During the month of February, John Carroll University’s African American Alliance is holding a series of events to celebrate Black History Month. On Monday, Feb. 9, a panel called “The Natural Hair Movement” discussed the negative connotation sometimes associated with African-Americans’ hair and to emphasize the beauty of staying true to one’s natural hair.
JCU students on the panel included sophomore Dwight Venson, juniors Erin Grist, Gabrielle Uhrin and Tatyana Atkinson, and senior Jade Clay. Stylists and shareholders Bianca Jones and Michelle Sailes from the South Euclid salon So Curly, So Kinky, So Straight also contributed to the panel.
So what is the definition of natural hair? The panel of speakers individually verbalized their answers – but, the message was a strong, united one.
“Natural hair means confidence,” said Uhrin.
“The hair that God gave me,” added Atkinson.
“Natural hair is in its original state without perms or relaxers,” said Clay.
Natural hair, defined unanimously by the panel, is hair that has not been tainted by relaxers, a permanent treatment for straightening hair, or by anything that would compromise the integrity of the hair. Compromising the integrity of the hair means not to be “too obvious” that it is altered. If someone alters their hair, what does that say about how they see themselves?
The panel also addressed the discrimination African-Americans face in a professional setting for wearing their hair natural and being called “unprofessional” as a result.
Jones discussed an experience she had at the salon where a girl came in crying that she was sent away from work because of her hair. The girl was told she couldn’t wear it without relaxers.
“I couldn’t understand how someone could tell me my hair was wrong,” said Jones about her own similar experience. “Like my skin is too dark, I was told my hair was wrong.”
Venson also described a similar incident – this time, on the JCU campus. He talked about how several people told him he would never find a job because he had “that hair.”
The panel was asked what they could do as individuals to combat the prejudice and stereotypes surrounding the natural hair of African-Americans.
“You have to be okay with who you are,” said salon member Michelle Sailes. “Go looking for it.” She also emphasized that accepting yourself is the first step to fighting both discrimination against hair and skin color.
“I can’t be broken,” said Jones. Her natural curls kept growing back in, even though she had used relaxers.
The movement is picking up speed, but it still has a long way to go. The “So Curly, So Kinky, So Straight” salon is a major contributor to the movement. The salon emphasizes the importance of being educated about natural hair and how to healthily maintain it, while also appreciating the beauty of its natural state.
“Be patient with the journey, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. There will be bad days and frustration, but once you do get there it is really beautiful,” Grist said.
The panel received an overwhelmingly positive response from the audience.
Senior Alexandra Freyvogel said, “I loved it. I thought it was very interesting. As a white person, I never had to think about it. I think a lot more people should be exposed to this message.
Sophomore Krystal Milam added, “I think it was very educational. I learned a lot about my own hair and what I could do to resist social norms. I didn’t realize that such stigmas were placed on our hair, especially for guys in the professional setting.”
The next event coming up on the agenda of JCU series “Celebrate Black History Month” is called “Stepping Through the Ages to Meet the Greeks” held on Thursday, Feb. 12, at 9 p.m. in the D.J. Lombardo Student Center Atrium.