By: Azhelle Wade, VP of Brand & Product, Creative Kids & The Toy Coach, Creator of the Podcast, Making It in The Toy Industry
Many people lately have been asking me how they can help the black community, how they can become anti-racist, and essentially how to be more compassionate people.
And to me, I believe that it all starts with understanding our journey.
So, I wanted to share a part of my journey with you. It revolves around a huge moment in my career when I landed a career-changing interview.
I remember how excited I was getting off the phone with that recruiter, how I couldn’t believe I got this break. I couldn’t believe that they actually looked beyond my complicated hard-to-say-name and they saw my experience…my drive and my love for the industry.
Well honestly, I don’t know if they saw all that, it could’ve just been an algorithm that moved my resume to the top, but the point was, I got the call, and I landed the interview.
And a week before this career-changing interview, I remember calling my mom with a very important question. Instead of laboring over my portfolio, instead of perfecting my talking points, I called my mom and immediately asked. “Should I get a weave?”
The bad part? She didn’t say no.
And the worst part? I agreed.
Ok so if you don’t know what a weave is, it’s essentially a wig. At least the way I wore them it was. Back then, when I wore weaves, I wore them full. A full head weave meant that my afro hair was all braided up and sewn down beneath a “gorgeous” flowing mane of virgin Remy hair that would set me back at least $300. The fake hair was usually pin-straight and at least 3xs longer than my own with NO texture or color similarities to what grew out of my own head.
I got off the phone with my mom and while she’d left the choice up to me, I’d pretty much decided. Yep, I want to put my best foot forward. I don’t want anything, not even potential stereotyping to stand between me and my dream job.
Then, I called my sister.
And she let me HAVE IT. She asked me point blank, “Would you really want to work somewhere that wouldn’t hire you if you came in with your natural hair or twists?” and she was right.
At that time, I had just begun to accept the texture of my black hair. And while I hadn’t been wearing it out as a glorious afro…I had been learning to twist my hair in such a way that it almost mimicked dreads. And I loved it. But I was aware that not everyone, especially not those in corporate America might agree.
So, despite what society had been telling me since I was little…despite all those “long, beautiful, hair!” commercials I used to see and mimic as a child, despite the fear of showing my blackness when I knew I could hide between the ignorance of people not knowing if my weave was real or fake because my skin was so light that perhaps I were mixed…despite ALL that…
I went to that interview in fresh twists.
I tied them up in a sleek ponytail and put on my favorite blue interview dress. And as I left my apartment, I thought I had made a huge mistake.
Two weeks later…I got the job. I was in awe. My confidence in humanity soared and you know what? I’ve been wearing twists ever since! I wear brown twists, black twists, pink twists, purple twists, blue twists…and it all stems from that one moment where I was shown that it was ok to just be me, to just be black.
But what’s important to this story, is for you to understand the journey of how I got there. How I found the strength to love my hair enough to walk into that interview with what might essentially be seen as dreads. And that most probably would not be a good thing. Well…
Before I found the confidence to wear those twists to a job interview.
Before I got that job offer.
Before I really loved my hair, I wrote about it. I wrote and performed a poem at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City. And it was my first slam poetry performance in my entire life. That performance scared the life out of me, but the audience loved it. It resonated with them. Their commentary and applause inspired me and set me on the path that eventually led me to wear dread like twists to a job interview.
Now this poem, that I’m about to share with you, fully embodies my personal struggle with accepting and loving my hair, not only at home but in public.
When you listen, it’s important to pay attention to the words. You have to understand that this acceptance of our own hair is a psychological battle that many black women have gone through or will go through, in addition to everything else to be expected in life.
So, if you are wondering how you can help support the black community?
I would like to encourage you to listen to our stories. And you can start with this one.
Try to put yourselves in our shoes, try to understand and empathize. And I hope that the next time you see a confident black man or a black woman with a successful career, that you’ll understand just a little bit more of what it took for them to get there. And I hope that with that understanding, will come a little extra respect.
Azhelle Wade aka The Toy Coach, is a branding and product, development executive in toys. She is a 2020 Wonder Woman Rising Star finalist, a 3x patented inventor, and host of the podcast Making It in The Toy Industry.