Davon Hargrove watched his younger sisters play, rocking a new hairstyle as the door to Trachouse Beauty Lounge opened and closed with a click. Nearby, his sister Tyasia Bell sat back, and let salon owner Renee Brown work her magic. Across the room, laughter bubbled up, weaving through the low sound of conversation. He smiled to himself; the whole thing felt like an early birthday gift.
Last Monday, Hargrove was one of almost 100 people who attended the second annual “Hair Braiding Give Back,” a day-long collaboration between New Havener Nikki Huckaby and Trachouse Beauty Lounge in East Haven. Held from the morning until the afternoon of Martin Luther King, Jr. day, the hours-long event left attendees with vibrant and tight new hairstyles, from flawless locs to intricate twists, braids with beads clacking on the ends and stitch braids so neat they deserved individual praise.
Throughout, it celebrated and lifted up the crown—in a country that has not always made time and space for its beauty. The event received support from Yuki’s Nail Salon in Hamden, Ark of Refuge Church of God In Christ, Reliant Behavioral Health and Community Services, Woody’s Wings, City Beauty on Whalley Ave, Trinity Temple C.O.G.I.C., Crave Healthy and New Haven Pediatrics.
Brown: "I'm always interested in helping the community and I know that, being a hairstylist, a part of your crown is really helping you build your self-esteem."
“In society little Black girls don't get coverage, they don't always feel beautiful because society doesn't portray that as such,” said Huckaby, who held the first giveback before the Covid-19 pandemic hit New Haven. “So, it is very important because I believe that when your hair is done you feel beautiful.”
An active member of her church community, Huckaby said she was motivated to create the give back after seeing something similar on social media. That event, held somewhere in Ohio, had been for back to school, she said. In 2019, she held the first giveback at Hamden Academy of Dance and Music, but dreamed of expanding into the future. Monday’s event had exploded in size, thanks to both her inspiration and to Trachouse’s willingness to jump onboard as a partner.
“Everybody just believed in me. Honestly,” she said. “They believed that I could make it happen and everybody got involved. Some of the stylists that got involved, they were booked solid for today and they canceled all of their clients for the day. And so, I couldn't be more grateful for them.”
Thirty-one hair stylists and one nail technician came out and donated their time to help beautify 72 children out of the one hundred that pre-registered.. Together they donated $13,000 in services. There was a collection of braiders, locticians, and even a silk press stylist. There was a call for barbers as well, but none signed up for this event.
Monday, laughter and conversation—and a few lectures, delivered with a knowing warmth—filled the salon. From the front desk to the back wall, stylists worked, chatting as kids struggled to stay still in their chairs. As she worked, braider Taneisha Patterson said there was nowhere she’d rather be.
After seeing the first giveback on Facebook a few years ago, Patterson joined the event and pledged to become a regular if it happened again. When she heard that Huckaby was bringing the event back, she didn’t just volunteer: she also rallied her coworkers at Trachouse to join in as well. While her clientele are often a little older, she seemed thrilled to be part of the day’s festivities and hairstories.
Licensed now for almost 12 years, Patterson said she was motivated to participate by her own childhood experiences. When she was young, her mother didn’t always have the resources to get her hair done in a way that made her feel beautiful. It gave her career motivation.
“I decided when I got older, I'm always giving back in any way I can,” she said. “I want little girls to feel special too. You don't want them to feel like an outcast, from their classmates and their peers because they can't get the things that other children have.”
Fellow stylist Erica Ganus joined because she loves giving back and being around kids, she said. She added that she loved being in a room full of melanated people on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, doing something positive while gathering together as a community.
“It’s so beautiful to see us all coming together for this event and in memory of him as well,” she said.
The day which featured hair, nails, food and fun, was full of children coming in, waiting, getting their hair done, waiting for siblings to be done and parents coming to pick up their little ones. Many were incredibly grateful for the opportunity and experience of a free salon experience.
17-year-old Hargrove, for instance, expressed his thanks several times—including a shoutout to his mother for registering him for the event. Raised in New Haven, Hargrove came to this giveback with three siblings. As one finished up with Brown, who owns and operates Trachouse as a Black- and woman-owned enterprise, he said the happiness in the room was the part of the day that made the event worth it for him.
“Just happy that everyone is here smiling, instead of just staying home,” he said. “Just worried about other things. Just coming in to have a little time to do music, snacks, kids around smile, good vibes, and that's pretty much that's what this event was really about, was just having a fun time.”
He was also investedin the stylists getting their names out there.
“This is actually a great opportunity for everyone else to get their name out there in braiding because there are a lot of stylists here,” he said.
While styling 13-year-old Tyasia Bell, Brown said that the chair is all about self-esteem. As she worked, she and Tyasia laughed, joked and bonded over a shared love for Wednesday Addams.
Brown detailed how this event felt for her, being the owner of a new establishment and having a background in social work.
“I'm always interested in helping the community and I know that, being a hairstylist, a part of your crown is really helping you build your self-esteem. All right. So, when your hair feels good, or looks good, you in turn feel good as well."