Kharys Fowlkes, whose go-to style is a high puff, describes her hair as big, beautiful, and thick.
But the 14-year-old admits to being tender-headed and vividly recalls a time when her mother approached her with a proposition: get a relaxer to help make combing her tightly coiled hair more manageable.
Despite not fully understanding how to style her own hair at the time (she was only about 6, 7 or 8), Kharys innately knew she didn’t want to alter the natural state of her tresses. “[My mom] kept asking me when I was younger, and I was like no, I want to keep it natural,” Kharys says.
And she prevailed. To this day, Kharys remains relaxer-free.
That same spirit of natural hair advocacy led the rising ninth-grader and her close friend and fellow naturalista, Aubrey Jordan-Yarbrough, along with two other Black girls, on a mission.
The teens belong to Girl Scout Troop 18575. Aubrey, also 14, says the DeKalb County, Georgia-based troop recently received the Girl Scout Silver Award, which is the highest award a Cadette can receive. The award for the 50-hour community service project requires Girl Scouts to focus on an issue they care about and encourage others to take action to create long-lasting change.
Amid the pandemic, the four-member troop spent their downtime educating their respective communities and peers about the beautiful, textured layers of natural hair and the deep-rooted policing and discrimination that Black women and girls face at school and work.
The then Cadettes (now Seniors) wrote letters to Georgia lawmakers and interviewed several women from various professional backgrounds about navigating corporate America with natural hair for their video series “I Am More Than My Crown.” They also created a public service announcement, urged others to sign the petition to end natural hair discrimination, and used social media platforms to promote the beauty of afros, twist-outs, braids, and other protective styles.
While efforts to combat these prejudices are far and wide, natural hair discrimination is only legit illegal in 13 states, including Nevada, Virginia, and California. Lawmakers like Georgia Representative Kim Schofield, who first introduced Georgia’s version of the CROWN Act in 2019, says hair discrimination must stop, and young people must use their power to make natural hair and the CROWN Act too relevant to be ignored. “The voice that young girls and young boys have in the space of natural hair is the relevancy of their heritage and the right to be who they are created to be,” she says.
Aubrey cosigns this, saying Black girls are born with certain hair textures for a reason, and no one should be judged because of it. “[Hair discrimination] should be illegal because it’s just plain ol’ discrimination; it’s just wrong. I mean, you can’t change something that you were born with,” she says. “There’s no reason for [anyone] to be even bothered by it.”
Keep doing you and rock your curls, coils, and kinks with confidence is Kharys’s advice. “Just dig into it, just start exploring it, you never know what you might like.”
Like that time she first felt her own hair was the dopest ever. “I wore it out in an Afro,” Kharys says. “And I was just like, wow. Like I’ve never seen my hair like this … And I was like, that’s my hair? Like, wow.”
Amen to that.
Main Photo: Courtesy of Girl Scout Troop 18575