116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Sharlonda Roorda’s adoptive mother didn’t know what to do with her hair. On this point, she and I shared a common experience — our voluminous, bouncy coils were beyond the scope of competency our white mothers had the ability to offer. While many of my earliest memories are dedicated to the hours spent crying into my sleeve as my hair was raked through, root to tip and thrown into a haphazard frizzy pony, Shar’s mother went on a mission to find someone to teach her how to do Black hair.
Iowa, along with the rest of the nation, is seeing a growing number of transracial adoptions: over a quarter of adopted children are people of color being adopted into white families. Transracial adoptions present even more challenges than intraracial adoptions; there are important aspects of culture, care, and identity that come into play, and that left neglected, can cause severe mistrust, isolation, anxiety, self-loathing and identity crises among children.
How to approach transracial adoption with intention and mindfulness is critical to the well-being of the child. Because of Shar’s experience, she has created a curriculum designed to support transracial families with Black adopted children to address one component: the care of Black hair.
“The family I grew up in was all Caucasian. I remember lots of trips to Waterloo from Cedar Falls to meet with people and try different salons. In the 80s and early 90s there was a lot of tension between Cedar Falls and Waterloo, and it was difficult for my mom to go find people open to talking to her.”
Her determined mother continued seeking information and instruction, eventually locating a salon owner who taught her how to care for her child’s tresses. Shar’s experience was so positive that it became the catalyst for her own career path.
“I loved the experience, the culture of the salon, having access to representation — that was the only place I got any of that. I just loved being there. It felt like home. Growing up I did everybody’s hair — so after high school I continued with a cosmetology license and started working right away.”
While she was excited to be earning a living following her passion, Shar realized that there was still a lack of access to information for white parents seeking to learn about Black hair in a hands-on and instructor-led setting.
“Unfortunately, I noticed that not much has changed since I was little as far as resources and opportunities when it comes to finding someone well versed in that area.”
Did they teach you about Black hair in cosmetology school?
“Absolutely nothing. There are about 13 cosmetology schools in Iowa and 2 barber colleges. In all of those places, only one was actively teaching any of this info in Iowa and they were purchased (by another company.) It’s this multifaceted problem — the colleges don't have much oversight. I have talked to board members and they don't have any standards for textured hair.”
Have you worked with any of the schools here to help address the lack of information?
“One college in Iowa asked me to come in and help with education, but when I expected to be paid they stopped talking to me. I asked them what they were already teaching so that I could help fill in gaps, and they didn't even have a mannequin with textured hair. It's weird — these colleges are just allowed to omit one whole group of people from their education system, but the license still covers the services. I don’t think that would be acceptable in any other profession.”
In 2020. Shar began creating her own classes — specifically designed to help white parents learn to care for Black hair.
“One of the goals of Puffy Hair is to come alongside folks who have been deprived of resources and education and lift them up. To give them encouragement they have been lacking, and help them and children to embrace their hair and culture and celebrate that with them.”
She entered a pitch competition at the West Des Moines Black and Brown Business Summit in 2022, and was awarded a cash prize to grow the project.
“After everything that has happened since … I am having to redo my goals, because I'm already reaching my dreams very quickly. I need new goals because this is growing up in a good way — faster than I thought it would!”
Shar’s ‘Puffy Hair’ classes have grown into opportunities with the Cedar Valley Angels (a nonprofit supporting foster parents and families), the Iowa Department of Human Services, teaching at a barber college, and conversations with additional child and family focused nonprofits to expand the program. She has also written a book that she incorporates into the classes designed to allow children to see themselves and their hair journey represented in print. This can be especially important in an area where most of the people they encounter every day don’t look like them, where beauty standards are not based on their natural characteristics, and for children whose immediate family members and caretakers do not share their lived experience as a person of color.
“I have some upcoming book signings and a fun event planned at the Cedar Falls and Waterloo libraries. I did another event in Burlington. It’s been an amazing experience — I didn't know people would connect with it as much as they have. I wanted the book to be a tool for classes with kids present, and so many people have reached out and said this meant a lot to my kids. Not a lot of books are available with that experience.”
If you or someone you know might benefit from one on one Puffy Hair classes, signups for detangling, stretching, product knowledge and more are live on this website: www.vagaro.com/buzzed/services
Sofia DeMartino is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org