Shortly after arriving at UNC in 2011, Jessica Boone cut all her processed hair off in what’s known as a big chop, allowing her curls to grow naturally. But she didn’t know much about taking care of her natural hair or know where to turn for advice.
“I was basically having an identity crisis trying to figure out who I was,” Boone said of her first semester at UNC.
Boone turned to the community around her. In 2011, she created a Facebook group called Natural Girls Discuss Natural Curls for women to share natural hair stylist recommendations, favorite products and hair care advice.
“It allowed me to meet other women who were experiencing some of the same things that I was experiencing,” Boone said. “For the first time, I had a community of girls who had the same questions I had.”
The Facebook group flourished quickly, and eventually its members began meeting in person. The group changed its name to Carolina Curls to promote gender inclusivity, said treasurer Kennedy Parkins.
Carolina Curls meetings are open to all UNC students and include product giveaways, hair tutorials and guest lectures from stylists and other professionals.
Parkins said that the group provides a space for attendees to have conversations about their own experiences with anything from hair care to stigmatization in the workplace.
During an internship at a Chapel Hill company, Angela Chin said that a white, female co-worker came up to her, commented on her hair and reached out and touched it — without asking.
“She grabs about three strands of my twists, and in that moment, I wasn’t really sure what to do,” Chin said.
Chin said she’d heard about people touching Black women’s hair, but she had never been in this situation herself.
Chin wondered if she should say something, as they were in an open-air office, and sound traveled easily. She said that she didn’t want to come off as confrontational, especially not as an intern speaking to a superior.
“I was very mindful of responding to her in a way that wouldn't be too abrupt and maybe to other people seem disrespectful,” Chin said.
Chin chose not to say anything to the co-worker, but she did take the matter to human resources.
However, she said HR didn’t provide a clear solution or any helpful suggestions — they simply asked her to retell the story of the interaction with her co-worker.
The company eventually implemented a new cultural sensitivity training.
“It’s good to see that they’re working toward changing that culture,” Chin said. “Although it’s unfortunate that I had to be the reason why and they didn’t think to do it on their own.”
Chin said that engaging in conversation about natural hair is an important part of de-stigmatization and empowerment.
“It was nice to find some common ground and support system from other women,” Chin said. “That’s what Carolina Curls provides on this campus.”
Parkins said when she gets ready for an interview, she slicks her hair back into a neat bun. She said that most Black women she knows do the same, because they don’t know how the interviewers might react to them having natural hair.
“Always having to carry that with you, being mindful about having to wear my hair in its natural state, can be a burden,” Parkins said.
Parkins said she wished she was more comfortable wearing her natural hair in the workplace, but she said she has to consider how employers will react.
“I should be more comfortable and confident in a hairstyle,” Parkins said. “But at the same time, not conforming to that space in a corporate setting will affect your performance and affect possibly getting a position.”
Elaine Dodoo, a 2018 UNC graduate, runs Yes Her Studio in Durham, which offers protective styles and encourages women to embrace their natural hair.
Dodoo said that when she was at UNC, there were very few resources for women with natural hair. She said that Carolina Curls played an important role in helping Dodoo embrace her own natural curls.
“I felt the support from the other natural girls,” Dodoo said. “I got to see other naturals embracing their curls.”
Parkins said that perhaps the most important part of the group is not just the products and tutorials but the sense of community the group has fostered.
“I’m grateful to the people who are still keeping it going,” Boone said. “It makes me smile so much.”
Boone said she is thrilled to see the organization continue to grow, and she hopes the group continues to empower and support women for many years to come.
“It really gives you the foundation to create a sisterhood — the foundation to speak out,” Boone said. “It gives you a foundation for freedom.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.