Home People Profile Bham People LaShawn Hill’s CROWNing Achievement as a Natural Hair Stylist

LaShawn Hill’s CROWNing Achievement as a Natural Hair Stylist

Recently, Hill was at the Birmingham Museum of Art (BMA) during a two-day celebration of National CROWN Day—July 3, known as “Black Hair Independence Day." (Amarr Croskey, The Birmingham Times)
By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times

Asked if she could recall an unforgettable moment while growing up in Birmingham’s Bush Hills community, LaShawn Hill said, “It was when my grandmother would brush my hair. It was very intimate moment.”

“I would sit on the floor and … lay my head on my grandma’s knee. She would take her finger, rub [Alberto V05, a vitamin-enriched conditioning hairdressing], through my hair, and just brush,” she remembered fondly.

Hill is the owner of Natural Elements Salon in Homewood, Alabama, which has been in business since 1998. She also is an ambassador for the CROWN Campaign, a grassroots organization that supports legal protections, such as the CROWN Act, and advocates against natural hair discrimination.

The “CROWN Act of 2022,” is a measure passed by the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 2116) that prohibits discrimination based on an individual’s texture or style of hair.

As the CROWN Campaign state leader in Alabama, Hill aims to bring attention to hair discrimination and teach young people to love and appreciate their hair.

“Our major goal is getting natural hair care products to homeless people and shelters in underprivileged areas,” she said, adding that she and her team have also reached out to young people in Alabama’s Black Belt region.

“Our first mission trip [to the Black Belt] was on August 8, [when we] gave natural hair products to kids and teens,” she said.

Celebrating the CROWN

Recently, Hill was at the Birmingham Museum of Art (BMA) during a two-day celebration of National CROWN Day—July 3, known as “Black Hair Independence Day”—to highlight the CROWN Act, which has been enacted into law by 23 states as of June 2023, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Attendees of the BMA event participated in a wide range of activities, including meet-and-greets with stylists and barbers from Hill’s salon.

“It was important to bring everybody together,” Hill said. “All of the vendors were natural—and it showed. We displayed that in a workplace you can be natural, you can be successful, and it has nothing to do with your hair.”

The event also featured a natural hair care product drive to donate new or lightly used products to Birmingham-area homeless shelters.

“People don’t understand that … if you are a poverty-stricken or homeless person, you most likely have natural hair,” said Hill, who took her passion for natural hair to the next level after watching the 2020 BET Awards.

While watching the show, she saw a Dove hair commercial that mentioned the CROWN Campaign.

“I Googled them, then I reached out and asked how I could help them. They said, ‘Well, it looks like you’re doing it already,’” recalled Hill, who had told the organization she had been a natural hair stylist for more than 20 years.

She was asked to become a CROWN Campaign ambassador for Alabama, “but I didn’t know then that I would be thrusted into where I am now,” she said.

Becoming an ambassador has taught the Hill a lot about leadership and how to use her networking skills, she said, pointing to a Birmingham City Council resolution sponsored by Council President Pro Tem Crystal Smitherman.

“I’ve been doing her hair since she was 10 years old,” Hill said. “This resolution gives employees in Birmingham the comfort of knowing that if they choose to have natural hair, it will not be frowned on.

“The resolution also states that in Birmingham, we recognize July 3 as National CROWN Day, … and we’re standing in solidarity with all people in their fight to wear their natural hair proudly, without fear of discrimination in workplaces and schools.”

First-Ever Client

Hill was raised by her grandparents, Abraham and Leona Foster, in Bush Hills, a community on the west side of Birmingham. “I learned how to blend all of my products from my grandmother. She had a treatment for everything,” said Hill.

Even though she spent a lot of time with her grandparents, her mother lived with them, as well: “My mother worked at BellSouth, and we lived with my grandparents. They nurtured me while she worked. She was a good provider.”

Hill attended Jones Valley High School, which at the time was a magnet program, and she remembers being inspired by her guidance counselor, Sharon Bell, wife of former Birmingham Mayor William Bell.

“She is a beautiful lady. She would come in and dress beautifully,” recalled Hill. “I’m always inspired by classy people. They don’t know how they have affected me along the way, but I remember them.”

While maintaining her studies, Hill joined the school band as part of the color guard. “It was fun. I just wanted to be part of the band, and it was more or less of being in the background,” she said, adding that she enjoyed her overall high school experience.

“We didn’t have social media. We had the opportunity to be kids without a care in the world,” Hill said.

Even when working odd jobs, Hill has always had an interest in hair: “My first-ever client was my Barbie doll,” she said.

Hill also had an Easy-Bake Oven, a working toy oven introduced by Kenner Products, an Ohio-based toy company, in 1963.

“I was in my room and decided to stick my straightening comb in the Easy Bake Oven. As soon as the comb touched the doll’s hair, it melted and you could smell it,” she remembers.

Growing up as an only child, Hill doesn’t remember getting whippings. Instead, she said, “my family would talk to me.” She also made it a priority to not disappoint her grandparents because “it was like hurting their feelings.”

“When your parents really care about you, they don’t have to whoop you. They can whoop you with words, and you have to sit with that for a while. That hurts more than a whooping,” she said.

Gifted Hands

Hill enrolled in the Glen Hardy Hair Institute, located in Midfield, Alabama. After graduating, she worked at several hair salons before owning her own, now named Natural Elements.

She specialized in natural hair for more than 20 years and quickly built a clientele because, she said, “When I went to cosmetology school, a lot of people did not want to take the clients that [chose to wear their natural hair].”

“[Other beauticians] though it was tedious, [and] they didn’t want to do the work,” said Hill, adding that working with natural hair is “a journey, not a race or a marathon, but [other stylists] wanted to sprint. I enjoyed restoring what people were damaging.”

In 2022, the stylist became the first hair psychotherapist in Alabama after listening to a podcast by Afiya Mangum Mbilishaka, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist based in the Washington, D.C., area, who developed a technique called “PsychoHairapy.”

“[Dr. Mbilishaka] was telling her story, and after listening I knew I had to take the course for the certification,” said Hill. “PsychoHairapy certification shows you how to listen, process, and talk about mental health and hair. We’re taught that [people] are more likely to come to a hairdresser before actually going to therapist.”

As a hair psychotherapist, Hill builds a relationship with clients through conversations and doing their hair, which ultimately leads to her recommending therapy, if needed.

“I love doing natural hair because we don’t use many tools,” she said. “It’s a hand connection.”

Besides styling and caring for natural hair, Hill attends festivals with her kids to relax, meet new people, and shop with other vendors.

LaShawn Hill’s salon, Natural Elements, is located at 832 Green Springs Highway, Homewood, AL 35209. To learn more, visit the salon’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/naturalhairartistshawn.