July 05, 2022

Black Hair Empowerment

Portland has less diversity than any other major U.S. city and as a culturally-responsive organization, FriendsPDX works to embrace, uplift, and support our BIPOC youth. Many of the youth we serve represent communities and cultures that have been historically marginalized and underserved. Hair is a culturally significant part of Black culture and the Black experience so for our Black History Month and Juneteenth events this year, we incorporated hair styling, education, and appreciation into our programming.

One multiracial Black youth shares more about her hair experience, and why she enjoys styling hair and wanted to share her abilities during FriendsPDX Black celebration events:

My mom is a Mexican woman who has less textured hair. It’s very fine and thin and so when I was growing up, she didn’t really know how to do my hair. So, I watch YouTube videos and look up different styles online. My dad has coarse hair like mine, so I learn from him too.

When it comes to my hair, I don’t like people touching it. I wanted some accountability in setting this boundary, so I learned to do it myself. Now I know how to maintain my hair, what products to use, and how to keep it from getting dry and stay nice and healthy. It’s also good because I probably change my hair every few weeks. I get tired of styles really fast. I don’t feel confident with a weave or sew-ins or with relaxed hair. And now I know what looks good on me and with my hair.

Not many little girls who are Black like me know how to do their own hair and maintain it. I want to help them. I want to be able to keep their confidence up. I want to create an example for my siblings and my little sister is following in my footsteps and learning to do hair too. Many kids with coarse hair are tender headed. I remember crying when I got my hair done when I was little because it hurt so much. It’s also expensive to get your hair done.

Many Black people are struggling, and many people are experiencing homelessness in Portland. Maintaining hair can be expensive and when you don’t know how to do it yourself, you have to rely on others, and you give up some of that control you otherwise have. I like to depend on myself. I want to be my own boss in the future because I can be indecisive and plus if I make mistakes, I know I’m the one responsible.

I appreciate the beauty industry because it’s a creative space and the people I look up to know that your gender doesn’t define how good you are at your job. You can be a man or transgender, you don’t have to be a girl to do hair. In the future, I want to receive my cosmetology license. I love helping others, making them feel special, and the one-on-one connection.

FriendsPDX programming nurtures nine core assets. Belonging, self determination, and growth mindset are all present in this youth's story about building her confidence, taking back control, and sharing culture through hair. She's also identified how this interest in hair can lend itself to her future career. This is just one story among many that remind us how honored we are to walk alongside each and every youth we serve for 12+ years, no matter what.