Standing in the lobby of the Umoja Black Heritage Program Conference I saw a young girl that I had seen earlier in the day. Now her walk was different. Confidence shot from her like a light in to a pitch dark room. The only thing that had physically changed was her hair.
Umoja Black Heritage Program sponsors a yearly heritage camp. The camp is a three day conference that brings transracial adoptive families together to learn about black culture. The kids spend the three days playing and learning about their culture. What I think was most important for these children was the exposure to children like them. For three days they got to play with other black kids that had white parents. Their everyday abnormal was normal for three days.
Part of the challenge of being a transracial adoptee is that you are different times two. You are different because you are adopted and you are different because your skin tone screams you are different. For three days these differences made no difference.
In those same three days parents got to relax and not have to deal with the looks they usually get when they travel as a family to the grocery store or the drug store, or the gas station or the mall. They got to exhale for three days and just exist.
I had the privilege of attending the camp to share my story but my story was overshadowed by tiny, young, Nigerian women who styles hair. She set up shop in the corner of the lobby and she braided head after head over the three days. Although she only worked on the outside she changed child after child on the inside.
The founders of the conference, Julie Ryno and Bola Delano-Oriaran(Auntie Bola) arranged for the stylist to come in and be a part of the workshop. There is a big issue in transracial adoptive families with hair. Many parents just have no experience in how to style and take care of black hair. This was a priceless touch to an extraordinary weekend.
At every meal the subject of hair came up. I usually sat with a fellow adoptee, who is a black woman, and a social worker from Texas who specializes in adoptions of black and biracial children, and is also black. These two fielded question after question about the care and treatment of black hair over the ham or roast beef. The parents were thirsty for knowledge and my two friends were eager to pour.
It was a great weekend and again I learned so much. What I will remember most is the confidence of a little girl that rocketed through the vaulted wooden ceiling because her hair was braided. Never has some tiny rubber bands and the twists of two skilled hands done so much.
For more information on Umoja Black Heritage Program go to: http://www.focol.org/umoja/