Manual club helps students of color struggling with self identity


Isabella Bonilla

Hair care is a huge, versatile market that can help you further express your identity and culture.

Isabella Bonilla

Roots by Definition is one of the many original, unique student-led clubs here at duPont Manual, founded by Jessica Carney-Perks (12, J+C) during her sophomore year. The club focuses on how to care for and embrace your natural hair, with emphasis on creating a safe space for students to bond and connect over this aspect of their identity. 

Carney-Perks had been getting relaxers since she was only eight year old, having been told by a beautician that her hair was “too nappy to be cute” and creating the notion that her hair could only be pretty straight. She decided to transition back to her natural hair after receiving a chemical scar across the front of her hairline. It was around this time that she began asking her friends with natural hair for remedies to her hair woes. 

Carney-Perks recognized that others faced similar struggles and there wasn’t yet a space at Manual for conversations like this. Hair is more complex and diverse than what meets the eye, pertaining to both health and identity. Her past experiences and great determination led her to want to create this space for others, empowering students to get healthier and be proud of who they are.

That spring, Roots by Definition was born. 

Meetings cover a variety of hair aspects, from density to porosity. Students participate in lessons about healthy hair treatments and swap tips and tricks they’ve learned over the years. Club product reviews are also popular, where members all try the same product and then come together to discuss the pros and cons. 

“…we have had hands-on activities where each member was able to take the hair porosity test, take fun Kahoot quizzes on lessons taught at the meeting and even test out products from our product swaps,” Destiny Williams (12, YPAS) said. 

Williams suggests a deep conditioning of your hair weekly for optimal hair health, while Logan Bibby (12,HSU) encourages the use of more natural products and oils.  

“My favorite oil is definitely Jamacian black castor oil, it locks in moisture and is great for my hair,” Bibby said, “It takes time and care to get your hair to a healthy state!” 

In past meetings, the club has also brought in guest speakers who specialize in hair care, teaching members different braiding techniques and introducing potentially beneficial products. 

Carney-Perks and other senior members of the club explain how hair is a cornerstone of Black history and culture. Black hair was deemed too “nappy” or “dreaded” by early Europeans, which led to further amplify negative stereotypes and encourage demonizing systems of slavery and segregation. Even today, many Black men and women alike feel uncomfortable with their natural hair due to these lingering stereotypes.

“Black women often have their hair policed and told that natural curls are unprofessional and unkempt to diminish our identities,” Bibby said.

Roots by Definition was founded on the principles of inclusivity and empowerment, with a seat at the table for everyone, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Carney-Perks emphasizes that struggling with self identity is something anyone can face. 

So far, the club has succeeded in bringing students together to bond, feel appreciated and express themselves in ways they may not have felt like they were able to before.

“I am one of the few members in my family who is natural, so it was important for me to have a group of peers that I was able to discuss the rewards and challenges of having natural hair,” Williams said, “I believe the impact at Manual was creating another outlet for POC (people of color) to bond and feel empowered with members of our communities, something we aren’t typically exposed to in our classroom.” 

“I want it to be a safe space for those who want to begin their natural hair journey and a place for people to build friendships,” Bibby said.

Typically the club would meet afterschool on Tuesdays in Room 253 but has since moved to meet during Student Enrichment Crimson Hour for NTI. Students should look for the google meet link under Ms. Palmer’s name in the Crimson Hour spreadsheet.