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CNN's Hero of the Year is Shirley Raines, the firebrand who brings beauty and hope to Skid Row

Raines is the founder of Beauty 2 the Streetz, a non-profit that provides food, clothing and hair and makeup services to thousands of people living in Skid Row.

CNN's Hero of the Year is Shirley Raines, the firebrand who brings beauty and hope to Skid Row
Image Source: CNN Heroes. NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Shirley Raines was presented the prestigious 2021 CNN Hero of the Year award on Sunday night by hosts Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa. She was selected from this year's list of Top 10 CNN Heroes finalists by online voters. Raines is the founder of the non-profit organization Beauty 2 the Streetz, which is responsible for providing food, clothing and hair and makeup services to thousands of people living in Skid Row, a neighborhood in California's Los Angeles. The area is home to one of the largest concentrations of homeless people in the United States. Every week, she meets with her team of volunteers to set up shop and transform various parts of Skid Row into an outdoor beauty salon, CNN reports.


"This surely hasn't been easy, I stand before you a very broken woman," Raines stated as she accepted her award during the event. "I am a mother without a son and there are a lot of people in the streets without a mother, and I feel like it's a fair exchange." When establishing Beauty 2 the Streetz, she only had one goal: to make the homeless feel human, whether that means a haircut, a facial, a hearty meal or a hug. She continued, "It's not so much just giving them makeup or doing their hair, it's also the physical touch. People need physical touch. That's what was hard when the pandemic hit. We had to stop doing hair, we had to stop doing barber services. And that might be the nicest touch they've had all day."


Raines will now receive $100,000 to expand her work as CNN's 2021 Hero of the Year. She, as well as the other 10 finalists who were honored at Sunday's gala, will all receive a $10,000 cash award. After years of struggling financially, this is a welcome change in her life. This is particularly true as she experienced deep grief and loss after the death of her young son, Demetrius. "The world looked at me and thought probably the same thing they think about the homeless when they pass them by," she said. "You never know what anyone's going through, you know?"


It was her twin sister who encouraged Raines to find a channel for her pain. She discovered her purpose when she joined a church group on a feeding mission. The non-profit founder explained, "I went to Skid Row, I'm like, 'Oh, this is where all the broken people are? Oh, I've been looking for y'all all my life.' I never wanted to leave. It's a place where people have amazing hearts, but nobody can see it because they can't see the forest for the trees." At first, Beauty 2 the Streetz was a small initiative; Raines and her children would distribute food, drinks, hygiene kits and beauty products, and she would color people's hair and do their makeup alone. However, her efforts became more well-known when she started live-streaming the events and posting pictures to Instagram.


Soon enough, licensed hairstylists, barbers, makeup artists and even large makeup companies reached out to Raines, saying they wanted to help. In 2019, she was finally able to register her initiative as an official non-profit with about two dozen volunteers generously offering their time and efforts to help Skid Row's residents feel beautiful. While the non-profit's efforts were slightly hampered during the pandemic, the team is back at it as vaccination rates go up. Raines affirmed, "My sun didn't come out for 30 years. It was 30 years' worth of tomorrows before I even saw the break of day. I would be lying if I said I was always completely happy from doing this. It didn't take away the pain of my son dying. But I've certainly gotten better. I can say his name now. He is the reason I do what I do."


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