Nicollette M. Davis got her first hair relaxer when she was 5 years old. In her early 20s, she decided to cut off her chemically treated hair and return it to its natural state—a journey, she says, with many emotional and physical ups and downs.
The movement to embrace natural hair has been growing in recent years, with advocacy organizations and lawmakers pushing for the passage of the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act, which prohibits discrimination in employment and educational opportunities based on hair texture or the hairstyles worn by some communities of color, including braids, Afros, and dreadlocks. As of early May, nine states have passed the legislation into law: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Washington.
To help support others going through similar transitions, Davis started the Natural Hair Support Group in 2016 at East Baton Rouge Parish (La.) Library’s Greenwell Springs Road Regional branch. Before the pandemic, these monthly meetings drew dozens of women, men, and children from the area to share tips and concerns about going natural.
In a 1972 interview with The Boston Globe, award-winning actor Cicely Tyson discussed the backlash she received for wearing her natural hair on screen. She said some of the criticism came from other Black women because they didn’t perceive natural hair as beautiful based on Eurocentric beauty standards.
Since then—and especially over the past 10 years—the popularity of natural hair in the Black community has led many to give up chemically straightening their hair. Many Black women—myself included—had never felt our hair in its natural state. In 2013, after seeing other Black women prominently rocking their natural hair, I decided to embrace mine.
I spent hours researching styles and products and watching YouTube videos. I grew out my hair for almost two years and cut off the chemically straightened portion in 2015. I thought I was well prepared to deal with this new and beautiful texture, but I wasn’t. Week after week, hairstyles failed, and products didn’t work.
Around the same time, I started a job as a library technician at East Baton Rouge Parish Library, where I currently work, and was tasked with creating monthly programming for adults. As I was leaving work one evening, it hit me. Based on blog posts and videos—and my own physical and emotional struggles—I knew there was a need for a supportive, in-person community for those interested in natural hair.
The very first meeting of the Natural Hair Support Group (NHSG), in April 2016, had almost 40 participants, creating the foundation for one of our library’s most consistently attended programs. Today, the NHSG’s email list contains nearly 200 people. While these numbers are wonderful, the mark of a successful program is impact.
One story I’ll never forget: In early 2020, a teen and her father came to a meeting, and the teen shyly introduced herself, barely making eye contact with other attendees. Her father introduced himself and said, “I’m here today because my daughter doesn’t like her hair, and she doesn’t believe her hair’s texture is just as beautiful as loose curls or coils.” She appeared embarrassed but agreed with the comment. Her words and her father’s deep concern moved other attendees of all ages to offer stories of their growing confidence in themselves and their hair. After the meeting, the teen visibly held her head higher.
Witnessing a community lift someone during their formative years was one of the best moments of my career and life.
Because of the pandemic, meetings are now virtual. Zoom burnout is prevalent, so over the past year, we have had only a handful of formal get-togethers. Despite those barriers, many attendees are now friends and stay in touch outside the library. In 2021, the goal is to have quarterly meetings, at minimum, to help make the support group accessible to those with busy schedules.
To start a similar program at your library, you have to have someone on staff with a deep, personal passion for and understanding of natural hair. Invite and pay speakers and cosmetologists who are experts on natural hair. While it’s important to share resources and information, the key is to build community.