Braids | University of Southern California Undergraduate Application Essay

Picture me: the morose toddler, hands balled into fists as my mother pulled a wide-toothed comb through my full, coarse hair. Tears stung my eyes but I did not cry even when my mother held a ball of knotted hair in her palm, a triumphant grunt escaping her lips. Afterwards, I would lie still on my bed, transfixed by the orange and crimson lights behind my closed eyelids as my scalp continued to tingle.

I hated my hair. Each characteristic- from its Afro texture to its thickness- promised a burdensome future. My mother’s attempts to improve its appearance merely worsened my sentiments. However, I enjoyed a brief reprieve during the occasional visits to the local hairdresser. I would watch as Nneoma, the woman with the enchanted fingers, transformed my nest of hair into a breathtaking sight. Nneoma called this magic various names: suku, two-step, patewo. However, I was unable to attribute my improved esteem to the intricacies of any particular woven hairstyle. There and then, I determined to impart the same sense of joy and beauty to other young girls in my community.

African hair braiding is a skill that I chose to learn for both its practical and communal value. When I weave the hair of a Honduran friend into suku, for…

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