“Good Hair”

Tips for loving and caring for natural hair

I grew up in a family where my parents constantly reminded me that the hue of my skin was not a curse but an honor that held stories of men and women who came before me and triumphed over unquantifiable obstacles. As a result, I largely escaped the thorns of colorism that still pierce so many people of the African diaspora today, and I will forever be grateful to my parents for that. However, growing up, there was one insecurity that I did fall victim: the issue of hair. Ever since I was a child, I had what so many people in the Black community would label as “bad hair.” My hair was ridiculously thick, dry, and tightly coiled. Not knowing what to do with my hair, my mother permed it when I was seven years old. I grew up being allergic to sweat and water and a slave to what many of us jokingly deem “the creamy crack.” Even with countless hours in a salon chair trying not to cry from the burning sensation on my scalp caused by the chemicals on Saturdays while I watched my non-black friends go to the beach , I was just grateful that I could get a comb through my hair .

And then the 90’s hit. I immersed myself in the neo-hippie movement. I would have traded my left kidney for Lisa Bonet’s locs. I also started seeing women with short afro’s and I fell in love. I fell in love with the beauty of their natural hair, but more importantly I fell in love with the freedom they enjoyed. They were free from chemicals, salon visits, and a fear of their hair reverting back to their natural state.

Queen Lisa Bonet

It was a long rode until I gathered the courage to chop of all of the chemicals. But when I did, I felt the most beautiful I had ever felt in my life. I have been natural for over 16 years and I have never once looked back. I have rocked short and long, black, brown, and auburn tresses.

7 day old twist out
Rocking my little afro in London and Beijing. I absolutely loved my short afro and wore it like that for over 10 years.
Trim day… Just call me Cousin It
My shrinkage is real!!! I love going to an unsuspecting beautician who thinks that straightening my hair will only take 30 minutes. It takes me at least 1 hr to 1.5 hrs to get through all of this .

A day does not go by where I am either stopped by strangers, my coworkers, or students and asked about the products I use or my regiment. I am still a tomboy and keep my regiment and products pretty simple. If there is any advice I would give to someone considering going or is currently natural it would be to deep condition on a weekly basis and find your hair type. I have low porosity which means my hair does not maintain moisture easily. I need the assistance of heat to penetrate my hair shaft. Deep conditioning under the dryer does wonders for my hair and assists with moisture retention. I also realized that my hair abhors proteins. As a result, the first thing I do when I consider trying any new product is to look at its ingredients. I run if I see any protein variant. I rarely straighten my hair, get regular trims, and eat a nutritious diet. Twists outs are my friends and I always sleep with a satin bonnet. My go to products are listed below.

My go to deep conditioner. I comb it through my hair after a wash with a paddle brush, cover with a plastic cap , and sit under the dryer for 30- 45 minutes every Saturday night.
I always mix my conditioner with olive oil for an added boost of moisture .
After I rinse the conditioner out of my hair, I comb argan oil through my hair before I apply my leave in conditioner below.
This leave- in is the truth for people with thick tresses like myself.
Learning to love your hair
Nothing holds my hair like pure African Shea Butter . I use this to twist my hair. I have tried countless other twisting agents but my hair only responds to pure shea butter. After I twist my freshly washed and deep conditioned hair, I let it air dry over night, leave it in twists the next day, and take them out on Monday and fluff for work 🙂

Feel free to email me if you have any additional questions. A review of Lalita Tamedy’s Red River is coming soon.

Night Time Reflection. . . . . and what am I Currently Reading?

Today was a great teaching day. My students participated in a first ever historic preservation project that actually made the afternoon news that will be the topic of my next post later this week. I was riding on cloud nine until I came home, laid my son to sleep, took a shower, and pulled out this month’s novel Red River by Lalita Tademy.

Now you literally need to stop and drop everything this very minute and run to your closest independent book store if you have never read her breakthrough novel Cane River. It was one of the most perfect works of semi historical fiction I have ever read. In her follow up Red River, the 1873 black residents of Colfax, Louisiana are trying to honor the election results for mayor. Local white supremacists refused to allow the newly Republican sheriff who was largely elected by the black residents exercising their still very recent right to vote to take office. Violence soon erupts after the Black Colfax residents break into and occupy city hall. The story is based upon true events that led to the 1873 Colfax Massacre in Colfax , Louisiana.

I know many people would wonder why the hell would I want to dive into such a gloomy book following an awesome experience I had with my students less than 5 hours ago.Sometimes I just feel more comfortable when I am lost in my books and that I can better relate to characters on paper versus real life. I sometimes feel like I eat, live, and breath, history so much to the point that I am better equipped to interact with someone in the 1870’s than in my own time. When the study of history is your life, the present doesn’t look the same as it does to everyone else. This feeling of disconnect kind of left me a little melancholy but thank God for books. Books are more than stories on pages. They are places and eras of refuge.

Going to wake up early tomorrow morning and run this melancholy out of me. In the meantime, stay tuned for a review of Red River.

Because Mommies Run Too!

Finding time to work out when you work full time can be stressful, but when you add the responsibilities of motherhood you find yourself working with even less viable time. I have worked out five days a week since I turned 18 for numerous reasons. First, I recently took author Gretchen Rubin’s personality quiz and realized that I am an “Upholder.” According to Rubin, Upholders are those individuals who rise to inner and outer expectations. Looking back, my dedication to working out makes sense. When I graduated from high school, the state of Florida had just implemented a new law that required all freshman college students to take a health and wellness class. Needless to say, it was the first real health class I had where I felt the professor really broke down the science between living a healthy life comprised of effective nutritional choices and purposeful exercise.

I quickly set my own inner expectations to live a healthy life and 22 years later have not looked back. I also love a routine and my gym is less than two miles from my job and home. Membership dues are quite reasonable and include extremely small classes with personal trainers. As soon as class ends for the day, I bolt out of the door, change sometimes in my car on the way to the gym, workout hard for 40 minutes, jump back in the car and dart towards my son’s daycare.

Finding time to run is a little more difficult because there are not any tracks or trails on the way to my son’s school that I am familiar with. The weekends are really the only times I can run and I am usually so tired and just want to sleep in. However,I regret not engaging in some type of physical training , because the deep sleep that I enjoy the nights that follow a hard workout during the week elude me on Saturdays and Sundays. Also, I absolutely hate running and I would like to feel like I accomplished some obstacle by getting myself on a track or trail on at least one of my days off.

This Saturday I tried a new strategy that worked. I woke up at 6:30 am which is about 45 minutes earlier than I normally would on a Saturday. I cooked breakfast while my son was still sleeping so when he woke up his food would already be waiting for him. My husband wakes up at the crack of dawn on his days off and was already headed out the door to run errands. Normally, I plan my Saturdays around everyone else but today I got suited up in my workout gear while he was out and met him at the door when he returned. Today I did not ask “If he would be free to watch our son so I can run.” Today I said, “I’m going running and will be back in X time.” Breakfast was cooked for everyone and he already ran his errands. Thus, there was no excuse for me not being able to go. Although the run was hard, the weather was exquisite and I had time to focus and distress. All it took was 45 minutes -a 15 minute drive back and forth to the track and a 30 minute run. Afterwards, we took our son to the local farmer’s market and then to see ” A Secret Life of Pets 2.” When we returned home and ate lunch, we all took a nap, but my nap was the deepest 1 hour sleep I have had in a while on a Saturday. Mommies suit up and set your time because mommies need to run too!! 🙂

Toni Morrison’s “Home” Forced me to Remember Home.

Toni Morrison portrait at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

Final Exams, teacher end of the year evaluations, and a community historic preservation project I am currently spearheading has me wishing lately that there were 48 hours to a day. As a result, I have not had time to read as much as I normally would but that is expected this time of the year and I know that rest and relaxation are only eleven days away! I did manage to squeeze in, Home, a novel last week by the queen Toni Morrison.

Home revolves around the story of Frank Money, a Korean War veteran and modern day African American Odysseus wandering through the South trying to find his way back home to Georgia following the war. However, unlike Odysseus, the only gods he encounters are the gods of the American South in the 1950s: Segregation, Poverty, and White Supremacy. I love Morrison’s subject matter and her ability to create characters and settings that remind me of places, family members, and experiences I have and have never been nor had. She is able to recount the African American experience in such vivid and emotional details with her choice of words and an uncanny ability to convey emotion that she always strikes a cord with me. I love her stories for their depth and development but I love them even more, because I feel that she is telling my story and my mother’s, father’s, grandmother’s, and great great grandfather’s story in this country. I feel the ability to appreciate and connect with her stories because the characters and their experiences flow through my very veins.

Picture of African American soldiers during the Korean War from americanradioworks.publicradio.org

The story begins with Frank Money daring to return to Lotus, Georgia a place with few opportunities with the intent of finding his sister Cee who he heard was in grave trouble. Along the way, he is plagued with some pretty horrific flashbacks from his tour of duty in Korea that often curbs his ability to decipher reality. In the end, you finally get a better idea of what part of his flashbacks were rooted in true past events or fabricated to help him deal with his past sins. I also really enjoyed the tender but despondent chapters where Frank and Cee reminisce about about their relationship. Frank was Cee’s valiant protector and Cee’s innocence and naivete gave Frank’s life purpose even during childhood.

Gordon Parks
Segregation Story Series

However, it was the women who come to Cee’s aide when she was horrifically violated in a incident that too closely mirrored the real actions of James Marion Simms, the “father of gynecology” that I loved the most in this story. Their determination, dedication, solidarity, and strength warmed my heart and made me pick up my phone to check on my 80 something year old aunt. Everyone with a female loved one from that era can find comfort and nostalgia in the way they called on the old remedies that would earn the ridicule of modern day doctors but were the only element of salvation poor African American women in the South could depend on to save or treat their children and spouses.

Gordon Parks, Untitled
Taken in 1950 in Ft Scott, Kansas

As you can see from the pictures above, I am currently trapped in a Gordon Parks vibe. However, looking at these photos from the 1950s really made me feel like I was in Lotus, Georgia while I followed Cee and Frank as they learned to come to terms with their past and become the masters of their own destinies and how they saw their own purpose in this world. Home forces to me to remember home and was definitely worth a read.

Trip to the National Museum of the American Indian

The school year is thankfully winding down. At my school, it is customary for most teachers to provide summer assignments for their students. This year, my new focus has been to ensure I provide opportunities for my students to not only explore history through text and literature, but through material culture, and their surroundings. Today’s youth needs to understand that history is not something they simply read about in a book but is tangible. It can be seen, heard, and touched. History surrounds them but is also inside of them. As a result, my incoming United States History students will be responsible this summer for getting out of the house and visiting the National Museum for the American Indian. They will have to complete a pretty detailed gallery walk which will have stops along all four floors, require them to take pictures of themselves next to artifacts, and create new thematic names for the exhibits.

When many key Europeans first made contact with Amerindians, they promoted the idea that Native Americans were one monolithic group with little diversity , social and political complexity, and of childlike intelligence. This assignment was driven by my desire to allow the artifacts to speak for themselves, prove them wrong, and help my students develop a more accurate understanding and familiarity of the Native Americans in North and South America. Some of the artifacts that caught my eye are seen below.

Brilliance…….

When the brilliance of a people speaks for itself . . . . . Could you imagine walking over this bridge?

Culture….
Legacy …..
Wonder…..
Soul….

I just had to take a picture of this famous 1999 Fritz Scholder statue entitled “Future Clone” that was loaned out for Black Swans, one of my favorite movies. Although its tall, blank faced, androgynous appearance is disturbing and quite intimidating. I found it mesmerizing in person. Still trying to understand why and will be reflecting on that for awhile.

Summer is right around the corner and can’t wait to post more museum visits and book reviews 🙂

Field Trip to the National Museum of African American History

Came across the quote on the museum wall. It was so powerful. It temporarily stopped me in my tracks.

Today I took my African American History students to the National African American History Museum. My lesson plan was motivated by two quotes from Carter G. Woodson, the founder of Negro History Week which later evolved into Black History Month”…. to handicap a student by teaching him that his black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless is the worst sort of lynching” and “The thought of the inferiority of the Negro is drilled into him in almost every class he enters and in almost every book he studies.” I wanted my students to better understand how access to artifacts and inclusive museum exhibits help people obtain a more complete understanding of history and their place in American History. Students were given a structured assignment which guided them through the museum but gave them the freedom to choose exhibits they found interesting to complete their project. After I got over the anxiety of taking 40 students out of the building on public transportation, made sure all of my students were set, I used my remaining time to explore the museum solo.

This is my sixth time visiting the museum , second time within the last three months. I was starving and didn’t get a chance to eat breakfast so I first sat down to order some shrimp and grits, my absolute favorite dish in their delicious cafeteria, and then ventured to see the “Slavery and Freedom” exhibit. I have been reflecting on three artifacts I saw ever since. I saw a concrete block used both in a slave auction in antebellum Virginia and as a stump for general Andrew Jackson and Senator Henry Clay to give speeches to adoring crowds. I also saw a crib built for an enslaved baby on a South Carolinian plantation and a 19th century sack with an embroidered message sewn by an enslaved woman named Ruth. The message explained that the sack which originally contained three tattered dresses and a handful of pecans was given to her 9 year old grandmother by her great grandmother just before she was sold away and never seen again. She sowed the story behind the sack on the front so she wouldn’t forget.

Since I have become a mother, there are very few and rare times in a day where I am allowed to forget that I am responsible for the well being of another human. I couldn’t help but imagine the anguish all three of these women experienced. Whether they were suffering from the feelings of being utterly helpless while their child was ripped from their bosom on the auction block in a room full of profit driven speculators, relentlessly praying their baby survive the haphazard conditions of the slave quarters with insufficient clothing and food, or hoping their child who is being sold away will somehow remember them despite knowing they will never see them again, all of these women and mothers suffered heartbreaks that should have crushed their very will to live. It really shook me to realize that in the end it didn’t, because I am here today and I realize that I am only here today because they did not give up or give in.

There is no lecture I could have given in class that would help my students understand the history of the people contained in this museum.I strongly believe that there is no other monument or museum in D.C. that can capture the complete history of America than the stories contained in this museum. If you are ever in the area, you should definitely pay a visit.

Don’t get me wrong. There are an equal number of exhibits that spread joy and bring smiles to your face. I almost completely got swept back in time with a permanent koolaide smile on my face in the Arts and Culture exhibits.

I didn’t know how to act while in the presence of this holy artifact. I was standing in front of Jimi Hendrix, the G.O.A.T’s tattered amp and vest
Although I made it to George Clinton’s mothership, I couldn’t get on. I guess I lost my ticket 😉
And of course I had to take a pic of the Purple One’s Wardrobe
Can’t wait until my son is old enough to bring him here so he can see an artifact of the man he was named after 🙂


Respect and Reverence for “A Gathering of Old Men”: a Tale of Redemption

I am thoroughly convinced that in my past life I roamed the streets of New Orleans or Sao Paulo adorned in bright colors ,dancing carefree to Rag time jazz, or complex Samba beats. I have not yet had the pleasure of traveling to Brazil but I swear when I visited New Orleans I felt I had been there before and was being welcomed home. I know that both places have been romanticized and are not paradises without their share of economic and racial problems. However, New Orleans has been one of the only places where I felt completely enveloped and surrounded by historic imprints of the African American culture. No one can visit New Orleans without acknowledging the “swag” its been blessed with by its African and African American residents throughout the centuries.

For that reason, I am naturally drawn to any work of literature created by Ernest J. Gaines. I love his storytelling and plots. But above all, I appreciate the respect he shows each of his characters and his ability to tell a story and simultaneously open windows to the rural African African American Louisiana culture. The story centers around a murder of a white landowner with a reputation for harassing the local African American farming community by a number of potential elderly African American men living on and near the farm. All of the men claimed to have committed the murder, but it is apparent only one could have actually carried out the crime.

Ernest J. Gaines

Each of the men have a backstory and I love the fact that Gaines provides them all with an opportunity to share their life’s accomplishments and regrets in Jim Crow Louisiana. Each story is historically invaluable because it provides readers unfamiliar with Louisiana or a basic history of the South with an understanding of how the South stole all of the men’s ability to be men because of the color of their skin. This opportunity is their last opportunity for redemption for some life changing event in which they failed or lacked the courage to stand against Jim Crow. I absolutely loved this book and felt that any of the past male members of my family coming of age in the Jim Crow South could have been one of the characters in this book. This book would also be a great teaching or discussion tool for young men of color today trying to figure out how to muster the courage to stand straight in an era of income inequality, mass incarceration, over policing of African American communities, and police brutality.