Catricia Tilford thought she could wait years before she would have to sit her daughter down and have a talk about loving her curly hair.
She was wrong.
Sage was just in preschool when she returned home one day and told her mother she wanted “white straight hair like the girls at school.”
“I had to sit her down and tell her that your hair is your crown,” says Tilford, a pediatrician at Children’s Mercy who identifies as Afro-Latina. “It became very important for me to make sure that I was surrounding my daughter with other persons who look like us who can continue to affirm who she was.”
And that’s why Tilford makes it a point to bring her daughter for five years in a row now to the KC Curly photo shoot, exposing her to more Black women and appreciating the vast spectrum of styles and textures of natural hair. This year’s event was Saturday beneath the Liberty Memorial Tower outside the National WWI Museum and Memorial.
Tilford, originally from Nashville, has had her own love-hate relationship with her naturally curly hair.
“It started way back in childhood,” says Tilford. “In school, not having a lot of people that look like me made me feel outside the normal standard of beauty, so that impacted my self-esteem for a while.”
In high school, she decided to go completely natural — no straightening — and saw how classmates would comment or joke about her hair.
As the years went on, Tilford embraced her natural style, as Sage, now 6, does too.
On Saturday, rain and lightning shortened the KC Curly event, but Sage didn’t mind the weather.
“My favorite part was when the rain started and I got to run around and chase the other kids before we take our pictures,” says Sage. “I felt happy when people were clapping for the girls who were walking up the steps with their moms to join the big group for the picture.”
Aside from the washing and combing process, Sage loves her hair and telling people all about it.
“My hair looks pretty and I like it because it is shiny and I like it when it is very long,” she says. “This was how it was made.”
Christa Rice, a Kansas City artist and social worker, created KC Curly in 2015 to build connections among Black women of all ages. They come dressed to impress, pose for professional photographers, walk a runway and participate in giveaways sponsored by local Black-owned businesses. Each year brings a new color theme for their outfits; this time the women all wore orange in celebration of fall.
“We as a generation did not grow up embracing our natural hair and were always made to feel like our hair was somehow unprofessional or not attractive,” says Rice. “It is about uplifting us as women and instilling that self-esteem at an early age. “
At the event, held annually on the third Saturday of September, children like Sage run around, play and make new friends as the several volunteer photographers take photos.
“It makes me feel very good because I like getting to take my picture with all the ladies and little girls,” said Sage, who helped photographers by blowing bubbles in the background of photos.
Brooke Johnson is the white adoptive mother of 8-year-old Riley, who is biracial. Johnson realized she needed to venture out of Overland Park to a space where her daughter could see how natural and ethnic hair can be the norm.
“I was told by a friend there was this event about natural hair for women and girls of color,” says Johnson. “I am all about trying to surround my daughter with people who look like her because representation matters.”
She and Riley have attended KC Curly the past two years.
“My favorite part about the event is that it’s about hair and fashion and that everyone there looks like me and their hair and styles are all unique and beautiful,” says Riley. “I like the attention I get from wearing and modeling my hair at this event.”
Through Johnson’s encouragement, Riley loves her hair.
“My hair is beautiful and I love choosing different styles and being fashionable,” she says. “There really isn’t anything I dislike about my hair. I learned from this event that everyone can have their own style and still be beautiful.”