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Yielle Spotlight: Alopecia Awareness Story

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This past year, I found myself engrossed in a heartfelt conversation with my mother's cousin, Angela, affectionately known to me as "Cousin Angie."

Our roots run deep in a family of strong black women and men hailing from the American South, a heritage we cherish despite the distances that often separate us.
During our conversation, Cousin Angie unveiled something deeply personal. She opened up to me about her journey with Alopecia and explained that it was finally time to leave the fear and shame behind.

Despite growing up in different times and under different roofs, our lives intersected through a shared experience – the scrutiny our hair endured under the weight of cultural and societal norms. From the pages of African American history to the glare of contemporary media, the discourse surrounding the hair of black girls and women has evolved. Even recently, Jada Pinkett Smith’s willingness to discuss her Alopecia journey in combination with the incident at the Oscar’s, serve as poignant reminders of the complexities and sensitivities woven into the narrative of black women’s experience with their hair. 

 

While there’s nothing wrong with working a wig, her reasons for wearing one had everything to do with what everyone else would think or say. On the phone, there was something stirring and regal about hearing that she was ready to do what brought her happiness and peace within herself: strut her bald head. Her forthcoming birthday would mark this enormous new step into her own freedom and self-love.

I was HYPED and moved with a wave of pride and compassion for the significance of the decision and action to make this change in her life. This revelation got all my wheels turning, leading to a proposition that would take the celebration of this milestone just a step further – a photoshoot to share her empowering story with the world. Angie embraced the idea with warmth, and after months of waiting and planning, the day of the photoshoot finally arrived.

 

Alopecia Awareness

Chéri Yielle & Angela Travers Berry

Shot & Edited by Linx Anderson, Make up by Tia Stephenson

My amazing Cousin Angie,  a dedicated elementary school teacher in Philadelphia, decided to gift her classroom with a powerful lesson:transparent communication.  She introduced her young students to the world of Alopecia and, for the first time, unveiled her bald head. Through sharing her own truth, she created a safe haven of empathy and understanding that transcended the typical idea of learning, which is all too often minimized to academic subjects while sacrificing genuine guidance in social and emotional development in the classroom. Recognizing the potential for confusion among her young charges, she proactively engaged parents and school staff. 

During our conversation, it moved me deeply to hear about how school administration, parents, and the little kids in Cousin Angie’s classroom stood in solidarity with her. By learning the science Alopecia from their teacher who also let them touch her head, the children became her “ambassadors” and boldly stood up for her against middle schoolers making fun. If you see the interview, I couldn’t help but cry as this piece of the story filled me with pride to be related to such an exceptional teacher who prioritized humanity over textbooks.

In life, it is often our struggles that mold who we are inside. Our secrets shape a person within us that can be so difficult to share with others until we are fully ready to face our truth.

 Cousin Angie bore a secret for decades, fearing relentless teasing should she expose her condition. 

It’s captivating to hear about the various stages of the journey, from revealing her truth to her family, friends, co-workers, students, and now, the world. When she speaks, it’s giving grace, sincerity, and complete and utter Black Girl Magic. 

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Watching the interview, one can’t help but indulge in the unmistakable aura of a proud Black woman who has wholeheartedly embraced her authentic self.

Alopecia Awareness Month invites all of us to educate ourselves and remember to be empathetic human beings. It’s true that you never know what the next person is going through, and we can miss opportunities to be make the world great when we don’t look beyond the surface. Skin and scalp conditions are great examples of the silent suffering that can be so easily left ignored, but can be treated with cruelty and judgement when noticed and misunderstood. In life, don’t we  all find ourselves going through things that make us hide or shrink? Don’t we live some of our time in fear that exposing the truth to others would lead to more pain? Let Cousin Angie’s journey serve as an enduring source of inspiration as we celebrate self-love, resilience, and the beauty of embracing our true selves.

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