The word "book" doesn't quite capture what St. Clair Detrick-Jules has spent the last four years trying to complete.
Think of it more as a letter - a long love letter to a girl who once hated a part of herself.
Detrick-Jules, a Washington, D.C. native, was 22 when her father called from France, where he and her stepmom were raising their three children. He told her that her 4-year-old sister, Khloe, had been bullied for her Afro and didn't want to go back to school. Classmates had called her hair ugly, and she believed them.
"That was really heartbreaking for me," Detrick-Jules recalls when we talk on a recent afternoon. "I was angry and upset."
Hearing about her sister made her start thinking about the ways her own experiences at a predominantly White elementary school in D.C. mirrored Khloe's. They had grown up in different countries and at different times, but she, too, had classmates who made comments about her hair. She, too, had looked in the mirror and wished her face was framed with straight, silky strands.
In third grade, she learned from a friend that she could use a flat iron to singe her hair into submission, and she did that for every formal event for the next 12 years. Prom. Senior picture day. Graduation. There she was on each of those milestones, with noticeably straight hair and hidden burn marks on her neck and ears.
She didn't want that for Khloe.
She didn't want her to have to wait until college to start valuing herself, all of herself.
She could have called her sister, given her a pep talk and done nothing more. Instead, she taught herself photography and started calling Black friends who wore their hair natural. Then, when she ran out of contacts, she reached out to women she saw on the street and on Instagram.
Eventually, she had talked to 101 Black women and asked them the same thing: Would they share their stories for a book she was writing for Khloe?
And 101 Black women had given the same reply: Yes.
I'd LOVE to!
I would be honored to hold a space in that beautiful book.
I normally have an hourly rate for modeling, but I think this is such a sweet idea that I just want to be a part of it.
In recent years, much has been said about Black hair, and yet not enough has been said about Black hair. The stories of young people who have been humiliated and punished for their braids and locs and Afros show that.
Just last year, DeAndre Arnold, a Texas high school student, was told he couldn't participate in his graduation ceremony unless he cut his long locs. And in North Carolina, Nicole Pyles had to cut her hair in the middle of a softball game to keep playing.
Before them, there were other examples (too many to fit in this column). There was an 11-year-old girl, who according to news reports, was forced to leave class because the administrators at her school decided her braided hair extensions violated the rules. A cellphone video shows her crying as she packed up her belongings. In another incident caught on tape, a 6-year-old boy showed up ready for the first day of school and was turned away because of his locs.
"Can I braid it up in a ponytail?" the boy can be heard asking from the parking lot on the recording.
A movement to ban hair discrimination in schools and workplaces has caused a growing number of states, including Maryland and Virginia, to pass the CROWN Act or similar legislation. There is also a push to get a law passed at the federal level.
On Thursday, in the nation's capital, a mural was unveiled to promote the CROWN Act, which stands for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. It features five women with different hairstyles against a bright pink backdrop.
In 2021, we shouldn't have to waste time passing laws and creating murals to get people to not discriminate against others for their hair - their natural hair - but here we are.
Many of the women who agreed to participate in Detrick-Jules's book describe their own struggles with accepting their hair, and convincing others around them to do the same. One woman recalls her mom holding her down to forcibly put a relaxer onto her scalp and hair. Another describes her classmates ripping off her ponytail holder so they could see her "nappy" hair and make fun of her.
One woman details what happened on the one day she didn't have time to straighten her hair before school: She wasn't allowed to go to her classes, and her mother was called because teachers had complained that her hair was a distraction.
"I didn't really start loving my hair until five years ago when I moved to Washington, DC," she says in the book. "It has a completely different demographic than other places I've been, and you see women with the biggest hair here."
A mom in the book talks about not wanting her daughter to experience what she went through using relaxers - the inability to go swimming, sweat or stand in the rain without feeling paranoid.
"I always call it the prison of our hair, and I didn't want my daughter to be imprisoned the way I was," she says. "I didn't want her to have that life. I wanted her to be free. And it makes me cry because I just think of all the strife my hair caused me when it was relaxed, and I wonder, What would my life have been like at twenty if I had just loved my hair?"
Within the book, some of the women wrote direct notes to Khloe.
"Dear Khloe" begins one. "I've been in your shoes."
"Dear Khloe," begins another. "You are beautiful. The hair that comes out of your head naturally is worthy enough, and you are worthy enough to take care of it."
The longest "Dear Khloe" note comes from Detrick-Jules. In it, she writes that they may have different mothers but they are connected through their Black father.
"When Dad called to tell me you were ashamed of your Afro, I became furious at the world for making you feel this way," she writes. "Some people say that change must be gradual, that Black girls with natural hair must be patient as the media slowly but surely begins giving us a hint of representation here and there. But I don't believe in gradual change. So I took matters into my own hands . . . I want to teach you how to love yourself by loving myself, by introducing you to other Black women who love themselves."
The book, which is titled "My Beautiful Black Hair," won't be published until September. But Detrick-Jules says when she showed Khloe an early copy, her now 8-year-old sister gasped at each page and said, "Wow! She's so pretty!"
She also asked if she could do her hair in the same style as one of the women in the book.