This feature is part of Blavity’s Quarantine Creators series which spotlights Black creatives offering artistic, educational and uplifting resources amid the coronavirus pandemic. Our unique penchant for creativity has been put on full display as we aim to navigate this crisis. Whether you’re on the frontlines or protecting yourself and others by staying at home, don’t sleep on this Black genius we’re about to serve you.
Detroit hairstylist Niani Barracks has a digital cure for Black girls who don’t know how to braid.
The "A Safe Space for Black Girls that Never Learned How to Braid" course was originally designed to be an in-person class for parents who want to learn how to style their children’s hair. However, like many other events, Barracks had to cancel due to the 'rona.
“With the spreading of COVID-19, the schools closed down and I knew that working in the salon was not going to be a possibility for me anymore because I have two children,” she told Blavity. “This was a major loss of income for me, and anxiety began kicking in. I needed to come up with something fast while still doing something that I love, so I thought ‘why not teach the class online?'”
The stylist knew there is a stigma against Black women who can’t braid hair, so she was determined to create a judgment-free zone. Eventually, “A Safe Space for Black Girls that Never Learned How to Braid” was born.
“The idea of a ‘safe space’ is a very well-known concept and a place where people can go without being judged or hurt,” Barracks explained. “In coming up with the name, I thought about the fact that many Black women may feel shame or embarrassment for not knowing how to braid, so I wanted to offer them a place they could come where they could learn.”
Barracks created a private Facebook group and began livestreaming within the space. She was admittedly nervous about the first session, but those jitters disappeared after she spotted some familiar faces.
“I only had about 30 registered students, and I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I was nervous because I have never done anything like this before. Once I started the live video and saw that some of the students were friends and clients, it helped build my confidence and eased my nerves.”
The number soon ballooned to 500 students throughout multiple time zones. Ironically, Barracks’ digital classes are more hands-on than her in-person classes. Her students excitedly share their work in the group and interact with each other. Barracks’ classes aren’t solely for skills — they filled a hole in the community.
“I have a lot of students who are mothers who wanted to share the experience of doing their child’s hair. It’s a special bond, and so many women yearned for this connection,” the mother-of-two said.
“I have moms who said their children were almost grown but if they could pick up this skill and still have the chance to experience that connection with their child they would be forever grateful,” she added.
What started as a means to keep Barracks’ family afloat became a passion project. She still plans to teach classes in Detroit, but the virtual braiding group isn’t going anywhere.
“Connecting with these women all of the world has been a life-changing experience for me. I want to continue to offer this space and continue to watch, not only the space grow, but my students grow,” Barracks told Blavity.
The classes meet twice a week on Thursday nights at 9 p.m. EST and 1 p.m. EST on Saturdays. Check out Barracks’ website if you want to sign up or support the movement.