place with a deep history of injustice against Black people, Terin knows his shop could go under at any point, but he’s cool with that.
Every step of the way his mantra has been that if something he does fails, it has to fail in a cool way. He says none of the work he’s done has been intentional, that it’s all felt like a mistake.
“If it was going to fail, it’s way cooler that the studio failed pushing this Black agenda,” he said. “I could look at myself in the mirror knowing it failed pushing these Black and queer agendas.”
He’s learning how to let go, because he sees a future for himself with Korie and with his shop in Durham, North Carolina. The community there has been more welcoming than Bloomington, and the shop has already been featured in local news outlets for creating a safe space for Black and queer artists. He’s been urged by his coworkers to take more time for himself, and he’s been spending his free time drawing and spending time with Korie. He doesn’t know what the future of the Bloomington shop will be. It’ll be up to the cohort of young artists he assembled to take his place. He knows if he stays on the path he’s on, the space will be good to him and hopefully good to someone else.
His work has given a voice to many underrepresented people in Bloomington, including queer artists and Black artists, such as Samuel Lewis-Pérez, a Black tattoo artist and IU football player, and Lia Bodine, a local queer artist. He’s influenced many to think deeply about diverse topics and how to be accepting of themselves and other cultures. He’s provided security to countless people who felt they didn’t have a safe place to go.
“It’s helping show younger people that there’s a space in Bloomington where a young person can become an artist and they just don’t have to be the norm this community is used to,” he said.
He’s never liked the fact he’s become a leader in both the Black community and the queer community. But he’s come to recognize similarities in the ways vulnerable communities have been oppressed in Bloomington, as well as their common goal of equality. He calls himself dumb and says the only reason he can be a leader is because he has so little to lose.
“I think the best leaders are people who don’t want to be a leader,” he said. “I think that I’m a stand-in leader until I can help make someone who’s a better leader for this community. If I do my job right, I will have succeeded in having a better leader come here.”
A fter Terin finished the floral “MOM” tattoo that took up the majority of Phoebe’s bicep, he took her outside to interview her on camera.
“I think Black women getting tattoos is very empowering,” she told him. “We don’t really get a platform to express ourselves a lot because we are the least thought of.”
She told Terin the scene for Black punk music artists is nonexistent in Bloomington because there are so few Black people here.
“I grew up in Bloomington. You have to constantly endure racism whether it’s subconscious or conscious, especially in Bloomington,” she said. “Getting out of this town for a little bit made me realize how messed up Bloomington is and how much we really need to advocate and bring up the voices of any person of color or any person who has been oppressed here a lot.”
Every day Terin works to do just that. About a month ago he documented himself, his partner Korie, apprentice Lia and shop assistant Ebony Goldstein walking around the neighborhood sticking Post-it notes with quotes from Black people in random places. The idea was to give good advice and words of encouragement back to the community they all work in. Ebony led the project.
“It’s important to have Black artists work on my body because I want to show people that Black art can be just as if not more beautiful than work done by the majority,” Ebony, 22, said of Terin’s work.
Her most important tattoo is of a sunflower on her right thigh. It covers up old self-harm scars she didn’t like seeing every day. Terin did that tattoo for her. She said she cares deeply about Terin and that he thinks highly of people no matter their background.
Phoebe said she finds herself moved by Terin’s work and his success story, and that it shows how he became the person he is today.
“Being tattooed by someone who understands the experience of being Black and going through struggles to get where you want to be, it’s very comforting,” she said. “It’s really important to prop those people up and support them. He’s really paving the way for people who are going to come after him, for sure.”
Clarification, Dec. 3: This story has been updated to better reflect the interactions between Terin and a woman with connections to Moon Stones. This story has also been updated to remove a reference to the Fairfax Inn.