My heritage lies in my hair, in my art, in anything shaped or birthed by my hands. This revelation had not yet dawned on me as my pen’s thick sky blue letters graced the page of my star-covered journal. I was outlining the plot of my comic book. My characters were two black girls who would deal with their relationships, aspirations and tragedies during their senior year of high school. This comic book, a month in the making, came to fruition this summer, just like another goal of mine. By the first day of school, I had braided extensions into my hair.
A week before school started, I drew the packs of synthetic hair I had been storing out of the closet. The hair was long and purple, the antithesis of my springy, tangled locks. It was bold, the opposite of my reserved temperament, yet, in a way, it reflected me. My extensions would protect the ends of my natural hair from breakage, helping it grow longer — which has been an elusive goal of mine since childhood. Because I have learned how to combat the fragility of natural hair, it is within my reach.
Preparing for my 10-hour commitment, I set my moisturizer, shea butter and laptop on the corner of the mahogany dining room table. As daylight faded into darkness, I sat, parting my freshly washed hair into square sections and attaching the synthetic hair to the roots of my natural hair like my late aunt Holly taught me. My hands followed the rhythm I had grasped when I taught myself to braid my own hair in the bathroom mirror after countless futile attempts. Years ago, I would have nestled between my mother’s knees as she pulled the comb painfully through the tightly coiled hair on my tender scalp and wove the parted hair into firm cornrows. I used to replicate her method, used to force the comb through my thick hair. After discovering finger-combing, a more delicate way to detangle my hair, I stopped using combs.
All I need now is my hands.
I weave stories in the same practiced pattern with which my mother and my aunt and my grandmother wove hair before me. My characters swirl like ethereal butterflies in my mind, in my sketchbooks. Clasping my pen, I bring them to life as I make them speak, make them move from panel to panel, make them real. Seeing them and the way I embrace braiding extensions, it might be difficult to believe that I once took myself and my blackness for granted, braided my hair as a chore and drew girls I could never be. From literature, from cartoons and graphic novels, from YouTube videos, I have learned to accept myself. I now know it is okay to be scared, be sad, be grieving. It is okay to cry when I find stories with characters who are black like me or gay like me or quiet like me. I know my own stories matter.
I have discovered the magic in having hair that reaches toward the heavens of its own accord, the freedom in letting my hair be and not wishing for it to be any different. Whether I style my hair in cornrows or twists, or leave it in a spherical halo around my head, I know it is beautiful and it is growing.
I am growing.
My comic book still needs to be penciled and inked, but the plot line is complete. It was there, whispering within the coils of my hair, waiting to be made visible. My hands hold my history, and they will weave my future slowly, but surely, one narrative at a time. In braiding my stories and bringing them into the world, I have nothing to fear.
Tulani Reeves-Miller is a senior at River Ridge High School who loves rainy days, webcomics and the color purple. She is 18 years old.
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