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What an amazing time we live in when women of color with natural hair — such as Viola Davis, first African American to win an Emmy Award for Lead Actress in a drama, and Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o — are featured in international fashion magazines and are the main attractions on television. Women of color now fill every level of corporate America with naturally-textured hair. A movement has boomed, and there’s now a large community of women with natural hair. Social media connected us to one another, allowed us to share, exchange ideas and create new language, which has brought the focus of naturally-textured hair to the mainstream. And, unlike the days when there weren’t products available for women with textured hair, we now have an endless amount of options available to us 24 hours a day.

I have been a natural hair stylist and advocate for natural hair awareness and inclusion for over 30 years. It’s been my passion, my drive and my purpose to “reintroduce” women to their natural hair. We use the term “going natural”, but in actuality, it refers to “returning to natural.” This is how we were born; it’s our inheritance and a return to our authentic selves.

I really didn’t decide to go natural; it chose me.

I really didn’t decide to go natural; it chose me. As a teenager, I never thought of myself as pretty. At 13 I stood 5’10’ and weighed about 100 pounds, I was tall, lanky and awkward. I felt misplaced, but I was independent and started braiding my own hair at 10 years old. There was a period in my life when I didn’t take any photos, because I hated how I looked. I told my mother and she allowed me to express myself through my hair, makeup and fashion. Some hairstyles were better than others, (ranging from hot comb-Jeri Curls), but the one thing I discovered through my trial and error, was that I felt prettier when my hair was healthy. I blossomed when my hair was growing and full. To me, healthy means beautiful, — whether it’s healthy skin, healthy teeth or healthy hair — it all equates to being beautiful. Healthy hair is beautiful.

It wasn’t always easy to walk this path, and to have the clarity to defy the cultural aesthetics of this country and reject a one-sided aesthetics that is not inclusive of wavy, curly, kinky or coily hair. We were denied the ability to express our true beauty. African American women and other women of color had to confirm to an aesthetic that not only was self-defacing but also harmful, unhealthy, intrusive and frustrating for many of us to maintain.

Healthy hair is beautiful.

While in high school and college, I wore protective styles, braids, extensions and weaves for many years. Protective styles added dimension and variety to my image, however, I really strongest when I decided to loc my hair. It was a certain level of freedom, a real sense of elegant beauty as my locs matured and grew. I remember the first day I came home with my little loc/twists, my father, who loved me dearly said, “I know what I’m going to get you for Christmas … a comb and a brush!” We all laughed, but it hurt to hear that from the one man who had always provided acceptance and support. My mother was not much better, as my locs sprouted out like buds on a plant, she looked at me and unhappily said, “That’s not sexy.” I replied, “I will make them sexy.” As a natural hair stylist I have made coily /kinky hair and locs very sexy and desirable. I have worn my hair locked for 20 years, until recently I did the “big chop.” Now I’m rocking my TWA.

Loving my natural hair and my truest self helped me find my career.

Getting hired for an office job with my hair in braids was almost impossible 30 years ago. Several times I would remove my braid extensions in order to confirm to a traditional straight hairstyle for the interview, and once I got the position, I would put my braid extensions back. Of course after a week or so, my supervisor would have a talk with me privately about my “unprofessional” braided hairstyle. After getting reprimanded about my choice of hairstyle, I could not stay at that job very long. I had to find a career that would reflect my true self. I had to live my truth 24/7. Loving my natural hair and my truest self helped me find my career. I am currently, an award-winning natural hair specialist, a beauty ambassador for the leading beauty brand, SheaMoisture, an author and an industry advocate — this is more than a job, it’s my core and my passion.

In 1994, I was appointed by the State of New York to advise the division of licensing on the first Natural Hair and Braiding license in the country. My passion has led me to write several textbooks by Milady Natural Hair and Braiding. I am currently developing the first natural beauty trade association, EMERGE: Natural Beauty Industry Alliance. The EMERGE mission is to develop leadership, mentorship and entrepreneurial empowerment for the natural beauty community and industry. The natural hair industry is worth billions of dollars and we want to provide our industry with the skills, support and advocacy to prepare for and benefit from this financial growth.

Embracing my textured hair in high school empowered me; I was no long hiding behind someone else’s standard of beauty. I have taken the path that has led me to an international career, and given me the opportunity to educate and elevate the conversation about natural hair. I feel very blessed.

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