When my friend and mentor Ryan Jor El told me he has something he wants me to blog, but he couldn’t tell me what it was, I immediately said “yes”.
Now I wouldn’t go in blindly to a situation for just anyone, but I trust Ryan. His input and support have helped me build my brand, so I knew this would be something big.
I honestly thought he was announcing a sequel to his ‘Fashion & Fatherhood’ book, or expanding his line of pocket squares.
I don’t think anyone anticipated what was about to transpire.
Guests were intrigued by the addition of a barber chair to his living room.
Perhaps he developed a new hair care product?
Maybe he’s helping launch the career of a barber friend.
But I had a feeling. I cornered him and asked “Are you cutting your hair off??”
His eyes darted to the side. And he turned away from me as he confirmed my suspicions.
I was stunned.
I watched as thirty or so of his closest friends and family filtered in.
Only a few had figured out what was happening.
Ryan announced to us all that after fourteen years of growing his locs it was time for a change.
He invited those closest to him because he needed our support.
“I would cancel a hair appointment but I’d never cancel a party” he told us.
In his true ‘Go big or go home’, over the top fashion, Ryan threw a party for his hair.
Although this was his ‘big day’, the room was filled with talent from various arenas. From photographers to graphic designers, chefs to project managers, party planners to event hosts, and even a guy who operates his own mobile phone charging stations!
Of course he surrounds himself with creative minds. And we came together to be his support team.
We watched our friend completely consumed with emotion. Struggling with his decision. Almost hoping we would try and stop him.
His wife Cashmere has never seen him without his signature dreadlocks. She stayed close through the process, stepping in when she sensed his wavering.
His three year old daughter Peyton couldn’t quite understand her fathers announcement and was full of questions.
“What’s daddy doing?”
“Does it hurt?”
And ultimately offering her own words of support.
“Daddy now your hair will look like mine.”
There was a collective gasp as Ty, his longtime loctitian, snipped the first strand.
He sank lower and lower into the chair. His once strong build seemed to crumple before us. And although he assured his daughter it wouldn’t hurt, it was in fact hurting him inside.
India Arie famously sang “I am not my hair”.
But are we, in fact, defined by our hair?
The ancient Greeks considered long hair on men as an ornate sign of power.
Native Americans believe long locks can contain certain sensory abilities. Much like the whiskers in a cat, hair can serve as a sixth sense.
And of course no one can forget Samson. The biblical Superhero who’s powers were tied to his hair.
Would our friend lose his powers as well?
This was one of Ryan’s biggest concerns. The brand he has built is associated with his long locs. And he questions whether it will suffer due to the change.
But one by one we each shared what strengths we see in him.
Upon first meeting him I didn’t notice his hair. It was his beaming smile and his ability to talk to you as if you’re the most important person in the room.
A former colleague from his corporate America days remembers his professionalism and confidence.
Fellow fraternity brothers recall the flack they endured when Ryan refused to cut his hair upon joining. They supported him then and they’re supporting him now.
Ty Nelson was shocked when her longtime client told her he’s cutting his hair after fourteen years.
She cried because she was so attached to her client and didn’t want to see her work undone.
As she and his barber Tavares Green finished up, he slowly realized perhaps his strength really doesn’t lie in his locs and his demeanor changed. The strength he had all along began to resurface. And he sat up straight, steadfast in his decision.
He saw, as did India Arie, ‘Its not what’s on your head, it’s what’s underneath.’
He didn’t want to see it until the end. So the reveal was surprise to him.
Then Ryan, being Ryan, fell in love with himself all over again.
He’s still adjusting to his new look. He can put on a shirt without moving his hair. And it’s cold without hair! And he will continue to notice little things day after day until he’s content. And life without locs will be his new norm.
I was honored to be a part of my friends emotional journey. And even though I’ll joke with him about it I realize how hard it was.
Why do we put so much stock in our locks? Why do they hold so much power?
Will the mysteries of our hair ever be Unlocked?
*** I’ve used both LOCS and LOCKS interchangeably throughout this blog. It was intentional. Locs when referring specifically to Ryan’s hair and Locks when referring to hair in general.