J: I’m originally from the Midwest, attended a historically Black college in the South and currently live in the D.C Metro area. At present I’m a college psychology professor. In addition to teaching, my passion is improving the mental health of the Black community and I have been involved in community mental health with children and families for the past 10 years.
Tell us your hair story.
J: I have been natural since 1995. About 4 years before I went natural, I came home from school to find my mother had cut off her shoulder-length hair to an inch-long barber cut! Watching her embrace her natural hair was inspiring for me and I decided to take the plunge as well. At that time, there were few natural hair books and resources. Much of what I did was trial and error. My mother was a cosmetologist and she taught me how to condition and style my natural texture. The first book I read was by Tulani Kinard, “No Lye: The African American Woman’s Guide To Natural Hair Care.” This was so helpful and inspiring. There were recipes and beautiful pictures which I certainly needed to see. Although my father and mother loved my natural hair, others in my family and environment were not, so having that book kept me focused!
I started out wearing my hair in braid-outs and braid extension transition styles. I did not have the initial experience of the drastic “big chop.” My hair grew quickly and after about a semester and a half in college, I had the relaxed ends of my hair cut off and had a midsized Afro. I wore a plethora of styles: the curly-fro (braid-out which I set on rollers), twists and individual braids, cornrows—you name it!—for about 7 years.
While working on my doctoral degree, my time for styling my hair became quite limited. Both my mother and father were wearing locs and I adored their hair. I then decided to loc my hair and wore them proudly for 5 years.
Have you had any difficulties wearing your hair natural at work?
J: Fortunately, I have not had any major difficulties regarding my hair in professional environments over the past 14 years. Most of what I have experienced has been covert. Co-workers make inappropriate comments which I feel reflect either awe at my having “different” hair, or discomfort with the confidence I exude around my hairstyle. In conjunction with my natural hairstyle, I frequently wear African/Africentric attire and jewelry. The hair coupled with the attire brings quite a bit of attention in the workplace, some negative. I have always believed that my confidence and pride in my culture deflect the negative energy that some emit. Were an environment to make requests that would limit my ability to be myself (i.e., a woman of African decent), I’d likely need to look for a new place of employment as I am not willing to sacrifice my cultural expression.
What’s the best/most effective thing you do for your hair?
J: Using heat sparingly is one of the best things I do for my hair. Also, being careful to cover it with a satin bonnet or silk scarf EVERY night has helped my hair remain healthy and strong. More recently, co-washing has changed my life! LOL. It sounds hyperbolic, but since cutting my locs I’ve mainly been co-washing (using a sulfate-free shampoo once a month) and my hair is shiny and bouncy.
What do you use in your hair?
J: I enjoy organic and homemade products for my hair. It responds well to shea butter and olive, coconut and jojoba oils which I apply as deep conditioners and as daily conditioners. I also enjoy using Kinky-Curly, Giovanni and Carol’s Daughter products…especially leave-in conditioners.
Can you give a tutorial for one of your favorite styles?
J: The style I wear that usually turns the most heads is my big, fluffy Afro which I achieve through a blow-out. I apply Kinky-Curly brand conditioner to my hair while in the shower, comb it thru and then twist my hair into about 8 sections while it’s wet. I then massage Carol’s Daughter Hair Milk to each section and gently blow-dry the hair out on medium heat. My goal is not to straighten the hair, but merely to stretch and give it volume. Once dry, I apply a combo of shea butter and olive oil to the ends of my hair, fluff to a poof that Thelma Evans would be proud of and go!!
What do you like about being natural?
J: EVERYTHING! I think that my natural crown is a symbol of my connection to my African ancestry. Embracing my natural hair has encouraged me to continue to be aware of the ways in which society does not embrace the Black aesthetic (darker skin, kinky hair, African facial features, etc.). My growing and wearing openly (not pressed or flat-ironed) regardless of the dearth of representation in the media is my personal message to the world that I know I am beautiful.
Recently, a friend’s daughter told her mommy that she loved my hair and wanted a doll with “round hair.” This warmed my heart. Many Black girls only see bone-straight examples of beauty on TV. It is also my hope that through my position as an educator and professional in the Black community other women and girls will be encouraged to wear their natural crowns and embrace their natural beauty!
Is there a blog/webpage where we can find you?
J: I blog about health and beauty for Black women on Urban Mogul-Life (http://urbanmogullife.com/), a site geared toward young, urban professionals which includes discussion on music, economics, fashion, film, chill spots, technology, news, and what-not of the “Urban Mogul’s Life” in a classic, tasteful way.
Anything else you want to add?
J: I think that BGLH is an inspiring online community! After all these years of being natural, I still find it inspiring to hear other women’s stories. The tips are fabulous and I’m always open to learning new tricks. Thanks for the love and commitment to natural women of color!!