Curly Me!’s #PURPOSE: to empower, educate, and encourage young girls of color

Story by TAESHA GOODE

Black children are walking around with matted hair, and that’s just not something Alyssha Dairsow can get behind. After moving to Utah in 2013, Dairsow noticed a startling lack of diversity compared to her hometown in southern New Jersey.

Though the little representation of Black voices surprised her, the number of young Black kids with matted curls shocked her. Mid-shopping spree at Old Navy in the Sugarhouse neighborhood of Salt Lake City, she strode up to a stranger and asked, “If there was an event for you to learn about you granddaughter’s hair, would you come to it?”

“I’m not saying Black people have it all together all the time,” Dairsow said in a Zoom interview, “but that wasn’t something I was used to seeing growing up — matted hair.”

Dairsow planned her first event to be a small seminar on hair care and maintenance at a local curly hair salon. Her second focused on hair styling. “I started to really understand that we’re not just hair,” she said. It quickly became obvious to her that what was missing wasn’t just hair salons, but a community for Black and blended families to identify with. So, she created one.

She founded her nonprofit, Curly Me!, in 2018, describing the organization as, “A resource for families with children of color, specifically Black girls between the ages of 5 and 14.” Since then, her mission has been to help Black girls find their #PURPOSE.

According to the 2019 U.S. Census, African Americans alone make up only 1.5% of Utah’s population. As for multiracial populations, about 2.6% of all Utah residents identify as being biracial, with the mixed-race Black population likely lower.

“We have TRA (transracial adoptive families), traditionally Black [two/single parent] families, biracial families.” Dairsow said. “We want to stand alongside them (parents) to make sure they understand, they don’t have to do it alone.” While Curly Me! is happy to be a resource for transracial families, the nonprofit works with diverse family makeups to be sure to establish confidence for all Black children.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, from 2017-2019, 477 of all adoptions in the state were considered transracial, meaning that the adopted child was a different race than the parents.

“My older brother was actually adopted by a white family,” said Latonya Howell, Curly Me! volunteer coordinator, in a Zoom interview. “I’ve noticed that Black children that are raised in Utah by white families, they find themselves kind of in a limbo position … because they don’t feel like they fit in with white people, but they don’t necessarily feel accepted by Black people because they don’t have that cultural connection.”

While many parents provide all they can for their children, Dairsow understands that sometimes that’s just not feasible. “I have had experiences with parents that were very combative, and I understand they love their child, but there are experiences that you won’t experience that your child may — based solely off of their skin color,” she said in a follow-up email.

Curly Me! holds four quarterly events, as well as smaller educational opportunities and programs for children and parents.

Change the World with Her is one of Curly Me!’s largest programs. The event is a speed-dating style “mini-career fair,” where kids spend six to seven minutes at a table learning about a professional and leave with information on that field to do further research.

Curly Me!’s 2020 Change the World with Her, a speed-dating event meant to connect girls with professionals of color. Curly Me! has been holding Change the World with Her once annually since 2017. Photo Courtesy of Curly Me!

Alongside Change the World with Her, Curly Me! hosts an annual back to school fashion show, parent-child slumber party, and tea party. “In a state where not a lot people drink tea, that’s always interesting,” Dairsow said. “So sometimes we just end up drinking lemonade.”

Due to the pandemic, however, they’ve had to move much of their programming online. “We did self-portraits,” Dairsow said. “We did self-care check-ins with social workers and clinicians … We were able have a parent educational event over last (2020) summer because of all the racial tension and police brutality that was going on in our country.”

For the Mitchells, a biracial family working with Curly Me!, the organization has become a great resource for helping their daughters celebrate their Blackness.

In response to the civil unrest amid last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, mother Amber Mitchell said in a phone interview, “When your kids are like, ‘Why don’t they like Black people’ or ‘Why would they do this,’ that’s a hard one to swallow because you’re like, ‘I don’t know.’ I can’t imagine that, that’s not how we were raised to think.”

Though these conversations have been hard, balancing honesty with self-love has been Mitchell’s key to making them a bit easier. Mitchell, who also works on the board at Curly Me!, has taken the time to teach her family the importance of empathy, even taking her daughters to several protests and Women’s Marches around the country.  

Mitchell’s daughter, 9-year-old Jasani, has already become an activist in her own right. Her favorite part of Curly Me! has been the ability to connect with other Black girls and share her experiences with them. “I get to see all different shades of Black little girls and learn about their unique life … and I get to compare what my is life to their life,” Jasani said in a phone interview.

Getting the opportunity to see kids like Jasani grow up has made this journey all the more special for Alyssha Dairsow. For her, a large part of Curly Me! has been supporting families in raising the next generation and making sure that the kids understand they are not alone in their experiences.

“Black girls, there’s all these obstacles stacked up against us that people don’t want to realize,” Dairsow said. “So, as a Black woman, who has experience as a Black girl, this is a resource that I can provide now to youth and their parents.”

Another part of the journey? Finding out who Alyssha is. Many of Dairsow’s post on the Curly Me! blog feature her hashtag #PURPOSE, which she uses to highlight her own struggle to find her place in the world.

“I genuinely feel that I had to come all the way across this country, fail at something I really, really wanted, stay in a place where I didn’t, and from time to time, don’t know if I really want to be, cause you’re far away from family and friends back home,” Dairsow said. “I had to come all the way out here just to find out who Alyssha was and what Alyssha could do, and then realizing we’re just touching the surface.”

As Curly Me! continues to grow in its mission to educate, empower, and encourage young girls of color, it’s important to look back at all its achieved so far. With its three-year anniversary in March 2021, the nonprofit has been able to help countless families.

Curly Me!’s impact is best viewed through the kids it has worked with, like Jasani.

She hopes that readers will remember, “Every Black girl or Black boy, comes in different colors, and they should love theirselves however they are. If they’re a little lighter than a person or darker than a person, that they should love their skin and that they all have something special inside of their skin.”