Student Fills Void of Black Hair Care Products for Kids in Foster Care, Peers

Good News Notes:

When Ashlé Hall arrived from bustling Philadelphia to the small town of Titusville, Pennsylvania, to study physical therapy at Pitt-Titusville, she admits it was a bit like landing on the moon. While there were other Black students on campus, the town with its population of 5,200 was not very diverse.

‘It was immediate culture shock. The only place to hang out was at the Wal-Mart,’ said Hall, who had just graduated from the predominantly Black West Catholic Preparatory High School. And, much to her dismay, the store did not carry any Black hair or skin products.

She became reliant on weekly care packages shipped from her mother back in Philly, containing the familiar jars of creamy butters and oils Hall needed for her hair. Soon her female classmates were also asking for products and more boxes arrived. Hall began to mix and experiment with some of the ingredients, amid her busy life of classes, studying, and duties as president of the Black Student Union and a residence assistant.

Two years later, Hall had transferred to the main Pitt campus and had switched her major to social work, inspired by a summer job as camp counselor at the Sarah Heinz House—an organization that provides afterschool and summer programs for kids up to 12 years old.

‘Some of the kids were in foster care. They really opened up to me and told me their stories. It was then I thought, “I want to do more to help,”’ she said.

As a participant in the School of Social Work’s Child Welfare Education for Baccalaureates (CWEB) program, Hall had committed to one year of post-graduation employment as a caseworker at Allegheny County’s Office of Children, Youth and Families (CYF). Helping to place dozens of Black children with white foster families, Hall began to notice a pattern. It wasn’t unusual, as she was leaving the home, for the parent to call out, ‘Wait, what do I do about their hair?’

Hall began to offer the moms tips on braiding and caring for Black hair. She recommended products and made an instructional video. Visiting foster homes every 30 days, she saw her suggestions take hold. And, on the side, she began creating her own line of all natural ingredient hair care products.

‘In the Black community, sitting on the front porch and getting your hair braided is part of growing up,’ said Hall, adding that the state of a child’s natural hair has everything to do with self-esteem and ties to their culture. ‘Proper education on caring for Black hair will allow foster parents to develop that parent-child bond that supersedes a trip to the salon,’ she said.”

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