Diesha Contee, organizer of a third back-to-school Braid-A-Thon that will return to Annapolis, wanted to bring the hair grooming resource to Annapolis to help youth prepare for school. Volunteers and hair supplies are still needed. Photo credit: Nyia Curtis

Many families feel the back-to-school shopping pinch, due to inflation.

“For one child, back-to-school supplies cost $597 (K-12 average),” Capital One Shopping Research’s 2023 Back-to-School Shopping Statistics reported.

Diesha Contee, an Annapolitan who works as a community navigator and Eastport United Methodist Church’s pantry coordinator, is making time yet again to serve as organizer for a third Braid-A-Thon. The event is designed to help kids in grades 1-12 get ready for school by providing free cornrow and feed-in styles, haircuts for boys and loc maintenance services without parents or guardians having to spend a dime.

“I attempt to alleviate some of the stresses parents have revolving around back-to-school and to promote a good feeling for the kids getting their hair done,” Contee said.

Last year, 95 youths were served. This year, a whopping 152 youths are signed up for the community event. Registration was required.

“We have already closed the list,” Contee said.

The surge of youths who are scheduled to show up at Contee’s event indicates that parents still need help covering basic items for young students.

Capital One Shopping Research’s 2023 Back-to-School Shopping Statistics reported that many families with K-12 students purchase shoes and clothes, in addition to standard back-to-school shopping standard school supply list items.

“The average household back-to-school budget in 2023 included $257.12 for clothing and accessories,” the research also revealed.

Back-to-school budgets per child are expected to decrease by 10% to $597, per information provided by Deloitte Insights.

Families are tightening their budgetary belts and focusing on necessities this year in U.S. households. Grooming expenses were not factored into data provided in the surveys, but in Black households, grooming expenses are typically pricier, due to the skill, time and effort that it can take to keep more fragile hair types healthy. 

Well-groomed children may experience less incidences of bullying or teasing. Youth need opportunities to feel more confident and like their appearance. So, in the Black community, efforts like Contee’s are critical and not simply a matter of vanity. 

Participating children will arrive with washed and blow-dried hair. Lunch, snacks, refreshments, all of the braiding hair and supplies will be provided, Contee said.

Lakel Cooper, will be on hand “doing whatever is needed done for every child,” including braiding hair. 

Lakel Cooper braids Tyler Johnson’s hair.
Photo credit: Nyia Curtis

The Annapolitan can normally be found tending to her business, Hair LC. Instead, the stylist will provide support to local young people who need it from “the village” on August 27, 2023 at the third Braid-A-Thon that will be held at the American Legion, located 1707 Forest Drive, in Annapolis, Maryland. This event will mark Cooper’s third time getting involved with Contee’s cause.

“Helping out and volunteering with this event warms my heart. To see these kids have a service rendered that they may not receive often is all I need to witness. This keeps me coming back every year,” Cooper said. 

She added, “Braiding services can be expensive, for sure! I participate in this event for that reason. This is my way of giving back to my community. Last year, I was at the American Legion until almost midnight to get the job done.”

Contee can still use more community help with guiding children to braiders who will work on their hair, serving food and assisting with signing children in during the event. Hair care professionals, including barbers, are still needed to volunteer. 

Contee also stated that donations such as hair supplies, pre-stretched braiding hair, edge control and metal comb donations are especially needed. The devoted volunteer created an Amazon wish list, posted donation requests on social media and also shared needs for supplies through word of mouth. 

Gift cards as a thank you to volunteer stylists such as Cooper and Tierra Smith would also be other helpful donations. 

Tierra Smith provides loc maintenance service to help a child in Annapolis, Maryland.
Photo credit: Nyia Curtis

Smith is a loctician and natural hair stylist from Annapolis, Maryland. The proprietor of Twisted By Tee will return to providing loc maintenance and styles for the back-to-school grooming event for a second time. Normally, the average prices for her services range between $75-$200, but business owners such as Cooper, Smith and other Braid-A-Thon volunteers like Contee prove that giving back is sometimes more rewarding than making a profit.

“I want to help the children start the school year off with confidence,” Smith said.

Donations will be accepted until August 20, 2023. Inquiries about volunteering will be accepted until the same date.

Contee can be reached about volunteering or donations by calling 443-694-2723, or via email at emmanuels727@outlook.com.

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