Hair As Identity Menu



How Living Abroad Pushed me to Become Natural Again by Alex, a contributor

As a southern belle growing up in the deep-south in the 80s, relaxing my hair was the cultural norm. Like most little girls in Memphis, I had my first relaxer at age five. My dear sweet mom did not know how to braid or twist my hair so wearing a relaxer was the only option for me. Plus, I have really thick, “kinky hair” and there was no way my mom was going to struggle to press my hair. I clearly remember the skin burns and burnt scalps I got from the hot comb straightening out my “kitchen”.

Going to beauty salon was the solution to my mom’s problems and quickly became our mother-daughter ritual until high school. We enjoyed flipping through the Dudley hair magazines to see the latest trends before our next six weeks touch up. However, the day I left for boarding school in a remote, predominately white town in New Hampshire, my hair took a turn for the worse. Now, I had to survive on my own and learn how to relax and care for my hair. Yikes! My classmates and I played kitchen beautician and did each other’s hair. I am sure we did some hair damage along the way.

My hair journey got better during my college years in New Orleans where I started to experiment with natural hair and did my first big chop. I had just returned from my internship in Connecticut and decided to cut off my hair after being inspired by another intern. One day, I was at home in the bathroom slowly cutting out my braids and was anxious to reunite with the natural hair that I had abandoned since childhood. I was bold and ready to free myself from the bondage of the relaxer.

Being natural was a time of rediscovery and self love. I enjoyed rushing to the mirror to measure my hair monthly. Twists outs, braids, and Bantu knots were my go to hairstyles and I had even tried locking my hair for a brief period. However, my personal natural hair movement came to an immediate halt when I got married and started working for corporate America. I quickly felt pressured to conform to the relaxed hair regime.

However, life took another turn and in 2010 I returned to my natural self. As my husband and I prepared to travel to Honduras with two kids in tow, the first thing that I stressed about was how I was going to do my relaxed hair in Latin America. When you have relaxed hair, finding the right salon is imperative, especially in cities with small black populations. I searched throughout Tegucigalpa where we lived, and finally I found “ a black hair salon”, which was a blessing and a curse. Located deep in the “barrio”/hood of Honduras with lots of reggeton and salsa music, “Maria’s Sala de Belleza” as I shall say, was a black girl’s heaven. It was the one safe place where a black woman could easily get a Dominican blow out without the mean stairs or was refused service for having “cabello malo”, which means bad hair in English as is a racist term. “Maria”, my new found black hair stylist, over- relaxed my hair and did not rinse out all of my Mizani relaxer that I had bought from the United States.

Maria’s lack of running water and poor relaxing skills led to my hair eventually falling out. My hair was weak and my scalp was always burning after a retouch. I should have run for the door as soon as I saw the bucket of water that was used to rinse my hair. I knew better, but was blinded by the fact that “Maria” was a black hair stylist. Wearing braids was the only way to go until my natural hair grew out.

Since then, I have worn my hair natural and will never go back to a relaxer. In developing countries, the salon industry is so unregulated that you do not know who you can trust with chemicals. My frustrations with hair and finding good products on the local market in Honduras led me to form my cosmetic distribution company, Marina Bella Imports. I currently represent four major U.S. brands in the United States, Honduras, and Rwanda: Luster Products, Cortex Professional, and GK Hair, and my own exclusive line of Passion Remy Indian Human Hair. I did not want future women of color to visit salons with bad products and hair stylists. Now that I work in the hair industry, I have learned how to better care for my hair and teach other hair stylist in developing countries how to properly use chemicals.

As for as hair maintenance, I keep it very simple. I wash my hair once a week with GK Hair Professional, Color Protection Moisturizing Shampoo and Conditioner. I also deep condition my hair with Shea Moisture products. I apply moisturizing lotion and Olive oil daily. I love to twist or roller set my hair too.

I am very pleased with my hair growth. My hair is thick and is pass my shoulders when it is pressed out. I can do various hairstyles and updos. My bangs stretch to the bottom of my nose. Now I am wearing hair color by GK Hair Professional, and thus my hair is still healthy and strong.

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Hair News: What’s on My Mind (Pantene’s Dad-Do / Strong is Beautiful)

Hello everyone,

I’ve been busily working on several academic manuscripts, launching a new research think tank Natural Hair @ Work Day with the fabulous Terresa Hardaway and Antonia Opiah (Natural Hair @ Work Day is coming in July 2016, check it out here: all while doing my best to be a good wife, Mom, daughter, sister and volunteer (when did life get so busy)!  Nevertheless, I’ve had a lot on my mind!

For one, I LOVE the new Pantene commercial “Strong is Beautiful” featuring NFL players giving their daughters “Dad-Dos” (how cute is that?!).  ABC News provides a lovely extended version where Benjamin Watson (Tight End for the New Orleans Saints) is with his beautiful daughters and states, “She’s going to really judge all men by how I treat her and so it’s important for me to connect with them and do things that they want to do.  Whether it’s doing their hair, whether it’s riding bikes…it’s about connecting and showing them that they’re important.”  (around 1:17)

Here’s the 30-second version from Pantene’s website:

I think that Pantene has done a phenomenal job illustrating that hair is an important way to bond with our little girls.  Watch out! Daddy-Dos coming to the playground near you!

Check back soon to talk about hair in Beyonce’s latest video (Formation)!


Sundial Brands (SheaMoisture and Nubian Heritage) partners with Bain Capital

A little under a week ago, September 2nd to be exact, Sundial Brands announced a partnership with Bain Capital.  Sundial owns such popular natural hair brands as SheaMoisture and Nubian Heritage.


Here, Sundial describes its partnership with Bain Capital:

“Today, Sundial Brands, announced an historic and exciting partnership with Bain Capital to bring the firm on as a minority, non-control investor in our company. As we approach our 25th year in business, this begins another transformative chapter in our story – a story that our community of employees, consumers, retail partners and many more are writing along with us. So, we wanted all of you to hear straight from us why we made the decision. Quite simply, we want to be better so that we can serve our communities better. Period. But we thought you might want a few more details as well, so here are some of the key reasons why this is such an incredible opportunity for us – and you!”

The website goes on to provide 10 reasons SundialBrands chose a new partner.  Feedback on social media seems largely positive.  For some, the partnership with Bain will allow SunDial to reach more consumers, broaden the brand’s reach, and, hopefully, generate additional revenue.  However, some bristle because Bain Capital was founded by Mitt Romney.  In essence, some may perceive Bain Capital as a Republican haven and think that the firm cannot properly handle a natural hair brand.  Articles in the Wall Street Journal and the Boston Globe provide additional context on the partnership and Bain Capital.

What are your thoughts?  Is it it a good move for Sundial Brands to partner with Bain Capital?  Why or why not?

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Camping, bears and my new do

Hi everyone,

As you may recall, I got another big chop when my hair was damaged by a flat iron.  This short curly do has come in handy this week as I planned to camp with my hubby at a few national parks.  Ok, I confess, I’m NOT a “roughing it” kind of girl.  Sooooo, when we pulled up to our cabin (Laurel Hill State Park) the other night I loved the gorgeous natural scenery but I was taken aback to realize that there was no bathroom, no shower, no water in our unit (public showers down the road a bit).

Laurel hill state park cabins in woods- 555b62e8b2661.image

Wow.  But it was game over for your girl, the woods and this whole camping idea when someone spotted a BIG bear (Blue Knob State Park).  The park ranger made matters worse when she said, “Well, don’t run” when I asked what we should do if we crossed paths with the bear.

PA bear

HA, camping trip over, we booked the next few nights at a Best Western.

So, what does this have to do with hair?  Well, I can honestly say that aside from a dousing with water and a dab of gel, I haven’t thought about my hair one bit.  The freedom NOT to think about what I’ll do with my hair if I want to take a swim or if we get caught in a downpour, or if we’re away from running water for a day…ahhhh, that has been liberating.  The swatting gnats, flies and peering onto the horizon for lumbering bear-like gaits, all while keeping my finger on the remote car lock so that I can high tail it to the car if need be, not so much.

Outside of the fear of being eaten by a bear, I’ve truly enjoyed our time in the outdoors.  Seriously, national parks are indeed a national treasure.  If you have a chance, visit one.  🙂

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Viola Davis Shines in Her Beauty

I am in tears.  Literally, I am tearing up as I read the reviews on the lovely Ms. Viola Davis’ SAG Awards appearance and win today.  See her acceptance speech here.

Ms. Davis is an incredible talent.  If you’ve ever seen her on the big or little screen, you will immediately notice how she breathes life into her characters, gives them grace and dignity even when they are not doing the most graceful or dignified things.

I am emotional because she not only won an award for her brilliant acting on “How to Get Away with Murder” but she has also been called a beauty on the red carpet.  I know, I know.  One shouldn’t care about external validation.  Well, if we’re honest with ourselves, most of us care…at least a little bit.  If you think you don’t, try walking outside naked to the grocery store.  Yeah, none of us are TOTALLY free of external validation.

So, it feels good to know that Viola Davis is called beautiful, that her natural hair is given its just do: it is stunning, regal, queenly, gorgeous.  And so is Ms. Davis.  Congratulations Ms. Davis!  I hope to meet you one day and tell you so in person.

21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Arrivals

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Veiling: My Own Xenophobic Reactions

As you may know, I study hair as identity and while I typically write about hair itself, there are may other elements that relate to hair, the head and identity. For example, veiling.  I am quite ignorant about this topic but I picked up the book “What is veiling” by Sahar Amer to learn more.  Veiling refers to wearing a length of cloth to cover the head and shoulders and, sometimes, the face (Amer, 2014).  Here are different types of veils:


I’m going to reveal my own ignorance and say that many times when I see a veiled person (it’s usually a woman that I’ve seen), I immediately think she is either very religious or a very militant Muslim.  Yes, I admit it.  It is xenophobic, I’m not proud of it, but it is the truth.  I hope to always be authentic on this website and I encourage you to do the same.  Two caveats:  1) I’m working on it.  I’m not satisfied with thinking this way so I’m working to get better and have a broader, more inclusive mindset; 2) political correctness may enable us to “tolerate” each other but it will never lead to heart change and true understanding.  See “Rethinking political correctness” by Ely, Meyerson & Davidson (2006, Harvard Business Review).

Post 9/11, the pictures of women donning veils made me feel highly ambivalent.  On one hand, I recognize that many different peoples don veils.  In fact, the veil did not originate with Muslims, it originated in Ancient Mesopotamia in the 13th century BC (Amer, 2014).  Muslims, Jews and Christians alike don(ned) veils.  Apparently, the veil was used to distinguish married, chaste or concubined women from women who were prostitutes or considered morally loose.  It was considered dangerous for a women who should be wearing a veil to go without it or for a woman who shouldn’t be wearing a veil to dare wear it.  But, on the other hand, the media images of Muslim, women extremists, terrorists, donning veils and blowing themselves and others up had been seared into my mind.  It has become an implicit association, meaning a subconscious connection that I now draw between terrorism and the veil.

Can you relate?  Do you make this same implicit association?  Or, are you a Muslim woman who has been subjected to these ignorant associations?  Are you a Muslim woman who prefers not to veil because of the identity implications?  I would love to broach a measured conversation on this topic and explore how veiling impacts identity, especially in the workplace.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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Bettie Page’s Pin Up Hair

 tumblr_m1wnwzi1Rk1qfme7lo1_500[1]While Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly graced the silver screen in the 1950s, there was another female celebrity who was renowned for her pinup pictures.  I’m talking about none other than Bettie Page aka the “Queen of Pinups”.  I had never really heard of Ms. Page but I came across a Netflix documentary on her life entitled “Bettie Page Reveals All”.

The thing that immediately struck me was Ms. Page’s raven black hair, with the bangs cut into a fringe.  Now, at this time, women like Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly donned blonde locks while Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor sported shorter, “cute” hairstyles.  Ms. Page’s hair stood in stark contrast to these looks as did her path to stardom.  Whereas the other ladies were known for their onscreen acting, Ms. Page became popular for her pinup pictures.   She worked in “camera clubs”, clubs that were created to promote photographic artistry but some claim the clubs were a ruse to skirt laws banning nude photos.  Her work was considered highly sexual and offensive.  Remember, this is the same time of the McCarthy hearings, when talking about sex was taboo and the United States Supreme Court ruled on what connoted “obscene” materials.  Folks were afraid to deviate from the placid facade created by shows such as “Ozzie & Harriet”.  And, here was Ms. Page posing in bikinis, topless and sometimes completely nude.

According to the documentary, Ms. Page’s trademark hairstyle was recommended by a Brooklyn policeman, Mr. Tibbs, she met on Coney Island.  He said she’d make a good pinup model and invited her to come to his studio.  He then commented that her high forehead would be nicely complimented by bangs.  She cut her bangs and it became her famous look which she wore throughout her life.

I think that her raven black hair complemented her “naughty” persona.  I wonder if she, in particular, would have risen to such fame with lighter hair?   I’m wondering if there is a connection between her identity as a sexual woman and her hair/image.  I’m NOT saying that lighter hair isn’t sexy just that Ms. Page’s overall image (including her hair) likely contributed to her success.  It is also interesting to me that women like Dita Von Teese (a natural blonde!) have looks that seem to be highly influenced by Ms. Page (Ms. Von Teese was in the documentary).

Interesting note:  In the late 1950s Ms. Page became an evangelical Christian and began working for Billy Graham.

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SBD Days: Some Days All You Got to Do Is Stay Black, and…. by Petra E. Lewis

Kevin Ryan Headshot - ColorIn Black America, at some point the following is almost a universal scenario: Someone will tell someone else they “have” to or “need” to ________ [INSERT BLANK DIRECTIVE]. And that person will sassily reply (tone of voice the equivalent of hands akimbo, and sometimes hands actually akimbo): “All I got to do is stay Black and die!”

This for me is the genesis of SBD Days: ones that are obligation free.  I’m one of those people who works (hard) constantly, my ambition almost a flaw. And when SBD Days come, they come vengefully and unapologetically: I sip hot chocolate and catch up on literature. Cruise the web and LOL (the stupider the post, article, or video, the better). I have no desire to see significant others—that, after all, would be an obligation—an obligation–when all I got to do is stay Black and…. Well, you know.

Kevin Ryan Headshot _ B+W

SBD Days are lovely, lazy things when I allow myself to luxuriate in sloth, and contribute to the unraveling fibers of American society by ignoring the Protestant Work Ethic. Curiously, I don’t have SBD Days when I’m on deadline. Why? Simple: Mama didn’t raise no fool–plus I carefully guard my professional reputation.  SBD Days that fall on client deadlines are greeted with tough self-love—and a big stick. Hot chocolate and lethargically scrolling through hipster posts on Guest of a Guest’s Facebook page do not pay the bills.

However, SBD Days do sass and trash hair rituals. Due for a wash, a detangle, a deep condition? What? (Suck teeth.) All I got to do is stay Black and…. Well, you know. And guess what? My hair is just fine. I even get compliments. Race is irrelevant. Everyone deserves at least one SBD Day in their lives. Just become courageous enough to be selfish and put your peace and sanity above all else.

P.S. I was supposed to scribe this post two months ago, but I decided: All I got to do is stay Black and…. Well, you know.

Petra E. Lewis is a writer, author, entrepreneur, Tastemaker, and Synergist who lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The first novel in her trilogy, The Sons and Daughters of Ham, Book I: A Requiem debuts February 2014, : : @tastemistressp : :

  • verta

    yes. yes. yes. we all need SBD days!!!

  • Petra

    LOL, Verta–yes, we do! BTW: I greatly enjoyed your first-ever post for HAI.#greatstuff

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i love chimamanda – by verta ayanna

i have a serious crush on this chimamanda ngozi adichie. she is feminine and feminist.  she is strong and vulnerable. she is humble and brazen. she is beautiful and Nigerian and brilliantly talented. she is regal; from the top of her beautifully styled head to the tips of her stylishly outfitted toes.  she uses words in the ways i hope to. chimamanda and her heroine in Americanah, ifemelu, came to me when i needed them most. when i needed to see myself in this world and be more fearless sharing myself with this world. when i needed to be reminded that the human experience is not reserved for a select few in literature. there is space and a need for all of us.

Chimamanda Adichie

chimamanda and ifemelu came to remind me of all the characters and books and people that are a part of me; that define me. when obinze’s mother treats ifemelu as her own, telling her “I was once young. I know what it is like to love while young … you can love without making love.  It is a beautiful way of showing your feelings but it brings responsibility, great responsibility, and there is no rush…wait until you own yourself a little more;” it is just as i imagine my own mother would have told me, had she the words and wisdom to do so. this moment and so many more in Americanah touched me deeply. they take their rightful place next to my own memories of my grannie teaching me, and me alone, to eat avocados from their skin with a dash of salt. teaching me to savor what is given, as it is given. these moments, these remembrances, are tucked away for safe keeping; for times i need to be fortified when the world drains me.  i am grateful to chimamanda and ifemelu because when i needed confirmation that love always wins — when we let it — they came to me.

i feel sad when a book i have loved is coming to an end.  i feel sad when time spent savoring the ones that i love is coming to an end. while i am more skillfully present in life than i once was, there are moments when i find myself dwelling momentarily  in the future. considering that in just a few hours these characters, real and fictional and real, will only be a part of my memory. i will no longer see them unfold themselves before me nor will i be able to hold them near and smell the scent of creation on them. i fall in love with books and people often but not easily. i am cautious and selective about what and who i let into my heart.  i breathe people and books in deeply when they are great and admittedly even when they are not so great. i do this so that i will remember. so that i can recall their truth. great books like great people hold truths. we never know which truths will be revealed. once the revelation begins, i long to hold them with me, in the present, for a while longer. at that very moment, i find that it is with greater speed that they start to take flight forcing me to let go. this act of repeatedly letting go allows me to recall that truths once revealed remain. they stain our souls.

a few months ago on facebook, i was asked for my list of ten from a friend.  ten books that have influenced and shaped me.  ten books that caused me sadness when they came to end. ten books that have left their indelible and brilliant stain on my soul. i cheated.  it was too hard to come up with just ten.  here is my list in the order i recall them becoming a part of me:

the orginal facebook list (yes, there are twelve):

the ones i remembered immediately after i posted the facebook list:

the ones i have read after age 40 that i must include:

and the book that prompted this post:

Verta is writing her first book, loving out loud, because she believes that love should never be silent! verta shares how she is inspired by stories, by memories and by life at
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Love Out Loud: A Series – A Love Story by verta ayanna

Eric’s hands are folded on the table. Firm yet gentle. Fixed yet flexible. Those same hands he used to place stones under Shauna’s pillow for comfort. “They put her right to sleep. She didn’t even know I had put them there and she’d sleep for hours,” he explained. Their oldest son’s hands are unceasingly occupied. He plays with a wind up toy that gets tangled on a few precious strands of the soft and fluffy afro Shauna had finally decided to grow back. He assured he could get it out. My own familiar hands gently helped him unravel his toy making sure to protect each prized, well-earned strand. Shauna’s hands—dry, cracked and darkened from treatment—also bring comfort. They examined and soothe her youngest son’s head after something had fallen on him while playing in the leaves outside. Shauna’s hands touch the tiniest of places in this life she has chosen with such beauty and grace. “One day I just told my soul it should stay. I choose hope,” she told me as I watched her hands. I love hands. I believe that we love with our hearts, our bodies, our minds; and all that love, all that life always finds itself in our hands.

Shauna is as radiant on this unseasonably warm day in January 2014 as she was in 1990 when I first met her in college. She was cute and quirky and different in college. She still is. Shauna is a collector. She collects words. She shares books that have touched her while we talk in her bedroom. Books that have inspired and moved her. She shares quotes that have kept her faith strong when it was weak. Some might think that the affirmations—words hand written and scattered like fallen leaves around her bedroom and bathroom—give her strength. I think otherwise. Shauna’s strength is the affirmation—emotional support and encouragement that the world so desperately needs. She also shares the collection of newspapers she has amassed over the past month. She reads them during her monthly trip to Philly for treatment. She says that Eric is probably happy they are not all over the bed when they try to sleep at night. I bet the love they share for each other and for words make him miss her newspapers almost as much as he misses her when she goes. I imagine Shauna and Eric as the children trekking home from the library with more books than they could carry. Still thinking about the ones they hated to leave behind. I imagine them as the children who stayed up with heads under covers reading books late into the night. Secretly collecting words. An obsession that only they could understand. What exists between this wife and her husband is so considerable. It is nearly too much to contain in words.

Shauna is a mother. She chases joy in the everyday—like so many mothers. Folding clothes for her family. Leaving the random, unmatched and missing socks for the boys to sort out. Ironing clothes or as was the case on this particular Sunday, being reminded by the ironing board and the pile of clothes near it of yet another bit of household work that would not get done that day. Before she boards the Amtrak to Philly, she dries the boys’ comforters. Making sure they smell fresh and linger with warmth from the dryer and from her touch. One that is a familiar memory to those she leaves behind for the remainder of the week. “Striving to keep everything as normal as possible” each month so that she can continue to live. To remain among the living.

After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, Shauna had a double mastectomy. The doctors constructed new breasts for her without nipples. As I understand it, this is common since it is rare to save nipples during this procedure. A woman can hope for the appearance of nipples with cosmetic surgery and even tattoos, though she will not have nipples as she once did. “I took my nipples for granted until I didn’t have them,” she said. Her words whispered to me for hours, days and weeks after I photographed her. I marveled at my breasts and my nipples in a new way. The nipples that efficiently and miraculously delivered milk to my children. The nipples that dutifully stand at attention when nipped by something cold and/or sudden. The nipples that surrender and abandon themselves entirely when caressed and fully consumed by a lover. Glimpsing what is not has a way of making us value what is.

After two years of multiple surgeries, countless treatments for cancer and the double mastectomy, Shauna believed she was winning the fight with breast cancer. Then “breast cancer broke her back.” Literally. The cancer had spread through her spine. The pain she was experiencing in her back was far more serious than her doctors realized. The cancer was eating her bones. She needed surgery. One doctor told her it was amazing that she was still walking. Over the next year, there were several miracles that took place. There were several medical professionals that would witness Shauna’s existence and marvel at the fact that she was still alive. Doctors would take chances on treatment with her. Her walking into their offices another day was not anything their science, their medicine or their logic could explain. In January 2012, she had spinal fusion surgery. It was not supposed to work. Her bones were deteriorating. They did not show signs of fusing with the metal inserted in her back yet, miraculously they did. In 2013, her liver was filled with tumors that led to liver failure. With a combination of alternative and modern medicine, many of the tumors inexplicably disappeared and the others were dramatically reduced in size.

Shauna is now four inches shorter because of cancer. She has been on and off of chemotherapies for five years because of cancer. She has learned to be gentler with herself because of cancer. “I use my body differently now than before, she said. “Instead of saying I can’t do it anymore, I find a different way to do it.” Shauna is far from perfect. That is what makes her so beautiful. Her experience living with cancer is not without anger or sadness or fear. She has had days that were so low she thought she would give up. She has attempted any and every treatment she thinks will offer her the chance to live and love another day.

Shauna is living. Living with cancer. Living with hope. Living with love. “The name Shauna means God is gracious,” Shauna wrote to me, “I believe that God is presently showing so much grace in the midst of the circumstance my family and I are experiencing and the grace makes all of the difference … it allows us to focus on what we have—the grace of each moment together.” She knows her “existence can be an example to everyday people that the miraculous is possible. No matter how long I am here. I realize that just because you are not 100% cancer free does not mean you are not a miracle. The miracles are in the midst of the details. I am not going to wait till I am 100% cancer free to help people.”

Shauna is a living modern day miracle. Miracles are expressions of love. Love is the miracle. Shauna’s story is about love. Shauna’s love is a loud love. Insistent in the most graceful way. Her life allows us to witness miracles and to allow those everyday miracles that walk among, between, in front, behind and within us to roam freely on this earth and be recognized. None of us know when we will die. We simply know that we will. Those living with cancer are made more immediately and intimately aware of the mortality we all share in grueling and beautiful ways. Living with cancer “forced me to identify my own worth, my own divinity,” she told me. Living has helped Shauna recognize that she is hope and love personified. We all are.

Verta is writing her first book, loving out loud, because she believes that love should never be silent! verta shares how she is inspired by stories, by memories and by life at
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