Merlene Davis: Workshop promotes caring for curly, natural hair

Back in the summer, when I noticed scalp where hair had once thrived, I decided it was time to turn my back on chemicals designed to change my hair texture and just embrace the unruly, curly hair God gave me.

Although it sounds simple, it wasn't.

I had forgotten how to care for my natural hair. I spent hours in my early youth crying and flinching as my mother slathered my hair with petroleum jelly or bergamot or Royal Crown hairdressing before insistently trying to get a wide-tooth comb through my very thick hair and then plaiting it.

At the age of 11 or so, I sang my mother's praises because she gave me a Curl Free relaxer that allowed my coarse hair to be softer and straighter with little effort on her part and no tears on mine.

With the exception of several years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when big Afros were the style, relaxing chemicals of one type or another were used on my hair. After all those years of use, my hair was beginning to give up the ghost, thinning far too much. And after all those years, I had totally forgotten how to work with naturally kinky locks.

The products my daughter used on her curly hair didn't faze mine. After trial and error and boxes of accumulated hair products that also didn't work, I am finally seeing a healthy head of hair returning.

On Jan. 26, a group of women who have enjoyed natural hair for years are going to give tips to all of us with curly hair, so you can avoid what I went through.

Melanie Day, Rasheedah El-Amin, Deborah Majeed and Jill Chenault-Wilson founded Hair Matters ... Live Curly about three years ago and have been hosting workshops to promote "loving your naturally curly, kinky and wavy hair."

Day, president of Hair Matters, said those who attend will be schooled on the type of curl they have, its porosity, density, width and length, and whether it is straight, wavy, curly or excessively curly.

"Once you are able to figure out what your curl type and curl pattern is, you can find products that suit your hair," said Day, a hairstylist.

Knowing what you are dealing with will help break your addiction to buying every new product on the market, as I have done.

Hair is like fabric, Day explained. When ironing silk, the heat setting is much lower than when ironing denim. And you use more starch on denim than you would on a lightweight cotton.

Although it might have started out as an uphill battle, more and more women of all ethnicities are embracing their natural hair. For black women, that is a major step. Far too often, we have turned to chemicals to make our hair look more presentable in the workplace for employers looking for acceptable straight hairdos.

Now, black women are sporting natural hair in TV commercials and in magazines.

At the workshop we will also learn about nutrition and how it affects our hair. Bonnie Peterson, of Personal Journey Wellness, will conduct a session about kicking the sugar habit.

Majeed will conduct a workshop with instructions and cloth for head wraps to help us look beautiful even on bad-hair days.

And, finally, Louisville fashion consultant Kimi Michele will present a showcase of natural hairstyles along with fashions designed bySoreyda Benedit Begley, a co-founder of The Lexington Fashion Collaborative.

The point of the event and Hair Matters, Day said, is to bring out the best in our natural selves with a little help from professionals.

I am so glad.

I learned a lot from a similar event held about a year ago. It gave me the confidence to be me, to embrace the hair reflected in my mirror.

I can't wait to see what I learn this time.