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Local Women Who Are Workin’ It: Megan Yasu Davis

This essay/profile has as much to do with a location as it does the woman I’m writing about. As a rising female community leader, Mrs. Davis is still working within the limits of Toledo, Ohio, an interesting city that is worth closer inspection from an outsider’s perspective.

Toledo, Ohio is never too far outside of the Forbes list of “America’s Most Miserable Cities.” In fact, last year it was number eight, but its citizens can take solace in knowing that things will never get Gary or Detroit-miserable. About an hour south of The Motor City, Toledo is a rusted over populace of startling contradictions. Sure, in 2010, it was rated fourth in the nation for the sex-trafficking of women and children. What with its close proximity to Canada and access to railways and highways, Toledo must now contend with modern day slavery. But on a lighter note, its zoo has been named best in the US for 2014. It’s a damn fine zoo, but visitors can’t help but pause to wonder: Really? Here? 
The “Great Lakesy” culture of Toledo is thick with Polish sausage audacity, Gadsden flags, and diabetes. And still, hidden beneath the unrefinement, there is a international known art museum that houses priceless works by Van Gogh. And one cannot forget its ballet company that has existed for least 75 years.
 
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Toledo, along with the rest of Ohio, is largely ignored until it’s needed for the outcome of a presidential election. Every four years, the city is pulled into the national spotlight, like poor Baby Jessica being pulled out of a well. All eyes are on the struggling metropolis while candidates make a show of rolling their shirts sleeves to the elbow and making stump speeches about how they promise to keep a better eye on feeble Toledo.
But Toledo isn’t feeble. In fact, it’s a hard-headed city born of ruckus. The Toledo War of 1835 was fought over this scrap of supposedly miserable land. Apparently Michigan and Ohio had a poor understanding of land boundaries and the strip of “Black Swamp” was very desirable because of its fertile soil and burgeoning canal/railway connections. The “war” lasted for a year and was almost entirely bloodless, with the exception of a Monroe Country sheriff who was stabbed in the leg with a pen knife. He lived, making The Toledo War a shoving match on a playground between two petulant territories. The squabble was eventually settled by then recess attendant, President Andrew Jackson.
Since it was decided by Jackson, that the land belonged to Ohio, Toledo has continued to be scrappy. Even during the Great Depression, Toledo managed to remain afloat with public works projects that kept people employed and building things. During the World War II and many decades after, Toledo was home to Jeep production, spark plugs, and Libbey Glass. In short, Toledo has always had something to keep it going. That fight still exists in the people who have not yet fled the “Glass City.”
In 2010, I was trying to figure out where I fit in the Northwest Ohio landscape. My husband and I moved to Sylvania, the suburb that was fought over in the Toledo War, and I saw very few blacks. In truth, Sylvania is one the whitest parts of Toledo, most likely due to the white flight from the urban parts of the city. I felt stuck and alienated while working on this blog, back when it revolved around black hair care. It was a lonesome time when it felt like there were no black women around to talk hair or to share where the local beauty supply stores were. But in true Toledo fashion, the unexpected contradiction happened: The Northwest Ohio Natural Hair Expo was coming to town. Actually, it was being created in town by the intrepid Megan Yasu Davis.
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I met Megan a week or so before participating at the Expo and saw Toledo grassroots organization at work. Davis, a formally trained hair stylist, practicing natural hair care since the nineties. She, herself, wears her hair in stylish dread locks that can be coiffed in every imaginable style. In 2007, just as black women began abandoning chemical straighteners, Megan created The Kitchen Salon with the purpose of “educating individuals on becoming their own DIY expert so that they may embrace their texture and wear their natural with confidence.”
The “kitchen salon” is nothing new to black culture, as it was born of self-sustenance and community. If one couldn’t afford trips to the salon, they took to their own kitchen to heat up a hot comb. A little black girl could count on her mother or a trusted beautician on their block to have a stove and skill with a magic wand (that sometimes stung). Now that we live in a digital age of democratic DIY, The Kitchen Salon takes it’s place in the myriad of YouTube video tutorials and blogs, as a way for black women to regain power over their image and identity.
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Four years after the first natural hair expo, I contacted Megan, curious to know what had changed since we first met. As it turns out, quite a bit has changed for her. While she’s changed the name of the expo to the Ohio Natural Hair: Health & Beauty Expo, the participation and attendance has steadily grown through advertisement, local vendors and word of mouth. Davis has opened this space for the underrepresented part of Toledo that is still vivacious and recreating itself. The expo, which now caters to black families from the tri-state area, highlights small businesses that come supplied with flyers, giveaway products and free tutorials. In one convention center, black owned businesses are exposed to hours of foot traffic that they might not otherwise receive.
The Health & Beauty part of the Expo is very important to Megan these days, making her the Toledo Annie Turnbo Malone. Acting as a chemist in her own kitchen, she’s also created her own line of skin and hair care products. It started out of necessity because one of her children suffered from eczema and store bought skin treatments weren’t helping. She discovered she had to get in the kitchen and create the solution herself. With natural ingredients like Shea butter and coconut oil, she started a line of products that just about anyone can use.
I asked her the usual softball question: How do you do it all? I half expected to hear a softball answer because even as a child I’ve known that black women have always balanced motherhood, homemaking and working. It can be a precarious juggling act, but somehow it gets done. Megan let me know:
Balancing family with being a Mommypreneur isn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. Because the events I host or attend are mostly family-friendly, I luck out most of the time. There are moments when I definitely need time to myself to research, learn, and plan. But if I don’t get that time, I just keep going and doing the best that I can. With my product line, I have taught my children some of the basics so they can help to make the product we use at home. In regard to the Expo, it takes a lot of planning, but having a template in place, since we have done it before, helps a lot. In all things that I do, my husband is my biggest supporter. He has encouraged me to start this business and he has helped me to manage many aspects of it.
 
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Megan works to help women in her community and I wanted her opinion on what black women needed more of. Her response was: self confidence!

Because of history, slavery, media and social expectations, women are burdened by performing against all odds. They are keeping up appearances for the sake of being accepted by others with little focus on self acceptance. Black Women use natural hair and beauty websites, meetup groups and events to be inspired, motivated, and celebrated. The gathering of people builds bonds between women that help to boost their confidence and self esteem.

When I asked her about how her business works within the settings of Toledo, she admitted that she could have gone to another city to set up her expo, somewhere like Columbus. But she recognized that there was a need for a black presence and identity for Toledo. There are festivals devoted to other ethnic groups that draw large numbers of supporters, Megan is helping to fill the void for the black community.

Being in Toledo makes my work a constant process of development and growth. We don’t have a large community of culturally marketed businesses (Black Owned Businesses) as in other cities like Cleveland, Columbus, or Cincinnati. In Toledo, you will not find a lot of businesses like Black Bookstores or record stores, but we do have a lot of churches, restaurants and salons.

If Megan Davis is anything like the city she works in, she too will have staying power. It’s not often that we hear about the local black women who work to build up a community that everyone calls depressed or miserable. People tend to forget that that kind of grassroots work still exist, remixing and re-branding a city into something new. Megan’s work to educate other women on their health and beauty is a form of activism in itself. It’s a kind of impassioned organic fight that Toledo has been known for.

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Interview with Lorraine Massey: The Original Curly Girl



Phoning a Curl Guru

It’s 8 in the morning when my cellphone alarm goes off. I roll out of bed in an old baggy t-shirt to talk to Lorraine Massey: author of two books, owner of four New York City salon/spas, a prominent leader in the Curly Girl Revolution. I know our discussion will take place over the phone but I should at least put some pants on.

I wait almost an hour. Sitting on the couch, I glance at the time and pray I don’t sound like a bumbling idiot to this woman. While I wait, I read more about her career. A career that sent her to the far east to style hair. I remember working in Bangkok as an English teacher a few years ago but can’t imagine styling hair there. Hob-nobbing with the fashion elite and being the Michelangelo of their collective tresses. . .

I dial the Skype. The pleasantries ensue. I thank her for speaking to me and ask if she wants me to talk about the blog or if she wants to get right to it. She gets right to it.

Lorraine: I’m glad you’re doing this. This is special. We’re still a grassroots movement. . . But women are getting ready. Little by little. I think if you’ve finished my book and you’re still hesitant, you don’t really want to go there. . . yet. The information is out there, you just have to research. If you’re still complaining  in 2011 that ‘my hair is blah blah,’ well then you’ve chosen your path. There’s information out there if you want it.

I like her. A lot. Her frankness is refreshing so early in the morning and sets the tone for the rest if our conversation.
Me: It seems like the Curly Girl’s Revolution is here, like you said, it’s grassroots. People are getting on YouTube or making their own blogs. It’s more democratic now.

 

Exactly.

“So what do you think took women so long to say: ‘Hey, this is okay, I like this hair?’

Well because there’s more of us! It’s freedom! It raining today and I call it Freedom Rain. I’m not afraid to get my hair yet. I think it’s just an accumulation that started with a few women standing up for themselves. It’s not easy to do, though, standing up for yourself.

Yesterday, I had this gorgeous women come in. She’s a model actress. She had the most intense gorgeous curly hair. And she tells me, ‘You know, they’re telling me that my hair just isn’t good for TV.’ It’s so old! It’s old news already, this hating your hair. I told her, ‘Babe, you’re beautiful. You have to stand up and tell them, this is the way I am.’ I mean, if I straightened that hair, she’d look like she was wearing a helmet! I told her to stand up for her curls. Maybe you’ll lose a few jobs, but with you standing up for yourself, you’re telling more people to respect you for you.

Lorraine goes on to say that women feel depressed about their hair and ask for a quick straightening fix. That “depression,” Lorraine maintains, will stay there with you, waiting for you until the next day, after the straightener has worn off. Hair, she reminds us, is just a symptom of a greater problem.

People don’t like it, but I’m like a Yorkshire Terrier. I will go there. I will tell you how you’re damaging yourself. If you want me to straighten it, you have to go somewhere else. There is no amount of money that will make me feel good about blow frying.

So as a hairdresser, you’ve still got your ethics about you?

[Laughs] There is still a soul! I have a soul and I do keep it authentic. Every single day I get behind that chair I cannot sell out. I would rather you be pissed off at me because I’m not going to do your hair. . . rather me scorch it ‘til it’s parched and crispy.

I have to say that’s more ethics than most doctors offer.

The thing is, it comes at a price. I’m not well liked in the industry. It’s better to have a handful of hardcore curly girls than a bunch of clones. I get women who say, ‘I just want something different.’ I tell them, ‘Trust me, my curls can look five different ways in one day. I’ve never had the same hair day in my life.’ Change for the better, not to look like everyone else. If you’re going to look like everyone else, who’s going to look like you?

Ah-hah Moment

Lorraine’s says her “moment of clarity” happen in the middle of working on a client’s hair. She describes it as the catalyst that made her quit the industry.

I quit hairdressing for a while. I quit working by their standards. The blow frying and stuff. I call it glorified laundry. I shampooed hair until it was all stripped and dried out and then I would have to iron it. It’s enough to give you Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

One day, I was blow-frying this woman’s hair until it smoked. I was just taking all the life out of it. I stopped and told her, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I can’t be responsible for burning your hair like this. It’s going to take me forty-five minutes to blow-fry it, but it’s going to take two minutes to unravel once you hit the streets.’ Because it was really humid and rainy outside.

So she asked, ‘Well, what about the other side?’ [Laughs] Because I hadn’t finished! So I had someone else take over. I told her that I knew it meant losing her as a client. ‘But do know this, I will be here when you’re ready to really look at what you have.’

I lost quite a few clients but I was ready to. I had to gather the ones that were ready to accept themselves. Instead of hairdressing their hair, I decided it was time for me to undress their hair.

I went out on my own and I opened Devachan, a beautiful tranquil place. Through word of mouth, people were saying things like: “No, she works with what you have. She doesn’t straighten or shampoo.’

It was just a handful that turned into two handfuls and now it’s big. But it took a long time, Babe. It’s been about sixteen years of one curly girl telling another curly girl.

Going Rogue


Lorraine’s voice dips to a conspirator’s whisper as she tells me, You should know that I have a bad reputation in the hair world.

I laugh, incredulous to what she says. She mentioned it earlier in the interview and I didn’t pick up on it. What? Why?

Her tone is now unapologetic. I go against  what the manufacturers tell you to want. Buy the shampoo, buy the heat tools. Everyone is worried I’ll take away their business with my honesty. They’re scared to lose business by teaching a curly girl to love her hair as opposed to the “weekly/weakly” blowouts. There is big money to be had in keeping a curly girl in denial. We keep the hair industry in business.

Hating to beat the “doctor” metaphor horse, I had to tell her, Well now it sounds like you’re the rogue doctor who says, ‘I’m not going to prescribe these pills to you. If you’re sick, you need to diet and exercise.”

Well yeah, and sometimes I have to give a placebo. A client will come in and say, ‘I don’t like this bit right here, can you help?’ So I pretend to cut it off and they’re all: ‘I love it! It beautiful!’ I didn’t do anything but present them with their natural hair and they’re happier with it. As far as doctoring goes, a lot of it is psychology.

Curls Transcend Race

In Lorraine’s book Curly Girl: The Handbook, she covers curls from all over the world. Botticelli Curls to Fractal Curls, your curl type is covered. In the current Natural climate, black women are starting to really finding themselves. They are getting to the “root” of their hair insecurities and accepting themselves. It’s common to believe that a Black curly girl has a vastly different journey than the White or the Latina curly girls. Lorraine illustrates that it’s all the same hurt.

When I sat down to read your book, I was just so surprised how similar your journey was to the average Black woman’s. The whole draping a sweatshirt over your head to mimic long swinging straight hair. . . that’s the childhood desire of many young Black girls.

Exactly. Thank you. But I was met with suspicion when I tried to interview some Black women [for the book]. Some told me ‘You don’t know me or what I’ve gone through.’ I had to tell them, ‘I might have a different curl type then you, but I have the same fears and desires.’ I hated my hair for the same reasons. Feeling not good enough can be a universal feeling.”

More Tips for Curly Girls


You give your clients autonomy over their bodies. You help them and send them out into the world to help themselves. You ever worry about being out of a job eventually?

Lorraine is not worried. A terrible hair cut at the age of fifteen, at the hands of a hairdresser, pushed her to learn how to cut her own hair.
What I do it teach women to take care of themselves when no one else will do it. I’ll always be there teaching the next curly girl.

She has plenty of tips for those willing to put in the time to change their lifestyle to a more holistic one. Since she included so many natural hair and skin remedies in her book Curly Girl: The Handbook, I ask her what her favorite natural ingredient was.

I love ginger. It’s great for everything. You can make a tincture from it for your face, or dab it on a cotton ball for a makeup remover. You can run it through your hair. Plus you can freeze it and bring it back later. It’s a natural thermogenic plant that just warms the body up. People don’t think about it sort of stuff enough. We don’t pamper ourselves with good things nearly enough.

All right, so what’s the biggest mistake a curly girl can make?

Lorraine’s tone is tired.
100% Shampoo. It’s something we’ve been doing since we were kids, every other day or whatever. We have this belief that we must wash ourselves frequently and with these detergents and sulfates. It’s like, no wonder your hair is dry and frizzy. Duh. What have you been dehydrating it in? On top of that, these shampooers want to flat iron it. Obviously, making it even drier.

Some of the ingredients in shampoo can be comparable to stuff that’s under my kitchen sink.

Exactly. You may have paid a lot for your products, maybe that has a nice fragrance, but the ingredients are all the same and your hair really pays the price. It’s the same with relaxers. ‘Oh no, this relaxer is safer and nicer than this one.’ No! It’s all the same junk!

Everyone wants a magic potion, Babe. But I keep telling them YOU’RE the magic potion. We have to make sound decisions for ourselves by doing the research. We have to be our own advocates.

Laughing to Keep from Crying

Lorraine proves not to be such a taskmaster. She’s as lighthearted as she is genuine.
Every once in awhile, you have to be able to laugh about this sort of stuff. The business of hair can be serious enough.

She recalls telling a client, You know, your flat iron is actually a panini press for bread and cheese?!

Lorraine also recounts her worst fears come true with her own daughter. “My daughter doesn’t straighten her hair. She knows that would be almost sacrilegious, right? (her daughter is in the background laughing) But I did find one flatiron in her bedroom.

[Gasp] What?!

Yeah, well I called her out of her room later that day and asked: ‘What are this?’ Like I had found drugs in her backpack. Of course, she says, ‘It’s not mine!’

I’m holding on to them for a friend?

Right, right. Her friend actually squealed on her though. ‘Yeah, she uses them.’ But I have to say that she hasn’t done that since. She actually encourages her friends against it and stays true to herself. I mean she and my other kids really live it.

I always joke, after my memorial service, they’ll all decide: ‘Oh, now that mom’s gone, what will we do with our hair first? Blow-fry it or shampoo?’

Over your dead body?

Exactly.

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Foodie Feature: Raven

Today we’re featuring a foodie who is living abroad! Her name is Raven Chelanee and she’s the owner of CookEatDelicious.com. She had this to say about her fabulous website:

“Growing up in San Francisco Bay Area, I have been introduced to some very delicious food. Now that I live in Central Mexico with my husband, finding a diversity of food is difficult. So, since I love to eat, I have taken on the challenge of cooking delicious meals at home. Although I am an amateur cook, food has become my passion. Follow me, my recipes, & photos in my culinary adventure at CookEatDelicious.com”
 
These are the kinds of cooks Evelyn and I dig. I’m not a great cook, but I do like to give it a go occasionally and I checked out Raven’s site—her recipes are definitely doable. These are sophisticated dishes that aren’t intimidating.  Thank you for including tons of photos, Raven, I need to know what stuff looks like the whole way through! 
Here’s one vegetarian dish that Raven shared with us:
 

Fettuccine & Lentil Sauce

 

I love Pasta. I could die after eating any pasta with any sauce. It is almost an addiction. Sometimes I just stand in front of the open fridge eating cold pasta leftovers…I know…shameful. But, when you’re eating pasta as good as this, it isn’t that bad, right?
This is a very delicious pasta recipe that just happens to be vegetarian & vegan too. I wanted more protein and fiber in some of my meatless dishes so I decided to sneak in some lentils in this easy recipe. It isn’t really sneaking in lentils if they are the star of the show but you know what I mean!
Rating:  Yummy Yummy time right here! Easy to cook and delicious to eat. The lentils add such a depth of flavor in the sauce that I haven’t had in even the meatiest tomato sauce. If you are truly a pasta lover you will find this dish gone before you know it! Add in parsley while the sauce is simmering for an extra spice and flavor.

Fettuccine & Lentil Sauce
Serves 4
Ingredients

1 cup lentils, rinsed
2 carrots, julienned
5 celery stalks, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (8 oz) can tomato paste
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 package fettuccine noodles
Parsley for garnish
Boil a large pot of salted water. Add in lentils, carrots, and celery. Cook over low heat for 45 minutes. Reserving 2 cups of cooking liquid, drain lentil mixture. Toss lentil mixture with 1 tbsp of olive oil. In blender, puree half of the lentil mixture. In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add in garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add in tomato paste and stir for 2 minutes. Add in reserved cooking liquid and lentil puree and combine well. Stir in remaining lentil mixture and season with salt & pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer. Cook fettuccine noodles and drain. Top noodles with sauce on individual serving dishes and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.
  • Boil a large pot of salted water.
  • Add in lentils, carrots, and celery.
  • Cook over low heat for 45 minutes.
  • Reserving 2 cups of cooking liquid, drain lentil mixture.

     

  • In blender, puree half of the lentil mixture.
  • In a large pan, heat remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat.
  • Add in garlic and cook for 1 minute.

     

  • Add in tomato paste and stir for 2 minutes.
  • Add in reserved cooking liquid and lentil puree and combine well.

     

  • Stir in remaining lentil mixture and season with salt & pepper to taste.
  • Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer.
  • Cook fettuccine noodles and drain.
  • Top noodles with sauce on individual serving dishes and garnish with parsley.
  • Serve immediately.

     

Delicious!


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Urban Bush Babes Interview

Nikisha and Cipriana of Urban Bush Babes have kept me on the edge of my vintage fashion seat these days with their cool quirky fashion sense. I love how they combine several decades of styles together into an effortless hipster look. If you haven’t had the chance to check them out, I suggest you do that after you read my interview with co-creator Nikisha.

Nikisha

 1. What piece of clothing or accessory did you HAVE to have when you were a kid? (I had to have LA Gear sneakers with purple laces, of course)

The LA Gears were a must have for me too! I also had to have the jelly sandals 🙂
2. What lady (or gent) is your fashion icon, someone who you aspire to be? If you could transcend space and time to meet up with them, where would you take them shopping?

This was a hard question to answer because I honestly have never had a style icon. But I do draw my inspiration from people like the Olsen twins, Bob Marley, Zoe Kravitz, and Kurt Cobain. I prefer clothes from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. Although I have been leaning more towards 90s grunge lately and love the looks from Kurt Cobain and Zoe Kravitz.
Bob and Nik

Now as for taking the Olsen’s and Zoe Kravitz shopping I would actually let them take me shopping…lol, because I am sure they can do more damage in this area and can show me many many cool vintage and thrift shops to go to 🙂 And as for Bob Marley and Kurt Cobain, I would take them to all the thrift stores I go to in New York.
Zoe Kravitz
 3. What’s the most jacked up outfit you’ve ever worn? Do you have pictures? 
This is a tough one because I have worn a lot of jacked up outfits, especially when I was younger. I remember owning a red velvet outfit complete with top and bell bottoms, so horrendous!!! Thank God I don’t have pictures of that!!!
Mary Kate Olsen
4. How necessary are unnecessary scarves?

Scarves aren’t necessary for me unless its cold outside and I need one to go around my neck

So there you have it, fashion from the point of view of Nikisha from Urban Bush Babes. I must say that I’m a tad disappointed that there aren’t any photos of this red velvet pantsuit. Was it crushed velvet? We’ll never know. . . I’ll end this piece with another darling photo of Nikisha workin’ it.
Nik rockin’ Pink Floyd