A trip to the barber with her 3-year-old son was a harsh wakeup call for Ama Yawson about the way society viewed coily hair. During Jojo's other two visits to have his hair cut, the barber had shaved all of his coils off. On the third visit, she asked the barber not to shave it because she wanted to let his hair grow.
"The barber started from the middle of his head and shaved him practically bald," Yawson recalls, still angry over the experience. "I said 'What are you doing? That's not what I asked for?'" The barber, a black man, told her it was the best haircut for him because "his hair isn't pretty." He used the n-word to describe her son and his hair.
"I was really taken aback," she said "I sat down in a state of shock and sadness. I was feeling sick about the state of black self love. Accepting ourselves is also accepting the kinky hair on our head."
Yawson channeled her anger and pain into a book called "Sunne's Gift," a book she hopes will shield her son, and other children, from all manifestations of racism.
"A long time ago, I heard someone say that all pain should be turned into art in order to make pain beautiful," she said. "But how was I going to make it art? I'm a critical writer, not an artist."
She prayed, and "God gave me 'Sunne's Gift."
Sunne's Gift is a modern fable that honors afro-textured hair while teaching lessons of self love and celebrating diversity in all of its forms. The book is about a magical creature named Sunne. God imbues Sunne with the power of the sun and for that reason Sunne's skin is a sun-darkened red shade and Sunne's hair grows out in spirally twists towards the sun. Sunne has the power to make the sun rise and set. God also imbues Sunne's siblings with other powers.
But Sunne, is the only one with kinky, spirally, twisty natural afro-textured hair. One day, her siblings tease Sunne about having different hair. Sunne does not want to be different so Sunne takes a stick and attempts to beat the kinks out of Sunne's own hair. When Sunne beats the last spiral out, the world changes for the worse and the children have to figure out how to fix the problem.
"The book is a metaphor for racial diversity," Yawson said. "The goal is to let people know all of us are necessary. The world needs you to be you."
The book has a guide for parents and teachers and Yawson hopes to make it accessible to teachers so they can start using the book in discussions about teasing and bullying. To that end, the unillustrated PDF of the story is completely free! All people who donate to this campaign, regardless of amount, get it automatically. It is also available for free by emailing email@example.com. You can even email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll send it to you myself.
Yawson would like to bring the story to life through illustration and printing of physical books on environmentally friendly paper (forest stewardship council certified paper). She is launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise $10,000 to print and illustrate the book and to pay for outreach to schools. So far, she has raised over half the money.
Yawson has traveled her own natural hair journey, getting her first perm when she was three.
"I had a huge big beautiful afro before I got a perm," Yawson said. "People used to gawk at me.
Even though she went to an all-black school, she said she was teased because of her darker skin and her hair, which had been so damaged by perms that it stopped growing.
"I felt like I had been cursed," she said.
When she went away to a white boarding school at 13, she stopped perming her hair. She left with braids in September and by December, she had a huge, gorgeous 'fro.
She told her mother "The curse is over."
Even though she had experienced her own hair trauma, she said she didn't expect her two sons to face the same beauty issues.
"But unfortunately, that’s wasn’t the case," Yawson said.
With 'Sunne's Gift," she hopes to inspire all children to embrace their unique qualities rather than fight them.
To donate you can go to Yawson's Kickstarter campaign