A friend of mine from Ghana told me when he first arrived in the United States, a white person told him not to get involved with black people because they are trouble and dangerous. I felt sick when he shared that with me. It sparked a challenge in me that we as African and African Americans (AA) need to hold space to build a relationship, friendship, and community to love and care for each other. I’m so grateful I've experienced this happening right here in Grand Rapids. It’s happening at my local salon.
My friend and colleague, Laura Pritchard, works as a Resonate Missionary in Liberia. She's the first African American missionary to serve in Resonate. She has paved the way for these cross-cultural relationships and conversations. She’s done many youth and adult cross-cultural mission trips from Grand Rapids to Liberia over the years. Laura knows one of the owners of this salon and turned me on to it.
I arrived at the salon for my hair braiding appointment and immediately felt the warmth and hospitality, seeing smiles on everyone's face. Visiting the salon gave me a similar feeling of coming to a family member's home. I was greeted by my hairdresser who specializes in hair braiding and I quickly perceived a strong sense of community. I saw a vision of vibrant colors, deep oranges, reds, and greens from the clothes and other traditional African items that were also for sale in the salon.
After sitting down in the chair, conversation began as we shared ways in which our cultures are similar and different. A common thread we share is a deep value of caring for our community and not just caring for ourselves. As my braids were woven together (sometimes by two women at the same time), each one felt like love pouring into my soul.
As the braiding continued, we made more connections within our communal cultures. Energy, laughter, and fun multiplied as we shared anecdotes about similar behaviors, foods, and ways we see the world out of the lens of beauty, giftedness, intelligence, and talent. Then the conversation pivoted to a deeper understanding of our histories and our shared stories.
I believe it's important for Africans to have a sound understanding of American history as it pertains to prejudice, white supremacy, and the dangers of the lack of African American/Black history. In North America, Africans are automatically put into the box of black bodies (and not seen as Africans with a distinct culture, language, and accent).
In the US, you are judged by the color of your skin, not your pedigree. As a black person in America, there’s automatically a negative perception of being dangerous to the community, untrustworthy, and not valued, as if you don’t have resources or gifts to share with the world.
It’s also important to learn how to maneuver through spaces and places as an AA in the US. Cross learning and understanding of African and African American cultures is vital to establishing our identity. And I found that at my local salon. I ended my hair braiding time with a sense of gratefulness for expanding my community and friendship. I look forward to my next appointment with my new friends.
I want to thank Laura Pritchard for introducing me to this salon and its unique space for sharing and caring. If you would like to read more about her ministry of bridging African American and African cross-cultural experiences, check out her ministry page.