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“Rest your weary head, and let me run my fingers through your dreads,” - singer/guitarist Meshell Ndegeocello in her 1993 single “Dreadlocks,” from her debut album Plantation Lullabies.
Twila Page, a Toledo day-care provider, began growing her now extremely long salt-and-pepper locks in the early '90s as a result of several events in her life.
“My father died, and it was during the Anita Hill hearings, and I had just read the book 400 Hundred Years Without A Comb, and it was like, wow! It just struck me, `I'm not going to straighten my hair any longer,'” said Ms. Page, a 60-year-old African-American woman whose five adopted children, ages 5 to 15, have all had locks at some point.
Ms. Page, whose striking locks reach the back of her thighs, said the series of life events inspired her to “go natural” (hair that has no chemical treatment) with her hair, her outlook on life, and the foods she eats - Ms. Page is a vegetarian.
Commonly referred to as dreadlocks, the hairstyle is achieved by sectioning off parts of hair; then, by a host of means, uncombed hair is twisted with the fingers until a pattern of “matting” occurs over a period of time - that time can vary depending on the type of hair. The hair naturally “locks” into place in the form of dreadlocks.
Some wearers refer to the look as “locks,” believing that the prefix “dread” is a derogatory term once used by European slave captors to describe African slaves who wore their hair that way.
Chris Hatfield, 19, a white University of Toledo student and musician, said he grew his locks about two years ago as a means of self-expression.
“To sum it up, I was searching for something, and I found out really well who I am and how I feel about myself since growing dreadlocks.
“You establish very firmly who you are and what you believe in,” said Mr. Hatfield, of Sylvania, who often gets strange looks from people curious about his locks. He recalled one African-American woman in a mall parking lot who asked him where he came from.
Known for her boldly colored red and blonde locks, Audrey Johnson, 41, a youth activities specialist for Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority (LMHA), said growing dreadlocks eight years ago freed her from long hours spent in beauty salons.
“Wearing locks was a maintenance issue for me. As black women, we stress a lot about our hair. When we get up in the morning we pray and meditate, and as soon as we're finished it's all gone by the wayside because you start worrying about what you're going to do with your hair.
“Life has many trips, and my hair is not going to be one of them,” said Ms. Johnson, who also works as the assistant to the head of community affairs at Maumee Valley Country Day School, where she is also advisor of the school's Afro-AM(erican) Club.
Ms. Johnson's locks, to her a “powerful” permanent style, were also influenced by the look of actress Whoopi Goldberg. The actress inspired Ms. Johnson to graduate from wearing braids.
Many who wear locks say the look provokes curiosity from those unfamiliar with the hairstyle.
Toledoan Jesse Tall, director of Camp Big Silver in Pinckney, Mich., said he often is questioned about his style choice.
“My hair makes the kids at the camp feel more comfortable, they think it's cool, but there's a perception about dreads.
“They think I'm some pot-smoking, militant brother off writing poetry in a coffee house and philosophizing about life,” Mr. Tall laughs.
Actually, the 24-year-old man said his locks simply grew out of wanting to try a new hairstyle.
“I've had cornrows, braids, and I've gone bald. Getting it braided always hurt really [badly], so I decided to try them out . . . now, it's a convenient look. I don't have to comb my hair every morning because it's always done. Many people get dreads because they are cool, I kind of did it for that reason as well.
“But, one of the biggest reasons why I keep them is to see and hear people's reactions.”
George Rice III said most dreadlock wearers have an interesting story to tell.
“If you ever stop and ask someone about growing their locks, you'll find that most people's locks tell a story, one of tragedy or one of triumph - it's a journey,” said Mr. Rice, an assistant director of Bowling Green State University's Upward Bound program.
Mr. Rice, who is in his late 20s, said that as a youth he always admired the look of dreadlocks on his older cousin, Robert Gerald, a New York youth detention worker whose locks hang down to his knees.
“His locks always intrigued me. I used to think that he was a Bible character,” said Mr. Rice.
Mr. Rice began growing his almost shoulder-length locks about two years ago when he was working on his masters degree in counseling at BGSU.
“My battle was with patience. I was trying to pin down in my life what I really wanted to do,” said the married man with two children, Taylor, age 4, and George IV, 6 months.
“To me, dreadlocks are a symbol of strength and discipline and patience, which was something I needed in my life. For the first time in my life after I grew dreads I felt free.”
Mr. Rice, who said some friends thought him to be far too conservative for locks, added that they also represent his African-American heritage. “They are not a means to prove my blackness, but it does reaffirm my culture.”
Whatever the race or creed of a person wearing dreadlocks, Mr. Rice said the look is truly exclusive.
“It's funny, because once you grow them, you feel like you're in this exclusive society.”