Own Your Hair. Own Your Career.

Own Your Hair. Own Your Career.

Kathryn Jefferys, President, Santa Monica College

This past Saturday, Girls Gone 50 went to the Women’s Empowerment Summit Santa Monica where Kathryn Jeffery, President of Santa Monica College, spoke movingly about owning her hair and owning her choices. Here are our favorite excerpts which had us considering whether it was time to give up the bottle:

I had gray hair at age 11. It was a gift from my father. He had very, very gray hair at an early age and as he got older it just got grayer and shinier. Which looked good on him…

In fact none of my other siblings have it, I’m the only one. So I was complaining about my gray hair to my mother, I was always putting color on it, dying it and I had multiple colors but I reached the point in life when coloring my hair created so much trauma. My hair would not hold the color. The gray was resistant. Gray hair becomes more wiry so it resists any color you try to put on it. You brush it down and it won’t stay in place, it just has its own mind.

I put black dye on it one time and my hair had never been black before in my whole life, I just decided I wanted to try black hair.

I was working at Columbia College up in the Sierra foothills and I was the Vice President for Student Services. I’m walking through this rotunda which is a gathering point for this institution and one of the male students came up to me, he tapped me on the shoulder, “Excuse me! Excuse me!”

I thought he was going to ask me a question about the school, some procedural question about how to sign up for class, complain about his class, when is my financial aid coming..something like that. 

And he said, “Excuse me, is your hair blue??” And I looked at him and then I said, 

“As a matter of fact, it is.” 

The black dye had started turning blue after a few days. It had gone from this really nice deep black to this kind of dusty navy blue and I was thinking, “maybe nobody notices.” 

But someone noticed. And he punched the guy next to him and said, “See? I told you her hair was blue!”

Sometimes what you try to do and what you try to cover up just doesn’t work. You just have to be yourself. 

So a few years ago when I had completed graduate school, after all the course work and just before the commencement ceremony, I went into a room and took some scissors and just cut all of my hair off, down to about a quarter of an inch. And I had a friend with some clippers and I said, just clip it down and shape it up. And then I looked in the mirror and just burst into tears. Because I thought, “Ok, well, maybe I went too far.” 

But then when I washed my hair and the natural curl took form. It was the cutest hair cut! I really just felt so good about what I had done. But I was afraid to go home and visit my mother and have her see how I had cut my hair off. Because she had been a beautician. 

And in her line of business and especially for African-American families, you know, hair… we want it. Either ours or somebody else’s. And she had been such a dilgent, caring beautician that when she would do your hair and brush it, you never wanted to leave her chair. And here I was showing up with this short hair.

I looked at her straight on, I would never turn my head to the side. I just kept looking at her in the face. 

She looked at me at one point and she took her hand and put it on my face and moved my head to the side and saw the hair was gone. And I waited for her reaction.

And she said to me, “I can see your face.” And that’s all she said.

“Is there anything else you want to say about it?”

“No. I can see your face. Nice!”

And that was that.

So sometimes we anticipate the worst and it’s not going to be as bad as we think it’s going to be.

So that was a gift from my mother. When I step out and do something now I’m much more confident. I will do things like wear my gray hair proudly, wear it pulled back so people can see who I am. 

Who I am is a person who has had a number of opportunities. Some came more easily than others. I am a person who has benefited from the hard work and effort of folks who came before me in whatever ethnic group they were. I took advantage of everybody’s accomplishments. I didn’t just look at people who looked more like me to say I want to be like them. I looked at anybody who was doing something worthwhile. I made a decision that that was something that might work for me. And I decided to step out and try it. Now that’s a big, big challenge sometimes. 

The universe belongs to all of us. Things don’t just belong to white people, to women, to men, to African-Americans . I firmly believe that. I came to that belief because many years ago I was listening to jazz piano. The musician I had gone to watch many times, said that he was getting ready to take a trip. He was going to be gone and he didn’t know exactly when he was going to be back.

And I went up to him and said, “Wow, I hate to see you leave because I enjoy your playing so much.  Look, I’d like to know when you’re returning.” 

He says, “I’m not sure.”

“Why can’t you tell me when you’re coming back. Don’t you have a return ticket?” I asked him.

He says, “I believe that wherever you are, that’s your place. So when I travel I’m not traveling to a country or a city that is someone else’s city, I’m traveling to someplace that is now my city. It’s my place. And I leave it when I feel it’s time to leave.”

And I thought, that’s a wonderful way to look at life.

When I saw the opportunity to apply for this position at Santa Monica College, I decided I would make that position my position. When I looked at this position I thought there probably would be a lot of people competing to be the president of SMC, because that institution has a tremendous reputation. But I realized I had the skills, I am a woman of substance. I always saw the potential to do more than I was doing at that particular moment. And I claimed that job. This is my job. I told the search consultant that. And she said, “I think you would be great for this job.” And my response was, “I think you’re right.”

From that moment on, that job was mine, no other applicant had a chance.  If you really want something, just claim it, really in a deep and personal way. Make a commitment to make that thing that you aspire to achieve happen, and you’ll be surprise at the results you will have in your favor.

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