Turning difficult situations into opportunities
Can I take you down a little bit of a journey? I’m an African American woman and my whole life I have dealt with hair problems. It's something that a lot of people who aren't black, or even if they are black, don't quite understand—Black hair is ridiculous. Not only that it's hard to manage in a physical sense, but there's so much history in it, from having to shave it as slaves to having Jheri curls. It's always been something that has resonated with me and fascinated me.
It was an experience I had not too long ago that sparked the idea for the documentary I’m making on women’s hair journey. I was around a couple of people in a very public space and we were talking about hair. I had my weave in and this young white lady came up, yanked my hair and said, “I don't get it. I don't understand how this works.”
Those words just kept replaying in my head. Of course, I was upset inside, but instead of saying something to her, I wrote a letter to her for a writing assignment in my Women and Gender Studies class.
Sparking an Idea
When my teacher read it, she asked to talk to me after class. I went to her office and she wanted to know more about how I was feeling as a human being—not as a student—at that moment because it was pretty heavy stuff. I was in tears talking to her about the experience. I think she felt like she needed to help me get that emotion out through art. She said, “There’s so much passion in this, you should do something more with these thoughts.” That sparked something in me to push the idea further and make something good with it.
From that point forward, she helped me formulate my ideas and think about what I could do with this passion. She guided me to the idea of using my interest in film-making to create a documentary series, and then from there she would let me to talk to the class about their experiences with their hair.
So I'd ask the class, “What did you learn about how you feel about your hair today?” It definitely started a conversation about the history of hair. It might seem like a small issue, but knowing more about this topic opens up your education on people, your understanding of how their hair is more than a superficial part of them. Like with a lot of things, it’s easy to become boxed in, thinking everyone is like you.
Having these conversations helps us feel more connected. Hair is something most people can identify with. Talking and learning about why people feel the way they feel about it—it’s something deeper. Some of the students had a lot of good insight that led me to do more research at home.
I did interviews with black women about their hair journey and made a short film that I showed my class. They really liked it and my professor told me I should push it further and present it at the No Limits Women’s Conference on campus. I was like, yeah, this is cool. I'm going to keep going with this.
I made it longer and more in-depth to present at the conference. My next step to make it full-length and expand the focus to how other cultures and identities and non-binary people view and treat their hair. There are so many cultural questions wrapped in the treatments of hair that we don't talk about, but we also have so much pride in. So that's what I want to look at with this project.
A Nest of Support
I never thought I would come to college and go through all these doors that I've been through. I haven’t feared what's going to happen because I’ve had so much support here.
The first two years of my time here, my family and my mom didn't have a house, like we had no place to stay. We were living with family friends just bouncing from couch to couch.
The fact that I'm able to have the guidance and resources to create this film and knowing that while I'm sitting there having these conversations, I’m empowering them, letting them tell their story, it's very beautiful to me. It makes me very happy, and I didn't ever think I could do something like that. When I present it and people are able to see themselves. That's what really matters to me.
I don't think I would be here today doing this stuff if it wasn't for the people at Nebraska who have created this nest of support for me because I don't have that from my family. It's pretty awesome that anybody can do whatever they put their mind to and they don’t have to wait for the perfect situation to do it. That's actually not a cliché. It's real.