Celebrating African American Hair

A new initiative at The Villages is making it easier for foster families to learn about proper care and products for African American hair.  Foster parents can participate in a live, virtual training with their children, where they learn best hair care practices, styling techniques, and can ask questions.

“We’re hopeful we can alleviate some of the pressure on foster parents who are unfamiliar with African American hair textures,” said Zenova Williams, a case manager at The Villages office in Kokomo, who has been integral in coordinating this effort.

“The idea was sparked during a conversation among Villages staff at a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion meeting last fall. The discussion prompted the topic of challenges foster parents face when they are not familiar with how to care for African American children’s hair,” says Williams.

The first two virtual training sessions were coordinated after that meeting to teach foster parents about African American hair textures, appropriate products, and styling techniques. Williams invited her personal hair stylist, Marnisha Hunt to lead the sessions. Hunt specializes in African American hair, and is a former Villages foster youth. More than 30 foster parents participated in the first two sessions in December.

Hunt says she was overwhelmed when Williams asked her to lead the trainings.

“All I could do was cry because I’ve always wanted to give back to children in foster care, but wasn’t sure how,” says Hunt, who is now pursuing a career as an image consultant. “This was perfect because I know how it feels to live with multiple foster families and the struggle with styling hair.”

The training was very informative for foster parent Samantha, who is caring for an African American child with her partner, Molly. Prior to the training, Samantha describes styling the child’s hair as trial and error.

“(The training) was helpful in learning about different products to use and how often to wash her hair,” Samantha says.  During the training “I was always in the chat asking questions. I felt like I was filling up my Amazon cart every time she mentioned a product.”

Now, Samantha’s favorite style for the child is puffs, and she sleeps on a satin pillowcase – an item Hunt recommended for African American hair.

Williams is hopeful more sessions can be planned this year.

“Hair care is important (in the African American community). It makes us feel confident when our hair looks nice,” Williams says. “My hope is that the trainings opened the door for foster parents to feel comfortable asking questions to understand what’s important to children of color.”

“Each month, The Villages receives over 500 requests to find homes for children in foster care,” said Sharon Pierce, President and CEO.  She says every effort is made to match each child with a foster family that meets his or her unique and individual needs.

“We are intentional in finding safe, nurturing and loving homes for the children we serve, and ensuring their cultural needs are addressed,” Pierce says. “As part of that effort, we’re always seeking diverse foster families in order to have a large pool of exceptional homes available.”

The Villages has purchased products, recommended by stylist Marnisha Hunt, from African American-owned companies to provide to each family who participates in the training. Additional product is now available in each Villages office for new foster parents.

Looking for ways to support these efforts? Donate online, ship hair care products to a Villages’ office, or contact khays@villages.org to form a partnership with your company.

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