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Organization forms natural hair community in Boston

Bridgit Brown | 1/8/2014, 11:16 a.m.
When Rica Elysee decided to go natural in 2006, she said it was a "daunting" experience at first, but thanks ...
Dr. Yolanda Lenzy, a dermatologist and cosmetologist, speaks at an event held by Boston’s Natural Hair Meetup. The organization brings together natural hair care enthusiasts. Photos courtesy of Boston’s Natural Hair Meetup

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Photos courtesy of Boston’s Natural Hair Meetup

an attendee at a recent events displays her natural hair style.

When Rica Elysee decided to go natural in 2006, she said it was a “daunting” experience at first, but thanks to a community of “naturals” and the upward trend of YouTubers vlogging about natural hair, she survived it. Now she manages the popular Boston’s Natural Hair Meetup, which has 525 members whom she calls her “naturalistas.”

Back in August she became the leading facilitator of the Meetup and has since focused on solving some of the common dilemmas that group members face.

“Many want to learn about how to treat natural hair when they come to the meetings,” she said. “They ask me what I’m doing with my hair or what I wash it with. They say, ‘How can I grow my hair?’ ‘What are some styles that I can try?’ At first, it occurred to me that it was difficult to answer their questions without an expert in the room.”

Elysee began reaching out to natural hair care enthusiasts, such as stylists, doctors, and even natural hair product providers. She changed the goal of the Meetup to one that aims to educate women, men and children about natural hair through community engagement and impact projects.

“When you go to the hair stylist as a natural-haired woman and they say they don’t deal with virgin hair, that’s an experience that most of the women in the group have encountered. Some of them have gone natural because they have children and they want to be a positive image of beauty for them. Then there are people who wanted something different, like hair with no chemicals.”

The meetings take place monthly at UMass Boston. Local hair stylists have presented workshops on how to twist and braid-out natural hair. Dr. Yolanda Lenzy, a board certified dermatologist and licensed cosmetologist and hair loss expert, has led a discussion on alopecia and dandruff to members of the Meetup. Its next workshop takes place Jan. 11 at UMass Boston. It will also host an event called “Naturally Informed” on Jan. 19 at Q’s Salon and Spa in Boston. During February vacation week, the Meetup will offer several Mommy and Me events, including collaboration with the Black Doll Museum in Mansfield.

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Photos courtesy of Boston’s Natural Hair Meetup

Boston’s Natural Hair Meetup members attend an organization event to hear about topics related to natural hair care and styling.

Elysee says another goal of the Meetup is to support local businesses that want to work with natural hair care consumers but have had difficulty reaching this tight and close-knit community. “Magazine and newspaper ads help, but they don’t reach the overall demographic, so this Meetup offers a new way to reach out to us,” she adds.

Elysee has been able to gain corporate sponsors who provide discounts on their products to the group’s membership. She praises the Meetup platform for making it possible to allow people to meet face-to-face. “That’s the difference between Meetup and Facebook,” she said. “All the interactions on Meetup are about getting out and meeting people, not necessarily about just liking someone or something. I think that Meetup is also a good tool for someone moving to a new city. It gives you that avenue of being able to possibly meet people with the same interests. Many of our members came from other cities and have been able to find a community of their own particular interests here in Boston through the platform.”

Boston’s Natural Hair Meetup has 26 possible meetings scheduled for the coming year, and membership is free. For more information visit http://www.meetup.com/BostonNaturals/