A Hairstory, Through the Eyes of a Black Son and Little Brother
Author: Marvin François, CoFounder and CEO
Momma's Crown, Wit and Avon Fragrances
My mom recently reminded me of a special routine she and I shared when I was a little boy. She would awaken long before any of us did to prepare for a hard day’s work. She had a robust beauty routine, which included overuse of highly fragrant Avon products. Like clockwork, awakened by the smell of Far Away Infinity, I would catch her about ten minutes before she left: “Mama, you look so beautiful!” “Mama, you smell so good!” I would recite to her as she prettied herself up with a professionalhairstyle to tame the natural state of her crown.
My adoration of my mom was deep. Growing up, it seemed to me that she knew everything – and at an annoyingly granular level. One of fourteen kids – many of whom had a number of kids of their own – my mom even remembered EVERYONE’s birthdays. She was incredibly savvy and resourceful, I think in a way that all black moms are. She had a 6thsense about things, and, relying on her intuition, many a times prevented disastrous outcomes. She was the family’s unofficial legal counsel helping her siblings navigate the local court system when needed. She had encyclopedic recall, and I remember experiencing feelings of sheer inadequacy anytime she would recite some resolution, law, or verse with near precision. She was a natural academic, and I always aspired to match her!
In my World, Beauty Queens came with Jeweled Fists and Fiery Words
Like my mom, my big sis had her beauty routine, which included going to great lengths to subdue her hair. Often, post her perming, Spritz-ing, and Oil Sheen-ingregimen, I remember thinking, with some pride, that my sister looked more like the women we saw on television. I saw how happy it made her; and as her biggest fan, it made me happy.
My sister, the embodiment of emotional intelligence – but also the self-designated protector of our family – played a critical role in my development. As a kid I remember being terrified of her, at times. Her words were sharp, and they were only emboldened by her use of force; she could scrap. From Opa-Locka to Liberty City to Little Haiti – some of the toughest neighborhoods in Miami (and in the US, for that matter!) – very few people on the block crossed us because they knew they’d have to answer to her. Even when my brothers and I outgrew her, she was steadfast in fighting our battles or intervening on our behalves. What perplexed me the most was that this same person was also incredibly gentle. I remember seeing myself through her eyes from the compliments she paid me – qualities I didn’t know I possessed – and how that shaped my self-image and the pride with which I moved through the world. Growing up I also remember her being a great writer. Talk about a paradox. But it was in her writing that I saw that the sharpness of her words and the power of her fists were emblematic of a deep passion with which she experienced life, because it was evident there too. The way she wielded her words.
Your Hairstory and My Promise
I often think about how we are socialized: to see and experience the world in the ways we do; to see and experience ourselves in that world. It’s not a singular, jarring lesson; it never is. Instead it tends to be a very slow – insidious, but mostly unimposing – process. Our attitudes and belief systems are shaped by deeply entrenched, but subtle messages that surround us; even if we aren’t actively aware of them. Even incidental cues are formative.
For me, one such incidental cue was my mom and sis’s relationships with their hair: the way they prettiedthemselves up to a commercially acceptable standard of beauty.It represented for me, perhaps, one of the earliest signals that the outside world didn’t see them the way that I did; and that it required something unfair of them, and women like them. It seemed that once they crossed that threshold that the audacity and entitlement that their powers afforded them had to be tucked inor straightened away.
When, as a black boy, you grow up in a home with two black deities, you unconsciously harbor some resentment for a world that demands that they play small. And so I did; and, admittedly, still would have had I not come to understand that this regimen of theirs was a survival mechanism. It was their passport into the world outside our home. With some savvy and sacrifice they had managed to successfully move about in a world insistently bent on the destruction of their self-image, their minds, and ultimately their bodies.
With this realization, I came to understand that it was my turn to pick up the mantle, and fight for them like they had for me countless times.
And I say to them, and women like them:
Before your lights dim and your spirits fatigue from constant battle with a world that will ultimately find some reason to reject you anyway;
Before your voices quiet in a frustrated resolve;
I want to remind you of your magic and divinity in a world that is confused by you; in a world that obsesses over and fears you.
One that tries to tame your hair in the same way it tries to silence your voices.
- from a black son and lil brother