Renee Mitchell knew that to succeed in her chosen profession, journalism, she would need the right look. And like many ambitious Black women, she knew that meant straightening her hair. So that's what she did for many years, even though she often longed to give up using chemicals and find her natural look.
The majority White culture imposes standards of beauty that don't reflect the beauty of African Americans. And when it comes to hair that means sending out soul-destroying messages about kinky, curly and nappy hair.
"When my inner reflection of beauty is not what's reflected back at me, then that starts to mess with our heads a bit," Mitchell says.
So, this Saturday, July 16 at 3 pm, Mitchell is holding a celebration of natural hair at Reflections café/Talking Drum Bookstore, 446 NE Killingsworth Street (close to Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd) Everyone is invited to attend, "Our Hair, Yes! My kinky Love Affair with My Hair," but particularly "brothas and systahs who keep it real naturally."
This is second in a series of events that Mitchell is organizing as part of her Natural and Proud People Inspiration Project. Her first event was held in a barber shop and was for Men Only. A dramatist, poet and artist as well as a former columnist for The Oregonian, Mitchell is opening up space for people who want to join her in making this a life-changer.
She plans to hold events for men, women, teens and even White foster parents of African American children.
"If you are in a situation where you've been taken from or rejected by your natural parents then: How do I feel about who I am?" she says. "How do I find my center?"
Contact Mitchell if you're interested in holding a small house party, an event for teens, or helping organize a large event planned for Aug. 27 at Curious Comedy theater.
Mitchell stresses that this is not about judging any hair choices, but simply taking a look at the inner workings of an issue that affects just about everyone who has an African heritage.
And for sure, every culture cares about hair. Women from every culture spend time grooming. But for African Americans hair carries a special significance. The proof? According to Chris Roc's 2009 movie Good Hair, industry figures show Black women buy 30 to 34 percent of all hair products sold in the United States, with about 65 percent of those dollars spent on weaves.
Fast forward a few years, and Mitchell had advanced in her career, enough that she felt able to take some risks with her image. In Detroit at the time, she consulted an African American hair specialist who helped her through the decision to cut off all her long processed hair, so she could let her natural hair grow out.
"When I stopped putting chemicals on it I came to a place of: 'Now What do I do," Mitchell says. "My stylist told me there is always a point when you hate your hair, and that's hard for people. There can be an ugly phase, before you get it the way you want it.
Today Mitchell wears it in long twisted strands called locs. That's a very popular look in cities with large African American populations, but unusual enough in Portland that her hair still draws questions and comments. And she knew her experiences were not unusual.
So how do you wear your hair? And what would it take for you to go natural?
For more information on future events by Mitchell, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org .