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Gunshot survivor 'inking' legacy in Louisville

Alonzo Chappell was shot while driving in downtown Louisville with his children in the backseat of the car. Now, he's mentoring the next generation of artists.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In the past decade or so, we've watched the stigmas around tattoos change substantially. Nearly half of all Americans under 40 have some ink, and more than 145 million Americans have at least one.

As a man who has made tattoos his business and life, Alonzo Chappell is teaching the community to embrace the mistakes, grow from the setbacks, and turn around to help the next person on your way.

"I was raised in the West End," Chappell said about his ties to Louisville.  "I always had a strong passion for art. Through art, it's helped me clear my mind and clear my heart, be myself and express myself."

Alonzo Chappell's tattooing is more than a job.  It's decades of passion permanently punctured into portraits.

"I like to help people," he said with a smile, surrounded by his artwork in his shop on South 4th Street.  "For me, saying to me, tattoo is a way for people to express their pain, their feelings, their love, happy days, good days. A lot of people like to get things covered up, body modification, scars covered up, and it helps people heal through certain processes."

Credit: Alyssa Newton | WHAS
Tattoo shop owner Alonzo Chappell works on a design at the front desk of his shop Zoe's Tattoos and Piercings in Louisville.

Rather than fully cover up the low points in his life, including a 10 year prison sentence when he was 19, Chappell is sharing them with the community.

"Through my prison time, I really used that time to better myself," he said of the experience.  "Used that time to change my life, do better, and still accomplish my goals no matter what.  If I wake up the next day, I have the opportunity to keep fighting to do it again."

After serving his time, he opened 'Zoe's Tattoos & Piercing' in Old Louisville and immediately began mentoring other tattoo artists. 

It's the only YMCA Safe Place tattoo shop in Kentucky.  He's worked consistently to give young people a spot where they can feel secure. 

Chappell's team was put to the test last year when Alonzo became a victim of the very thing he's fighting against.   

"I was caught in the cross fire, a victim of gun violence with me and my children in 2021, in August," he said. 

Chappell was driving with his children in downtown Louisville when he says his car was sprayed with bullets. He was shot multiple times, and drove himself to the hospital.  He told us it was a case of mistaken identity.

"I got shot. It set me back because I wasn't able to use my hand," he said, showing where he was shot.  "I was down for 4-5 months. Thankfully, I'm doing what I'm supposed to do and teaching my employees what to do, my shop continued to work while I was gone and sustain while I was gone. 

Credit: Alyssa Newton | WHAS
Tattoo shop owner Alonzo Chappell assists with a neck tattoo on a client Thursday November 17, 2022.

Now recovering and back in his shop, his focus is on the next generation of artists, including his own daughter, who works at his shop.

"I understand," he said of the struggles so many people are facing right now.  "I'm a black kid that comes from the West End. I had goals. I had dreams. You have to get up and work for them. They aren't going to be given to you."

A temporary pain for a permanent piece, much like a tattoo, Chappell's triumphs are inking his impact on the city.

"I'm doing my job as a business person, as a helper and as a person," Chappell said while blinking back tears.  "I'm doing my job. I know God is leading me through it.  I want my children to grow from it."

To 'walk the walk' of giving back, Zoe's is offering discounts on tattoos and piercings until the end of the year. You can find information about the shop, pricing and appointments by clicking on the link above.

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