Our series A More Perfect Union aims to show that what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us. In this installment, we went to Oak Park, Illinois, to a hair salon that is helping interracial families who have difficulty styling their kids' hair.
Something as simple as braiding hair can bring communities together. CBSN correspondent Elaine Quijano went to the Chicago suburb of Oak Park to see how.
Tamekia Swint started hair salon Styles 4 Kidz nine years ago with just three clients whose hair she would style in their homes. Today, she has her own salon and has helped hundreds of families across five states. Linda Bolger and her mom, Vanessa, have been regular visitors to the salon for years. Vanessa adopted Linda when she was three years old.
"It was apparent right from the beginning that her hair was different than mine, and what I had been used to in my life up to that point," Vanessa said. "And so I knew that we needed to get some education."
"I went to a lot of salons, nobody does children's hair… the moms do it," she said. "Well, I say 'I don't have that skill, I don't have that knowledge.'"
She said being turned away when looking for help was devastating.
"I was in tears. I was literally in tears," Vanessa said. "I did not know where to turn."
Then, through a chance connection, Vanessa met Swint, who was just beginning to steer her career into a non-profit mission after realizing the lack of help there was in the African American community to help adoptive parents.
"I know the salon environment as a stylist, and how sometimes it can feel like you're being judged," Swint said. "That is why I felt honored to be part of the change into something different, that would be non-judgmental, that would be open and loving."
Thirteen years later, the conversations have gone well beyond hair care. At Styles 4 Kidz, uncomfortable questions are answered openly.
"Like, should I say black or African American? As simple as that," Vanessa said. "Because I didn't want to insult anyone, I didn't want to be insensitive to anyone."
Swint helps parents understand why some African Americans might be opposed to interracial adoptions. According to her, the main concern is whether adoptive parents are helping their children succeed as an African American person.
At Styles 4 Kidz, the parents have formed their own community, where they can share tips and help their children interact with people who look like them.
"It's so important for that child to know… I am African American. And although I grew up in a family that didn't look like me, that I am owning who I am as a person," Swint said.
Linda Bolger said she is now embracing that lesson.
"Coming here and getting my hair done makes me happier, makes me feel more confident and when I walk out I feel like I can conquer anything," she said.
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