Hairstory: Turning a Little Girl’s Tears of Embarrassment to Words of Love

“When I was your age…”

goldie_locsI remember my mother saying this to me repeatedly growing up, but never thought I’d be saying it myself one day. However, that’s exactly how I started a recent conversation about hair with one of the girls in my arts and culture program.

When I entered the room, a sweet, sincere 7-year-old sat in the corner unable to fight back the tears of embarrassment slowly sliding down her cheek. When I asked her why she sat away from the group of the other girls, she said because they hurt her feelings: They’d asked her why she had not gotten her hair done, and called her hair “nappy.”

Now, as a cultural competency facilitator it was easy to remedy the conversation for the girls in the group by talking about name calling, love language and embracing our differences. But for the girl in the corner, the conversation was a bit more difficult and complex for me. The conversation needed to start with, “What is nappy? And why is nappy a bad thing, if it’s your hair and how you are made?” As I leaned down to sit criss-cross applesauce next to her, I said, “When I was your age, people used to call my hair nappy all the time, and it used to hurt my feelings.”

This little girl, with bright brown eyes and warm brown skin, looked at me in disbelief and asked, “Really?” I knew her question was because as a grown woman, my neatly coiffed, long locs draped far past my rear end and very rarely get dismissed as “nappy” or “undone.” She looked at me a second time and asked, “How?” And that’s when I told her the story of me and my best friend growing up, Amy.

Swimming with Amy, feeling like an outsider

goldie_amyAmy and I were two peas in a pod. We were different — from our ethnicity to our neighborhoods to our families — but we still had so much in common. We both loved gymnastics, reading and swimming and were practically inseparable. We also loved swimming.

Amy would jump in carefree to swim laps in the pool and play pool games. Amy was white, of Irish descent, and she had long, strawberry blond hair. I, on the other hand, usually had to prepare to swim by wearing a swimcap that almost never could fit all my thick, strong, kinky hair. I remember one time, I wanted to be carefree like Amy and her friends and so I opted out of wearing a swimcap. What a mistake! When we got to the locker room all of Amy’s friends laughed at how my hair turned out and how “nappy” my hair was. I was different, and it was as clear as the hair that stood on top my head. I was embarrassed that they called my hair nappy, and I wanted to cry, but didn’t want to be defeated.

When I shared this story with my girl, she asked me, “How did you get back at them?”

I told her about how the next time I went swimming with Amy, I had my hair all cornrowed with fresh new braids. Her eyes lit up with excitement — she could relate to the joy of getting your hair freshly braided and adorned with beads, barrettes or bows. “Did you get back at them?” she asked. I told her that I thought the fresh braids would impress the could-be-friends, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead, the questions came a mile a minute when I revealed my new hairstyle. “How’d you get your hair to stay at the ends?” “Is that your hair?” “Why are you calling them cornrows?”

Once again I was embarrassed. The bombarding questions put too much attention on my differences. I wanted to just blend in and be like everyone else. I asked Amy if we could swim somewhere else sometimes instead of swimming with her friends all the time, and she agreed. I was excited to not be the different one all the time.

I wanted to just blend in and be like everyone else.

No longer an outsider, but still no relief

I soon began taking swimming lessons at my local YMCA as my love for swimming grew. Now I was in a swim class full of girls who mirrored my hair, complexion and experiences. I was ecstatic to no longer be the outsider. But that was a short-lived relief.

I remember the one day I went swimming without my protective cornrowed braids and without a cap in attempt to be like the cooler girls in my swim class. I felt so free in the water getting my hair wet and not worrying — it was a new world for me. As we all shuffled to the locker room, I can remember the excitement of being old enough to do my own hair.

My older sister was there to help me out with the shampooing and conditioning and hair maintenance. But soon into my routine, my arms tired from trying to wash and condition my own hair. I did a horrible job, but was happy to have the freedom to try out my hair myself. Then it was time for blow drying my hair, and I really struggled. My hands grew tired fast, the heat was too hot, and then I didn’t have the blow-drying technique to blowdry my hair well enough to manage the thick hair on my head.

I walked out the locker room looking like a troll doll. The other girls laughed at my hair and my inability to do it myself. They were confused as to why I couldn’t manage my own hair. And I didn’t have an answer.

I walked out the locker room looking like a troll doll.

Natural, then straight, then natural, then … super natural

I didn’t know why the other girls could manage their hair better than I could, then I learned it was because they had relaxers that made their hair easier to manage when it was wet. Eventually, I convinced my mother that it would be easier on both of us if I could get a relaxer to make my hair more manageable.

After years of putting a turtleneck on my head to pretend I had long straight hair, and pretending my hair was like Amy and her friends, or the women I saw on TV, I would finally get a chance to have “beautiful” hair once I got this relaxer. It is very hard for people who know me now to believe I once upon a time had chemically straightened hair, wore fancy trendy styles, and even wore weave occasionally. But I tell them, like I told the little girl whose tears had finally dried, the journey to being comfortable with my natural hair started with me being uncomfortable with my natural hair.

I wore a relaxer throughout high school and for the most part avoided getting laughed at about my hair. But it was the other styles I picked up that would catch my peers’ critique and attention. By the time I was a senior in high school, I grew more and more interested in afrocentric culture. I began wearing African jewelry, wearing dashikis, and as I learned more about the history of my culture I wanted to reflect what I was learning.

I decided months later after graduation once I got to Howard University, that I would continue expressing that cultural pride and grow out my relaxer.

I remember the day I decided to go natural. I was walking on campus on a beautiful fall day and it began to rain. And sure enough, as the rain fell down, all the girls around me began running for shelter, hiding under plastic bags and fearing for the worst: their hair getting wet. I stood amidst the exodus and decided I didn’t want to have to run whenever it rained. That I actually love rain and wanted to see what dancing in the rain felt like. I wanted to experience the carefreeness of not worrying about my hair.

I didn’t want to have to run whenever it rained.

That day I let the rain turn my straight hair kinky and vowed to not get another relaxer. This was a huge decision, because it would potentially jeopardize my role on a national television show. I was pursuing my life dream and filming my first television show and knew I had to fit a certain look. I was told my straight hair was more commercial and my natural hair wouldn’t work on air. After much thought, I decided to not get a relaxer and eventually would lose my role on the show. But what I gained was so much better and more important. I gained confidence in my natural hair.


I spent the next four years in college known as the girl with the afro. When I graduated and decided to pursue a career in acting professionally, everyone encouraged me to straighten my hair, but instead I did something a bit controversial at the time: I decided to go natural permanently, and loc my hair. People generally refer to my hair style as “dreadlocks” but the term refers to the style being dreadful and locked. My love for my natural hair is why I only refer to the style as loc’d because I see nothing dreadful about my hair.

Learning to speak love

goldie_mirrorToday, my hair is stronger and longer than I could have ever imagined. But more than that, it’s my hair unaltered and natural, and that’s what I love most about it. I told the little girl, “There is no need to get back at the girls who hurt your feelings. We have taught them how to use love language and be kind, but now we have to teach you the same.” She looked at me, confused.

“You said your hair was ugly and wasn’t done,” I said. “Did you speak love to your hair about yourself?” She shook her head no. I then explained the way we teach others how to be kind to us is by showing them how we are kind to ourselves. “You must speak love about your beautiful hair,” I told her.

She struggled to refer to her hair as beautiful. As we talked more, she began to understand and she repeated, “It doesn’t matter the style my hair is in, my hair is beautiful because it’s mine, it’s unique just like me?” I hugged her and told her, “Exactly.” By this time, the little girl in the corner has met the little girl in me and they both sit in assurance from my story that we all have a hairstory, but the most important part is that we must own our hairstory.


Surprising Ways Theatre Education Can Give Your Kid a Boost

There’s a safe space where the school athlete, the self-proclaimed bookworm and even the most popular of students can not only find joy, but also can also often find a connection to the most unexpected friends. This space is called drama club, theatre class or rehearsals for a spring or fall production.

I can remember vividly being in the Wiz when I was younger, and a flock of the usual suspect seasoned student actors signed up to audition for the role of the lion. We just knew the polished triple-threat student (a performer who is a strong singer, actor and dancer) would walk away with the role. Instead, imagine the shock when the role went to the somewhat clumsy, intimidatingly strong, typically “too cool” popular male athlete.

We all wondered, “Where would he fit into the world we had constructed as our haven during drama class?” We were reluctant at first to let him in our world, for fear that we, the drama kids, would become the victims of bullying for our passion for performing.

Instead, something truly magical happened. Not only did he fit right in into our world of drama, but also our friendships made their way outside of rehearsals and into the hallways, and into classes. The gaps that typically make middle school and high school a difficult place to grow slowly but surely closed in, all thanks to theatre.

We were reluctant … to let him in our world, for fear that we, the drama kids, would become the victims of bullying. Instead, something truly magical happened.

Theatre’s role in the journey of self-discovery

For many young people, the tween years are the time in their lives where they are embarking on the journey of self-discovery. Why is theatre such a powerful response to the task of finding yourself?

The answer is that theatre is rooted in giving its participants — on stage, backstage and in the audience — the opportunity to create and imagine the world they’d love to live in. For most this world is an accepting, loving place where dreams come true and anything can happen. The chance to explore theatre is a chance to believe in yourself and the potential of others to make our world beautiful.

Whether your kid is the outgoing talkative student eager to jump on stage or the introverted daydreamer who’d rather sit in the back and go unnoticed, theatre has a place for everyone. And that’s what makes it so special. When theatre is used with groups of young people, it is a powerful youth development tool.

Theatre is rooted in giving its participants … the opportunity to create and imagine the world they’d love to live in.

Arts integration deepens understanding of academic subjects

Using theatre in the classroom or after school is a great method of both introducing theatre to young students, and a great way to support the lessons they’re learning in the classroom. You may be wondering, what is arts integration and why are schools making such a big deal of it? Well, teachers and schools have discovered that theatre opens doors and can help students in so many ways beyond being a great performer.


Goldie Patrick works with students in Washington, D.C.

Arts integration is an approach when educators engage students using an art form and the students demonstrate their knowledge of another area or subject through the learned art. It’s like how music and science work beautifully together and can be taught in orchestration. Or for drama, how theater and social studies, English and reading/literature are great teaching companions.

Three ways theatre boosts kids in the arts and in the classroom

Here are some ways that theatre can positively impact kids not only in the arts but also in the classroom.

  • 1. Self-awareness. The process of creating characters, or becoming characters, increases kids’ self-awareness, allowing them to connect to someone else and draw the parallels that make them similar, in order to bring the character to life. This also can help prevent bullying by increasing kids’ empathy.
  • 2. Cognitive thinking. Behind the scenes, for kids who are interested in building sets, or designing costumes, or putting the pieces together for the performance, is a great exercise in cognitive thinking. Knowing how the set is connected to the story, or how the costumes have to reflect the setting and era is all a part of putting the pieces together.
  • 3. Analytical skills. The creative process of writing scripts, monologues or even performance poetry is the place where many kids stretch their creative muscle. However, what they may not recognize is that they’re also very much working their analytical skills. Writing the story involves listening, understanding and articulating the details of the characters, the plot and other components that make a play worth seeing.

Playing any one of the roles is also a chance to witness leadership and self-confidence grow in the students who participate.

Kids yearn for autonomy; theatre offers that

Young people live in a world that from their view is mostly run by adults. Their routines, curriculum, even the information they are taught is all created and delivered by adults; there is usually a yearning for autonomy as a result of so much adult-generated control. Theatre reaffirms their experiences, their ideas and their voice in a unique way that combats the
rather adult-dominated culture young people grow up in.

Young people live in a world that from their view is mostly run by adults.

Allowing young people a connection to theatre is often the beginning of cultivating leaders, social justice advocates, educators and, of course, artists. Anything is possible with theatre, and young people who take the journey often learn not just about the stage, but a whole heap about themselves.

Poet, playwright and performer Goldie Patrick has worked for more than 15 years with schools, students, foundations and nonprofit organizations to show the many ways theatre is valuable for students. Self-awareness, cultural awareness and intellectual ability were central to the Fresh Noise curriculum she developed for the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts to introduce middle-schoolers to hip-hop theatre.