Naomi Davis: former attorney, founder of the Blacks in Green (B.I.G.) environmental group, a Chicago-based organization dedicated to bring environmental awareness and green jobs into impoverished, urban black communities.
Part 1 of Naomi Davis’ interview is here.
BGLH: When did you go natural and why?
Naomi: 1999 for the second time. The first time I wore a fro for 10 years that included college.
BGLH: When you made the decision to go natural, were you worried about the implications for your work?
BGLH: Do you think the professional world is ready to accept natural hair?
Naomi: Yes, unequivocally if the rest of you looks the part.
BGLH: Describe the reactions your natural hair receives in a professional setting. Is it viewed as acceptable?
Naomi: No one ever questions or insinuates against my hair. I have only ever received positive feedback. Oh, except one time a dear friend — an older white male and Texan (Texas! no less…where I thought big hair ruled!) — told me he thought my hair was too big.
BGLH: What are some of the early styles that you tried?
Naomi: During my transitioning years I wore my hair pulled back or pulled up with natural look hair braided or combed in to augment style.
BGLH: Did you ever get discouraged in the process of going natural?
Naomi: No, not during the process. I had a simple elegant look that was simple, low maintenance and it didn’t matter how much my chemically processed hair fell off along the way. However now, unless I can hunker down and enjoy a good detangling comb-out, it’s easy to avoid and then fret over. It can and does get easily matted; and peppercorns, while fascinating, are annoying and destructive.
BGLH: Are you originally from Chicago? If not, where are you from and how did you wind up here?
Naomi: I’m a native New Yorker. Came here to attend law school because my college sweetheart lived here.
BGLH: Tell us about your organization Blacks in Green.
Naomi: We are green-village-builders, and we teach “The 8 Principles of Green-Village-Building” — a course for communities and developers who believe in jobs-driven development without displacement, so that neighbors can make an oasis wherever they live.
BGLH: What motivated you to start B.I.G., and what drives you to keep it going?
Naomi: One day I realized I was the granddaughter of Mississippi sharecroppers who didn’t know how to grow squat. I realized that though I was born as a child of the 60’s when everything was possible, I was suddenly living in the age of climate change, with advances reversing, with no “help on the way.” I remembered how much I had loved the land as a child and how I’d learned as an adult how well (every single time) I would feel when I went to the woods. I remembered how proud I was in 2nd grade winning 3rd Place in the Brotherhood Week Poster Contest at P.S. 15 Queens, and how my Mom had taught me over the years what it meant to be an activist — being in action on one’s strongly held beliefs. And I got in touch with my finite time and skill, and my declared commitment to a world that worked for everyone, with no one and nothing left out. And my solidarity with Eldridge Cleaver that “you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.” I was raised by a seemingly fearless woman in an afrocentric home, knowing the greatness of my people, yet nevertheless learning fear and doubt, and learning black shame and my own sense of inferiority. And eventually I learned there’s only ever one thing to do when bumping into a wall of one’s own limiting belief, and that’s to knock it down. I had contributed all I could “under the radar” and needed to “come out” for what mattered most to me. I came out to embrace my purpose in life: self-sustaining African diaspora communities. At times brutal, but worth every blow…“and still I rise.”
BGLH: You seem to be a free spirit. Is that an accurate description?
Naomi: More accurate would be: I am a free thinker, committed.
BGLH: What does your hair represent for you?
Naomi: Before I answer, I’d like to call attention to Eleanor Holmes Norton, who wears her hair cropped to the scalp. L says~Eleanor Holmes Norton is a Delegate to Congress representing the District of Columbia. Do you cover this style? More than ever, progressive thinkers are “going to the bone.” What do you make of this, in a time and place where male sexualization of women craves ever longer hair? Though I’m not sure I’d like it on me (or have the balls — if you could ever forgive the irony of this phrase), Eleanor looks fabulous to me.
To your question, only recently after years of neglect and stress thinned my hair to what you see in the April 2008 Chicago Magazine Green Awards photo (thinning almost impossible to discern in my favorite Ida B. Wells style) did I think about my hair as representing anything personal. Always for me it was a heritage thing: I am an African woman and will not spend bunches of time and money to look how I don’t. Working 20-hour days on end requires the kind of style that can brush up and look swell on the fly. Natural grooming takes less time and money than caring for permed hair, if done smartly…but I abused the ease of looking good by failing to take care. Nowhere in my life was I taking care of me.
So recently my question has become: shall I prefer to treat myself well? And hair, like any other embodiment, shines with loving attention.
I love my hair. I love touching it and twirling it. I love studying its strands. I love the thought of the limitless styles I could make if I took the time. I love that folks respond with love for it. I love to look good. Yet I have trouble making care of self more important than mission. And I am learning as I go that at the end of the day, loving attention to my hair or care of my diet or expenses are all the same. How tender is my stewardship of self — head to toe, inside out? The greater this harmony, the sooner the end to discord here in the world of opposites. So I’m a work in progress. And I repeat for you, wise counsel I was given to remind my own self ceaselessly: “take good care of yourself; if you do, all will be beneficiaries.”
BGLH: Do you think the older generation of Black men and women, generally speaking, have done enough to encourage and embrace the natural movement?
Naomi: Sadly, our elders have let our tortured history seduce them into silence on our great cultural legacy. They preferred to forget, and created generations who neither knew nor loved themselves. They were hurting and they loved us and thought to spare us the pain; but made us weak instead.
BGLH: What are some experiences your natural sisters have gone through that impacted you, whether because they were joyous, interesting or painful experiences?
Naomi: I was hurt when my friend recently told me she put on a wig to quiet the violence in her office. Ouch. But I rarely discuss hair with anyone. How have you gotten me to wax on???
BGLH: Your hair is FABULOUS! What is your regimen?
Naomi: Years ago I stopped experimenting with products. I even made my own when I wanted to bring a product to market, but work pressures put that on a continuing back-burner. I had tried everything on the market up to that time and only one product would detangle my hair; and nothing would provide moisture without grease or flaking but Organic Root Stimulator Mayonnaise. I use gobs of it. Then I discovered my favorite treatment: an hour on my back in the tub and hair floating. My hair loves nothing more than a frequent sleeping meditation in the tub. Water has sacred power.
BGLH: How did you get it to this length?
Naomi: My best advice would be to comb it out using a detangler each night, twist it up with a moisturizer, always wear a cap to bed, and otherwise avoid combing. Wash it when it asks for washing. Again, I like the Organic Root Stimulator line. I always recommend buying black hair care products from black companies. Fill any unmet need in the market by starting your own company, or make your own. We must become manufacturers. Sometimes I wash, shake and shape without a comb and wear an afro for a few weeks. Sometimes I blow dry it, style it up and wear a cap to bed for days, just freshening with a brush daily. Every once in a while I would have it pressed…but no more. Sometimes I can pull a ‘do together on the fly (in the taxi on the way to a photo shoot!) by moisturizing heavily, twisting into 6 sections, untwisting, then finger fluffing for the for the style you see in that photo. L says~That is, the first photo in this post.
BGLH: And what’s your favorite style!
Naomi: The Ida B. Wells, of course!
Wow. Lots to think about. Thank you Naomi!