Growing up, I wasn’t taught the value of my hair. The value I speak of is not monetary but something far more substantial. From a young age, my hair was almost always short. Remington hair clippers used to buzz my hair with no guard on the blades
left me with only a few centimeters (at best) of hair. There were a few years where I did have a high top fade. It wasn’t super high but it was high enough to pass for the trend at the time. I cannot recall any other time that I had my hair longer than half an inch until my I was at least 18 years old. I did not identify my hair as something of pride or unique. Given the lack of education in this area, I spent many years riddled with envy. Growing up in the suburbs of a predominately white neighborhood, it was my friends with “surf ready” hair that I envied. Wispy & blond curls that looked shaggy and ocean swept or shoulder length brunette hair that could be pulled into a ponytail were fairly typical in my school and it was what I wished for. The tight, kinky curls that rested on my head didn’t seem to have the same flexibility or acceptance that my friends group experienced.
I recall sleeping over at a friends house when I was roughly 10-12 years old. My hair had grown out at least 2-3 inches which was substantial for me at that point. Waking up that morning, I went into the bathroom to shower. After the shower, I noticed the shelf that carried various hair products that were popular at the time and one in particular had caught my eye. There was a jar of a thick, blue, viscous gel with the ever so 90’s label that read: LA Looks.
I opened the jar and scooped up a little bit into my hand. I recall sniffing it as if to determine if it was safe to put into my hair. In hindsight, I had absolutely no clue what I was attempting to do by applying this substance into my hair primarily because I was completely uneducated on anything regarding hair care. But my curiosity was too high and I ran my fingers through my hair. I mushed this gel over my entire head while looking in the mirror. The results of my first foray into experimenting with my hair was a messy, congealed failure. When I say that LA Looks did absolutely nothing other than making a mess of my pre-teen hair is a complete understatement. It was so bad that I had to take another shower to wash all of the gel out. I was so embarrassed even though no one knew what had just occurred that I didn’t attempt for several years to do anything different.
Fast forward to 1999. I’m in a few different bands at the time and
I wanted to fit in with the people I was hanging out with. So what did I do? Dyed it Simon Phoenix “Sponge” yellow. This was also around the time that Star Wars Episode 1 was due to debut and I actually grew out my roots a bit so that my hair was two toned and I could twist it to look similar to Darth Maul’s horns. Not my proudest moment but it makes for a decent story. Still, I did not have any clue of the value or identity that comes with having black hair. I did not love it. I actually loathed my hair for many years at this point.
It was frustrating at the time not knowing what my hair represented, what it could do, and how it could make me feel. It was something to be proud of and represented a lineage and heritage that was essentially stripped from my ancestors to fit the “proper” society set up by the colonizers that brought them over on the slave ships. Afros, curls, twists, dreadlocks, braids, fades and waves were things that were all available and yet, were inaccessible to me. It wasn’t until I met my friend and brother, Daryl Rolle of Dapper and Company in Augusta that I sat in my first Barber’s chair. Jazz music echoed through each room and the hallways and the walls of his Men’s Grooming Lounge were covered with art showcasing the Harlem Renaissance, heroes of the Black Community, cuts and styles that honestly, intimidated me. Could this be something I could do? That I could work my way up to? I filmed a business focus that you can watch below:
It was at this point that I first started to care about my hair. Hearing phrases like “Gettin my lines right” or “fixing my taper” were absolutely foreign to me but Daryl helped me learn fairly fast. When he would lift his mirror to show me the finished product, there was a sense of pride that I was becoming addicted to. We would have discussions about how natural black hair is often deemed “unprofessional” and there are studies and articles to back this up: https://daily.jstor.org/how-natural-black-hair-at-work-became-a-civil-rights-issue/ (this is a post for another time but I will definitely revisit this). When it was time for me to move from Augusta to Bend, I was concerned that I would not be able to find someone to help me continue my hair journey. I continued to keep my hair very short/buzzed upon arriving in the Pacific Northwest. It was frustrating and I had retreated back to the tried and true “Buzz my hair myself” method of hair care. At the time, I was unaware of any barbers in the area that knew how to manage black hair. I went to a salon to get my lines done and spoke with the hair dresser.
Me: “Just need to get my lines right and maybe give me a fade on the sides/back”
Hairdresser: “…what do you mean by ‘lines right’? I don’t know what that means”.
Needless to say my hair was complete butchered and that was the last time I went to see her. It wasn’t until the last year that I met Ivan at The Spot. Based on a recommendation from several in the BIPOC community in Central Oregon, Ivan was by far, the man you wanted to see if you wanted someone that understood black hair and how to get yourself looking right. During the last year, I decided to take the steps to grow my hair out. I wasn’t sure if I was going to go with an Afro, Dreads or some other variation. I just knew it was time to embrace my hair as part of who I was. I also knew that growing my hair out was not going to be hard at all as my hair grows FAST. With Ivan helping me along the way getting shape ups ever few weeks along with keeping my lines right (yep… he understood), over several months, I had a small afro that I absolutely fell in love with. Discussions with other activists in town (Thanks Kerstin) on hair care, I picked up some Pattern products (Created by Tracee Ellis Ross and they are the BEST) and started loving my hair. The love for my hair grew with each week and with each inch it grew. During a vigil, one of my good friends snapped a pic of me and I truthfully kept going back and looking at it almost daily.
At this point, I was truly loving it. Embracing it. I saw myself differently in this picture. My hair was longer than it had ever been and it was me. It was healthy. It was natural. Years of loathing my hair had been wiped away and I honestly carry myself differently now.
Then something happened.
I wanted to do something that the young version of me had always wanted to do. I finally had the opportunity to begin styling my hair in ways that matched my heritage. I had mentioned to Ivan that I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but that I wanted to do SOMETHING. He suggested that I pick up some Cantu Hair Curling Leave in conditioner. After some further instructions, the end results… well… they speak for themselves.
I am loving this. I love how it feels, looks, bounces, and compliments me. This is me. This is who I am.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Daryl. Ivan. Thank you brothers for helping me get to this point and I can’t wait to continue this new Hair Love (I couldn’t finish this without a huge shout out to Matthew Cherry. If you haven’t watched Hair Love… go do it NOW!)