Nine years ago, Tamekia Swint noticed an uptick in the number of black children adopted by non-black families. The realization prompted her to start a nonprofit organization that teaches parents how to care for their children's hair.
Today, Swint serves as the executive director of Styles 4 Kidz in Oak Park. The organization offers paid classes and workshops for parents on how to wash, comb, braid, and style their black children's hair.
Prices for onsite services, such as parental classes and hair treatment for kids, run between $40 and $150. And appointments can be made online at styles4kidz.org. Swint said most clients are white but some are from other ethnic backgrounds too.
"I saw the need for this kind of service as more whites and other non-black families adopted black children," said Swint, who is married with a 4-year-old son. "A big misconception a lot of blacks have about whites adopting black children is that they don't care about these kids and that's just not true."
She added that besides onsite classes for parents, the organization also volunteers their services at various group homes.
"We'll go there and give them haircuts and braid hair. You would be amazed how much self-confidence these children gain once their hair is looking good," said Swint. "Seeing the smiles on their faces when we leave is a wonderful feeling."
Austin Weekly News recently visited Styles 4 Kidz at 20 W. Lake St. and on that day Laura Basi brought her twin 3-year-old son and daughter there for hair treatment. Her son Steven got his hair washed, cut and twisted, while her daughter Carnia got her hair braided.
"I want to learn how to care for my children's hair and this is the best place for me to learn how to do that. I live in Batavia where there's not any place I can take them for hair care," explained Basi, 39. "Adopting these two has been a positive experience for my family. We adopted them when they were five days old."
Basi added that since the adoption she has formed friendships with other black mothers to get better educated about blacks.
"I know soon it will be time to send them to school and that is something my husband and I are discussing now," said Basi, who also has two biological children at home. "I know there are things I won't be able to relate to when it comes to blacks and that's why I am learning as much as I can, from as many people as I can."
A lot of children who come to the organization often have gone without hair treatment for a while, and Lyneshia Franco, a stylist at the organization, said it could sometimes be challenging to service them.
"If a kid has gone three, four or more weeks without any treatment like a haircut the child may be resistant and start crying and moving around a lot to get free," explained Franco, one of six employees. "But after while I am able to get the kid to relax and let me make them look even more beautiful. Candy, toys and putting a cartoon on TV helps, too."
Swint insist that all children, including those who are disabled or mentally challenged, are welcomed to styles.
"We don't turn any child away," said Swint, who lives in Aurora. "I have always been passionate about doing hair. Doing hair started out as a side hustle for me to help pay for college at the University of Illinois. I was able to turn that hustle into a career and I love it."
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