Operation Mask…

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Tattoos have long been attached to gangs.  From street gangs right up to high level forms of organised crime, it unfortunately seems that tattoos have always had a place within those worlds.  In the last few years there have been a few programs run by various organisations to remove tattoos for free from former gang members who want to make a fresh start with their lives.  While these programs are great, they are often burdened by financial woes, or theft – as was the case earlier this year in LA when a $50,000 tattoo removal machine was stolen from Westlake’s non-profit Sunrise Community Outreach centre.

One man in St. Louis however, is taking things into his own hands and using his tattoo studio Black Pearl as a sort of haven for those who no longer want to lead the gang life or bear the marks of a gang member.  44-year-old Roland Page is an ex-cop who has run Black Pearl Tattoos for sixteen years and counting.  He’s decided that he wants to do something to give the youth of St. Louis a better chance at life and first and foremost that better chance involves getting rid of those gang tattoos.  That’s why he’s offering free cover ups for anyone with a gang related tattoo, provided that they take part in a four-part educational/vocational course called Operation Mask.

‘In order to have their tattoos covered up for free, which otherwise could cost $100 or more, participants in the program must attend four one-hour courses at Innovative Concept Academy, in North City, where they’ll be taught job-seeking skills like resume writing and prep for the G.E.D.’

Page’s son Roland Jr is an up and coming rap artist known as Yung Ro, with quite a healthy following in the St. Louis area and beyond.  It was his idea to begin covering up gang tattoos in his father’s tattoo studio after experiencing violence at some of his shows.

The idea of covering up gang tattoos was actually conceived by Yung Ro, who helps out in his dad’s parlor when he’s not busy recording. A year ago, Yung Ro was grazed in the head by a stray bullet after a performance at a downtown club.  It wasn’t the first time trouble had followed him to his shows; there have been times when police were forced to shut down some of those gigs prematurely. The teenage impresario realized that a violent fan base didn’t make much business sense, so he hatched up the plan for Operation Mask. The initiative fit in neatly with his existing non-profit organization, Runway 2 Empowerment, which focuses on health, education and literacy.

It’s a great thing that the Page’s are doing, giving back to their community and city through the power of tattoos.  I like the idea of covering up the old ink with something fresh and new and starting a new life with a firm foot on the ground.  An inspiring story.  I wish them all the best and hope that things really work out well.

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