When Ama Karikari-Yawson heard the barber say that her son was a real “n-word” who did not have “pretty hair” she was sickened by the experience. Like many mom’s Yawson took her son Jojo to the barbershop for a quick cut. Previously, the barber had always shaved Jojo’s hair into a baldie. But this time Yawson asked that he only give her son a low cut as she was in the process of growing out his hair.
That was when the barber told her exactly what he thought of young Jojo’s coily hair. Speaking in an authoritative tone, the barber stated:
“How can I tell you this? You have a real nigger here. He’s from the tribe. He is a native boy. This is not pretty hair.”
Yawson was stunned. Understandably so.
No parent wants his or her child to be victimized. But, for parents of Black children, the desire to protect our young goes beyond worrying about their welfare in general. We also have to contend with issues of race and racism – and wonder how they will shape our kids’ lives and their sense of self.
Naturally, the pain we feel when racism takes aim at our children is exacerbated when the perpetrators are also Black.
Yawson wasn’t just concerned with how this incident impacted her son. She was also amazed at what this incident meant in the broader context of race and racism.
“I was really taken aback,” she said “I sat down in a state of shock and sadness. I was feeling sick about the state of black self love. Accepting ourselves is also accepting the kinky hair on our head.”
While many of us struggle with how to help our children transition through race related incidents, Yawson decided to take action. Recalling her response to the experience, she stated:
In the moment, I was speechless. He still had clippers in my son’s head. But I was sickened by the experience for weeks. I once learned that pain should be turned into art. The storybook is my way of doing just that.
That’s right. After taking some time for prayers and introspection, she created a dynamic, empowering and heartwarming children’s book: Sunne’s Gift.
In Sunne’s Gift, God created four magical creatures named Sunne, Watre, Earthe, and Winde. God gave each of them a special power to help take care of the planet. Each creature received a different skin color and hair type. Their hair and skin color were based on the specific job they were assigned as the earth’s caretakers.
For example, Winde was the color gray and was imbued with the power of the wind. For this reason, Winde’s straight hair moves with the breeze.
Sunne was imbued with the power of the sun. Her skin was sun-darkened red and her hair grew in kinky, spirally twists towards the sun.
For a time the four creatures work in harmony and care for the earth with love. Until one day, they all realize that Sunne’s hair was different. Motivated by jealousy the other three magical creatures begin to criticize Sunne’s hair. They teased and taunted Sunne until Sunne began to feel ashamed.
Sunne began to beat her hair with a stick in order to straighten out her kinks and coils. But once every spiral is flattened out Sunne loses her magic and the harmonious balance that once ruled the earth was destroyed. The magical creatures have to find a way to work together in order to fix it.
Sunne’s Gift aims to honor Afro-textured hair and celebrate diversity, while providing a bullying prevention message. When I read the story it literally brought tears to my eyes and reminded me of the many challenges young Black girls and boys experience. By the end of the tale I was elated to see Yawson’s message of the redeeming power of self-love.
While this story is a dynamic fable that any child will relate to, it is also instructive for Black women. Most of us have memories of having big, spirally, coily, kinky hair as children—before our hair was straightened either with chemicals or hot combs. For many who made a conscious decision to go natural, walking around under a cloud of poofy hair can often feel as though, like Sunne, we got our magic back.
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But regardless of where you fall with respect to the natural hair vs. relaxed hair discussion, we can all agree that Black children with natural hair deserve to be affirmed and Sunne’s Gift does just that. The book also has a guide for parents and teachers and one of Yawson’s goals for the book is that it is used to help prevent bullying.
Now that the story is written Yawson is working to bring the story to life. She is actively fundraising in order to pay for the illustration, printing, animation and outreach costs. To help support this effort, please visit her Kickstarter campaign page. There you will see a delightful video that explains the motivations and goals behind the story.
These are the types of stories our children need in order to feel affirmed in a world that often tells them they are different. Truthfully, these are the types of stories I wish I had as a little girl. I’m glad I will be able to share this tale with my own children.
And if you’re looking for more thoughts from an Afro State of Mind, check out my book “Afro State of Mind: Memories of a Nappy Headed Black Girl now available on Amazon.com in paper back or e-book! And if you want to stay connected follow me on Twitter, “like” Afro State of Mind on Facebook or catch up on my latest youtube videos!