JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – I couldn’t have been but 8 years old, but I remember my first hair embarrassment like it was yesterday.
My neighbor knocked on the door to ask if I could come out to play. I knew I couldn’t because my mom had just washed my hair and the process to turn my kinky, thick afro into silky, loose curls would take hours. I answered the door -- with a towel wrapped around my embarrassing locks -- to let him know I was busy.
Somehow, I let him convince me to show him my natural hair. I didn’t know it as such then, but I knew it was in a state that never left the house.
“You promise you won’t laugh?” I asked. He agreed, I obliged and then he laughed hysterically at my expense.
I slammed the door and accepted that my unacceptable hair was going to be the butt of jokes, the ugly elephant in the room, something that always needed heat or a chemical to make OK.
Through the years, I’ve had different versions of the original Jheri curl, a chemical process that gave my hair a loose curl with lots of activator, liquid grease, and “perms” that actually made my hair straight with a harsh chemical that burned my scalp at times and left open sores on my head. It was just part of the experience -- the more burn, the straighter the hair, so it was worth it.
You learned to just cope.
When I moved to Jacksonville, I hesitantly agreed to try a weave or extensions, so I could have that long, thick hair that was never going to truly grow out of my head.
I got over the initial embarrassment of having fake hair and decided this was it! The culture embraced the extensions like they were mine. I straightened my kinky edges with heat to blend with the fake hair that was silky and straight. It worked for years -- until it didn’t.
I watched as the culture started to change. Black women were chopping off broken, dead, thin and stringy hair and unleashing a bushy mane with a mind of its own.
Curls -- they were everywhere! Tight, loose, spongy, frizzy, dangling, "poppin" curls! All of a sudden, women who had endured so much hair abuse were accepting that they are beautiful with the hair that grows out of their head -- unapologetically natural.
I watched from the sideline in awe. The bravery, the audacity, the choice that had always been taboo in my short life was making a comeback. No more looking back at another generation, this was my generation, and it was unbelievable.
So I jumped in!
Well, I put a toe in the water. I was confused, unsure, insecure and scared.
I also cheated. I wore a wig -- that I named Michelle -- while I worked on air for Channel 4, and I explored my natural hair on the weekends. I did this for more than a year -- until Tuesday.
This morning, I headed to work without “Michelle” for the first time in months. I was excited, determined and nervous. I knew that today was going to be a big day.
I had no idea how big.
The text messages, emails, social media messages and random phone calls have been overwhelming. What a blessing to have the support and love of a community that seems to get it.
Today WAS a big day. Not just for me, but for everyone who once believed they didn’t have a choice.
You always have a choice. You can make it or not; you can ignore that nudge on your heart to make a change or you can listen and run with it. It’s all a choice.
Today, I made mine and you met the natural me for the first time.
Hello, my name is Melanie Grace Lawson-Minor. Nice to meet you.