Brendan Whitt


Blought #23: What I Learned About Natural Hair

What does your hair mean to you? Is it a bunch of naps and tangles of frizz that you put up with? Or is it something that you enjoy maintaining and keeping up? There was a point in time where I got a haircut every two weeks to make sure my waves kept spinning. But it was just hair. Nothing more, and nothing less in my eyes.

A few weeks ago I was invited to a Natural Hair Forum at the Warrensville Heights branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library. The event was hosted by J’ Twasha Kelley, organizer and founder of the Nappi Gyrls Hair Forum. She opened the event by sharing her personal journey to becoming natural. Going natural made her feel "liberated". "I was able to accept who I am" she said. "It was when life first started for me."

Cleveland area Zumba instructor and owner of Fitthickbreee, Brittany Jenkins encouraged the women to drink plenty of water and to start thinking about adopting a healthy diet. She discussed the importance of taking care of your body which will in turn benefit your hair’s health.

"How many of you are worried about sweating out your hair while at the gym" she asked as most of the women raised their hands. Brittany's advice was to wear protective styles like box braids. The absence of having chemicals in your hair makes upkeep easier while living an active and healthy lifestyle.

It was interesting to hear these women share their tips and stories about having natural hair. After Brittany finished her presentation local hairstylist Donnella Jefferson took to the podium for her Q&A session. Many of the women asked questions about styles, techniques and their hair category which I never knew existed. There really are categories for women's hair types and textures.

Donnella and J’Twasha both used the words "liberated" and "individuality" when describing what it meant to be natural. The natural movement however isn’t anything new. Singer James Brown is one of the earliest cases of “going natural” that I personally know of. In the 50’s and 60’s Blacks wore the conk which was a perm that men wore styled forwards.

Angela Davis rockin' her Revolutionary fro
By the 70’s natural hair was the normal thing to do. The Afro meant “I’m Black and I’m proud” and it was quite stylish. In the 80’s the jherri curl was the hottest trend and perms and relaxers became the norm again. By the 90’s dreads, cornrows and other natural hairstyles became prominent hair styles for people of color.

When asked, Donnella said she thinks that today’s natural hair movement could be another fad. She also believes wearing natural hair could become permanent "if we teach our children to love and embrace their hair and how it comes out of their heads."

Natural hair seems to have become the new norm among black women. I personally see it as a way of life. After learning about the harm a relaxer or perm could do to one’s hair, it seemed like almost overnight black women ditched their perms for braids, twist outs and short hair cuts. Many of the women, most of them my mother’s age if not older all said they noticed a trickle down effect from their hair down to their overall health. From the foods they ate, to the types of soap they used for hygienic purposes based on what our African ancestors used.

Courtesy: Liberator Magazine
I asked Donnella if she thought of today’s natural hair movement as a new civil rights movement. She replied no and offered an explanation. Civil Rights was about gaining rights for an oppressed people. This is about black self-love and knowledge of self and spirituality. Our culture from Africa was stripped from us when we were gathered on a boat. Ask a white guy about his heritage. He’s German on his dad’s side and Irish on his mom’s side. Ask me the same question. My dad’s family is from Alabama and Georgia and my mom’s family is from Arkansas.

We have no past identity. My generation has just begun to explore our history as a whole. Natural hair can be a gateway for us to learn more about black history from "over there." We can never know where we are headed if we don’t know where we come from. Having black hair can unlock so much about us. The question then becomes, "what do these naps, kinks and coils really mean to us?"