Welcome Friends and Allies!
Let your mind promenade through these sources and resources, histories and her-stories, with your newfound knowledge about the glorious history, transformation, and revolutionary self-love journey that is the Black hair experience.
After we - Reclaim Artist Collective and the Harrisburg (PA) Chapter of the Links, Incorporated - gathered to decide on what topics we might cover for the next American Griot Project Residency Program, ‘Black hair’ was suggested and something clicked. The topic had been on my heart for a while. I don’t know a Black woman or girl who has not felt the stigma of natural hair bias, and some of us, like our character Aleyah, have internalized it.
We took a list of topics to the high school art students we were working with. They were a diverse bunch of seniors in creative writing and theater students. They enthusiastically agreed that Black hair was something they wanted to learn more about. They interviewed their mamas, aunties, grannies, sisters, and friends about their hair experiences and learned about stigma, discrimination, and frustration, but also self-care, love, culture, and pride. The students created their own dramatic videos based on the stories they had collected and translated into poetry under my instruction. Their videos became part of their End-of-Year celebration, CASAlive.
The following year we collaborated with The Harrisburg (PA) Chapter of the Links, incorporated, under the leadership of President Mary E. James, to begin the process of forming HairStory: Reclaiming Our Crown for the stage. The show would be a fundraiser for The Links, and a second edition of The American Griot Project for Reclaim Artist Collective.
HairStory: Reclaiming Our Crown is a labor of love in which I use oral history research to inspire poetry for the stage. Once all the poems are collected, I weave them into a cohesive story. While the students created 5-minute videos for their class residency project, I created a 110-minute production featuring 13 incredibly talented actors, artists, dancers, and musicians.
In this story, Aleyah is the character that must renew her relationship with her hair and herself through the process (no pun intended) of hearing the stories of the other women as the ancestors watch, nudge, and guide her to the Truth. We created this study guide as a way for you to continue learning about this important social justice issue that impacts the mind, spirit, and body of people of color. And when one among us is “Othered” because of their hair texture or the color of their skin, we all lose.
Playwright/Founder of Reclaim Artist Collective
Dear Audience Member,
Now that you’ve experienced HairStory: Reclaiming Our Crown, please take some time and explore our study guide. This show is meant to celebrate you. You are unique in your own way. When you look in the mirror, we want you to love all of you, including your beautiful hair.
When I was a teenager, afros were in - the bigger the better. I remember getting my first job as a teacher; it was also the first time I had a perm. (relaxer) I thought I needed to fit in. I thought I needed to be accepted. I believed, “straight hair was better hair.” Now that I am older and wiser, I’ve fallen back in love with my hair. I like it short, and I am in love with every single grey hair. My hair is a little thinner than it used to be, but that’s okay, because it’s a part of me. In fact, my hair makes a statement, along with my big glasses. I walk into the world saying, “Here I am! Accept me for who I am”.
Our production was structured as a choreopoem. A choreopoem is a series of poems linked together to tell one complete story. The playwright, Maria James-Thiaw interviewed a group of women and asked them to tell her about their hair stories. After they shared their stories, she turned them into poems. Each of the actors play more than one role. The story weaves back and forth between the history of what occurred in Africa before African Americans were enslaved to what occurs in the modern day. At the end of this performance, you will have a better understanding of why this is more than a performance about hair. It’s about the right to be an individual.
So, when you explore this study guide, look into the mirror pick out your afro, embrace your curls and coils, or toss your braids, but whatever you do, love yourself.
Roe Braddy, Director
Greetings Lifelong Learners,
On behalf of the members of The Links, Incorporated®, Harrisburg (PA) Chapter, (The Links) I welcome
you to the HairStory Digital Study Guide. The Guide is a valuable and dynamic resource designed to continue the conversation of how history, culture, and racism have conspired to repress and even penalize the wearing of natural hairstyles, especially for people of African descent. Research has proven that such oppressive practices have long-lasting negative effects on the economic, social and emotional well-being of those being subjected to race-based hair discrimination.
The members of The Links advocate that people of all ethnicities have the freedom to wear their hair in any style in which they feel most comfortable without fear of what might happen if one does not comply with someone else’s standard of beauty and acceptability. Fear of not being hired. Fear of being fired. Fear of losing promotional opportunities at work or in the sports arena. Fear of not being able to safely enjoy public spaces. And, even fear of personal harm.
To help end the fear and protect the rights of our citizens, we urge passage of PA House Bill 1066 and PA Senate Bill 531, collectively known as The CROWN Act or Creating a Respectful and Open World for
We believe that as more people learn the history and legacy of race-based hair discrimination, they will join efforts to eradicate this form of racism through awareness, advocacy, and protective legislation.
Please take time to explore your Guide. Share it with your family, friends, classmates, and teachers so they may join us on this learning journey focused on ending race-based hair discrimination.
Yours in Friendship & Service,
Mary E. James
The Links, Incorporated®, Harrisburg (PA) Chapter