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Hair Is A Sensitive Issue For Black Girls And Women. Sabal Palm Elementary Wants To Help

Hair supplies for the school's upcoming event "Curls for Queens" line the walls of The DEN office at Sabal Palm Elementary School.
Patrick Sternard
Hair supplies for the school's upcoming event "Curls for Queens" line the walls of The DEN office at Sabal Palm Elementary School.

As a community partnership school, Sabal Palm offers food and healthcare services to its students and their families, but Principal Anicia Robinson says something else was missing from the roster of services provided by the school: access to quality affordable hair care.

It's a need Robinson says was brought to her attention by the school's Community Wellness Coordinator, Makayla Fedd.

“For four days straight I had a student who walked past my office with a hoodie on, and she was constantly late for class,” Fedd said during a previous interview with WFSU.

“When I finally asked her what was going on, she told me her hair was not done and she was tired of being teased about it so she didn’t want to go to class. I told her on the mornings she felt the least beautiful, she can stop by and I will fix her hair."

Black hair has been an historically fraught issue, one that’s been shrouded in stigma and stereotypes for centuries. Shatima Jones, a sociology professor at New York University, says black hair has always been judged and policed by outsiders.

“We’ve been tasked with this extra labor of having to think about our hair in ways that white and non-black women don’t have to. We should just get to wear our hair however we want to, however we feel, but that’s just not the society we live in,” says Jones.

Criticisms of Black hair have hit little Black girls hardest.

“Who do kids see on television, it starts with those representations, who’s beautiful, who gets the guy in the end…this is what society is telling us. Who has long flowing hair, not even that you have hair but that it’s supposed to be long [and] straight."

Robinson knows that pressure, but believes it shouldn't have to be that way.

“Your hair makes you happy and also gives you a chance to express the kind of person you are and if you want to switch it up. If you wanna do braids one day, if you wanna do a bun, if you wanna do puffs, you know we just have that ability to be able to do that. It is an important part of who we are, but it also isn’t WHO we are, you know?”

Yet the hair pressure is real, and that's why Robinson and Fedd feel so strongly about Curls for Queens.

“We really want to push don’t let the hair define you, I think the India Arie song 'I’m Not My Hair' could be the theme for this program, but the reality is you’re not your hair but your hair makes you feel good,” says Robinson.

For the past month, Sabal Palm has been collecting donated hair and styling products in partnership with salons and beauty supply stores in town. The school is hosting it Curls For Queens hair care and styling event this Saturday in response to the student need.  

Community organizers and school staff hope the event will empower students, boost their self-esteem and in turn promote academic success.

Chelsea Long is an intern this fall with WFSU News. This past summer, she studied journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. She’s currently a senior at Florida State University studying political science and Middle Eastern studies and a staff writer for the student paper, the FSView and Florida Flambeau. She hopes to pursue a career in journalism after graduation, but, for now, she’ll continue working as a part-time barista.