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Salon Teaches White Parents To Care For Black Hair

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Tips for new parents caring for black children

Many white parents who adopt black children struggle with caring for their child's hair. Althea Reynolds, owner of the Spice Salon in Los Angeles, sees the parents' challenge as an opportunity to offer valuable lessons in black hair care. Reynolds talks about her new series of workshops.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And we have another story for you about the intersection of beauty and culture and ethnicity. One of our friends in L.A. told us about a hair salon in Los Angeles where a stylist decided she would endeavor to teach the white adoptive parents of black or biracial children how to do their hair.

Now this might not seem like a big deal. How hard is it to do hair, especially compared to some of the other challenges adoptive parents might face? But stylist Althea Reynolds realized that hair is a big deal to many African-Americans, that the texture of black hair is unfamiliar to some of these parents, and caring for a child's hair and how that hair looks can be an important thing to a child's sense of self and an important bonding time between parent and child.

So we're pleased to have with us now Althea Reynolds. She is a stylist at the Spice Salon in Los Angeles, and she runs the workshop on how to style black children's hair. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. ALTHEA REYNOLDS (Owner, Spice Salon): Thank you.

MARTIN: How did you come up with this idea?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Well, with my travel around the city, I noticed a lot of biracial children with their hair not groomed, so in my head I said oh, it's my duty to help these mothers. But I didn't know how to approach them.

So one day a lady called Laurie came in the salon, and she a little adopted child from Somalia. And we got to talking, and she said, well, there's a lot of other people with the same problem.

MARTIN: Laurie is white.

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes.

MARTIN: Or Caucasian.

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes. So I said Laurie, we could work together and do something, and I came up with a workshop. And she put an email out, and I had a great response.

MARTIN: Do some of the white parents who've taken your workshop understand how important hair can be for African-Americans? We should probably be honest that there are those who argue that hair is too important to African-Americans, that maybe we need to dial that back a bit. But do some of the parents understand that, in a way, their children are in some ways being judged by how well their hair is groomed?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Well, first of all, when Laurie came into the salon, she was saying when they, you know, talked about adoption, and when they spoke to them about what they should expect about their kids, they stressed hair, hair, hair. This is going to be a big problem. And she said to herself: How can hair be a problem, you know? But she said after getting her little daughter home, she realized it's different, and it is a big problem.

MARTIN: Do you teach the parents? What are some of the styles that you teach them to do? Do you teach them to plait?

Ms. REYNOLDS: We haven't gotten to that yet, but so far, just the maintenance of the hair, because they need from day one start knowing how to part the hair, combing it and brushing it. That's - they don't know how to handle the hair. It's totally different because they're under the impression that the hair don't need oil because, Caucasian hair don't need as much oil. They're trying to get rid of oil, and we need to maintain our moisture in our hair.

MARTIN: What has been the response of the parents who've taken your workshop?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Oh, wow. They are so grateful and asking for more and more information.

MARTIN: Althea Reynolds is a stylist at the Spice Salon in Los Angeles. She runs a workshop on caring for black children's hair, and she was kind enough to join us from our bureau in Culver City, California. Thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. REYNOLDS: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: You can see pictures from the class and hear more of the parents' stories on our Web site. That's the TELL ME MORE page at npr.org.

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