Locals ‘express the power in the hair’ to celebrate black hair styles – Shaw Local

DeKALB – For DeKalb’s Michael Calhoun, his locks are more than just a hairstyle. “It’s a way of life,” he says.

Calhoun, who is better known as “Church” in the DeKalb community, said the preferred term for his chosen style over the past decade isn’t dreadlocks, it’s “locks” because fear has a negative connotation. Although his motivation for keeping the style so long was largely convenience, he said it became a bonding experience between him, nature and the energy around him.

“It feels good,” Calhoun said. “Like it was something spiritual.”

Calhoun’s witty approach to his locks recalls the hairstyle’s Rastafarian roots, said to have been planted when Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I was crowned in 1930. Selassie spent time in exile after the invasion of Ethiopia by Italy and, until his liberation, the guerrilla warriors swore not to cut their curly hair.

Although Rastafarianism encouraged more natural and less refined locks, many people, especially those from black communities, still adapted the style by applying techniques to keep their hair neat.

Mariyah Ofei, a DeKalb resident and Calhoun Loctician, said she’s had her own locks for about six years. She agreed with Calhoun’s reason for getting locks — more for convenience and less maintenance than an afro, for example — and said she also preferred the term locks.

“We try to talk about power in our hair,” Ofei said. “Because it’s not terrible – it’s just locked.”

Illinois lawmakers recently passed a law stating that black hair styles such as cornrows, highlights or afros cannot be prohibited in school dress codes – otherwise the school risks losing its status as recognition by the Illinois State Board of Education. The Jett Hawkins Law, as it’s known, was named after a Chicago student who was told his braids violated the decades-old dress code.

The Jett Hawkins Act came into effect this year on January 1.

Ofei said she wonders why black hair styles were even banned in the first place and that the time spent debating whether or not they should be banned could have been used for better things. She said she would ask anyone who might have trouble with black hairstyles why argue instead of looking past the person’s or employee’s hair.

“However long I’ve been in the business, it’s how I feel that should really matter,” Ofei said.

Ofei, who has been self-employed as a full-time stylist since 2017, said she has never personally faced any dress code issues related to her hair.

“And if I did, I wouldn’t accept this job,” Ofei said.

Calhoun also said he had never faced such issues and said he would not take work if his locks violated a workplace policy. As a child growing up in 1990s Chicago, he said he experienced heavy stereotypes related to his locks.

Hairstylist Mariyah Ofei braids the locks of DeKalb resident Michael Calhoun Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in her home studio in DeKalb.  Ofei, who plays sports herself, specializes in working with others who also have locks.

“But I feel like the narrative is changing,” Calhoun said. “Seriously.”

For Ofei, black hair styles show the wearer’s creativity, she said. It’s another way for people – including his clients – to express themselves and stay true to themselves, whatever that may sound like.

“Because at the end of the day, I always tell them, it’s your head,” Ofei said.

DeKalb’s Alexzandra Austin said she was told the braids were used by slaves to create hidden messages and maps of freedom. She said she expresses herself personally through her hair, as she wears a lot of black clothes as a full-time stylist.

“It just shows your personality,” Austin said.

DeKalb’s Chanice Williams, who works as a technician at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital, said she wears the same scrub every day as part of her work uniform. Like Austin, Williams said her hair is the only thing that changes, at least when it’s not styled for surgery.

“But walking into work, you know, that’s a fashion statement in itself — you want to look good walking into work,” Williams said. “You help people at the worst time in their life, so you want to look good. When you look good, you feel good.

Austin and Williams said they had been friends their whole lives and danced together growing up. Austin recalled how she would have to adjust her hair to meet dance dress code requirements, such as having to put it in a bun.

“We had to add a weave to our hair or do something else because our regular hair wasn’t going to do what everyone else’s hair was going to do,” Austin said.

Williams said she thinks other people view locks as an unprofessional look and that black hairstyles are stigmatized.

“I think there’s so much to this culture that if people took the time to research and understand what locks mean to people and their journey with them, I think that would be much more appreciated. “Williams said. “Because there’s a lot of stuff that goes into that style.”

Williams said she wanted to remind black people in particular that identity holds power and that she was proud to wear the hairstyle that made them feel their best.

“You don’t let anyone on this earth make you feel like it’s not beautiful,” Williams said. “As long as you can wake up and look in the mirror and those braids, those locks, that afro, that wig, that quick weave…if it’s beautiful for you and you go out and you’re confident, it doesn’t work it doesn’t matter.

David R. Brewer