Jasmine Hill-Beauty Shop Bonds

 Rosanell Caldwell

For PPS Customer Service Representative Jasmine Hill, a trip to the beauty shop is more than self-care and pampering. It’s a connection with strong women of all ages who have guided and supported her all her life. That link began with her grandmother, Rosanell Caldwell, when Jasmine was a little girl. Rosanell was a licensed cosmetologist, but she didn’t spend her career in a shop. She had plenty of business right at home caring for the hair of her seven kids and 23 grandchildren. In fact, those one-on-one times with her grandma, getting styled, are some of Jasmine’s fondest memories of Rosanell. “It’s a memory I miss,” she said. “There was nothing like getting a press and curl from my grandmother. I enjoyed the conversations and the time spent with her.”

Rosanell stayed especially busy at holidays such as Easter, getting everyone ready, and she had a way of finding time to make each person feel special.

“She was everything every one of us needed differently. She was all about family,” reminisced Jasmine. Rosanell passed three years ago. “I wish I could sit in her kitchen chair and get my hair done again,” she said.

As a high school student, Jasmine transitioned to Patricia Robinson’s shop at the Ritz Hotel where Jasmine and her girlfriends went every other week, hung out together and did their homework while waiting for their turn in the chair. The care and styles for African American hair can be time consuming, from a couple of hours every two weeks to four or five hours for some braids. It means a lot of time in the shop with other women, and in Miss Pat’s place, Jasmine and her friends got a lot of advice and knowledge from women who were regulars there. It was the same atmosphere at Arniece Hollowell’s shop where Jasmine went after Miss Pat’s retirement.

“It just felt like home,” said Jasmine. “Those were some special times.”

A visit to Niece’s shop could include everything from food to a lesson in sewing. Jasmine’s bond with Niece was particularly strong, and she credits Niece with giving her self-confidence when she was a teenager.

That type of bonding and teaching are ingrained in the history of Black beauty shops, and have, over the course of the past 100 years, played a critical role in financial independence for Black women and civil rights activism. Women like Madam CJ Walker and Marjorie Stewart Joyner educated thousands of women in the care of African American hair and established a system that gave Black women one of the few opportunities they had for owning their own business in the early 20th century. Walker and Joyner transformed their professional connections to political ones, putting beauty shops and their owners at the forefront of civil rights work. While hair styling was going on in the front of the shops, voter registration and march planning were taking place in the back. It was a safe and effective place to organize during the Jim Crow Era.  Profits from shops help to pay for the rental of buses for marches in Washington, DC and for helping to keep historically Black colleges afloat during lean times. It’s a part of history that Jasmine is very aware of.

“The beauty shop is a special place in the Black community. It holds so much value,” she said.

Cosmetologists are held in high esteem, and everyone knows who they are, even if you don’t go to their shop. Of Miss Pat and Niece, Jasmine said, “Both of these ladies are celebrated and known throughout our community.”

Even though they’ve retired, they’ve passed the torch to other cosmetologists such as Jasmine’s current stylist, Michelle McClure, who owns Signature Styles. Michelle has been practicing for 31 years, and she’s sharing and teaching in the spirit of her ancestors.

“I’ve always been exposed to it; my aunt and great aunt were hairs dressers,” said Michelle.

            Michelle McClure

One of the things that makes Michelle most proud is watching her clients grow and then becoming their children’s beautician. And Jasmine is getting the same kind of nurturing from Michelle that she’s gotten from the other stylists in her life. She says Michelle is everything from a counselor to a preacher, or even a comedian. At Michelle’s, hair care comes with a side order of current events, counseling, and fun, and for Jasmine, it’s the same kind of safe space that Black women have been finding at the beauty shop for decades. “Everyone there is taking care of you in some way,” she said.

Jasmine has been a Customer Service Representative at Paducah Power System for 3 ½ years.