"For me with my hair, I can do whatever with it, but for kids of color in the system, they can't. They have to have special products, and foster parents just don't provide that," Thomas said.
A 17-year-old who recently aged out of the foster care system has taken it upon herself to address an issue affecting Black girls in the system. Having experienced the emotional and physical challenges of being a foster child constantly moving from one home to the next, Kaylee Thomas knows how much of a difference even the smallest thoughtful gesture can make. "When you go to a foster home, you don't get to bring anything with you. You get to pack something up in a trash bag, and you just go. And a lot of times, you don't even get to do that," the Indiana teenager told NBC affiliate WTHR.
Teen Who Was in Foster Care Raises Money to Help Black Girls in System Receive Hair Productshttps://t.co/OiHPT4VTxm— BLACK TZEDEK (@BlackTzedek) June 11, 2021
"Traveling all the time between foster homes, you never know what you're going to get," she added. Thomas recognized that these challenges were even tougher for Black girls, who often didn't have access to proper hair care products in most of the foster homes they are sent to. Although this might seem like an inconsequential matter to those who do not have natural Black hair or aren't familiar with the proper way to care for it, Thomas realized that the extra human touch behind making these products available to youngsters who've been removed from their homes could mean the world to them.
The importance of black hair care, @styles4kidznfp #InternationalWomensDay pic.twitter.com/xx3G78m9Nj— 60 Second Docs (@60SecDocs) March 9, 2021
"For me with my hair, I can do whatever with it, but for kids of color in the system, they can't. They have to have special products, and foster parents just don't provide that," Thomas said. "Even though it's something small, it's something so big that it's going to mean the world to them." Wanting to raise awareness for this issue and set change in motion, Thomas decided to lead by example. The teen teamed up with the Children's Bureau Inc., a private nonprofit that serves children and families in Indiana, to put together hair care baskets for Black girls in the foster care system.
When I was in foster care the shampoo and conditioner I used from donations flaked my scalp and my hair broke off constantly. My hair was dry all the time, please donate black hair products. Combs, picks, rubber bands, and Bobby pins as well. https://t.co/YPvCUYYWOK— Afroxicanx (@AFROXICANX) November 28, 2017
The baskets contain hair care products that are inclusive to the variety of textures that African American hair can have, including special detangling combs, hair gel, shampoo, and conditioner. Thomas also made sure to add an item that just about every girl of color needs: a hair bonnet for sleeping. "My best friend is African American, and she will tell you she doesn't sleep without her bonnet," she said, explaining what inspired her to add a bonnet to the basket. Thomas is currently in the process of raising money for 50 hair baskets, each filled with about $30 of hair products.
Along with giving Black girls in foster care access to the proper products for their hair, Thomas hopes her project will spread awareness about the importance of inclusivity to foster parents in the area. "It's not only to educate themselves about the hair care products but also racial equality in general. Being really inclusive and helping other kids of color," she said. "Even though it's something small, it's something so big that it's going to mean the world to them. It makes me feel so good that I can help them with that. This could change someone's life. You never know, and the idea of that makes me feel really good inside."
Meet @SwintTamekia CEO & founder of Stylez 4 Kids @styles4kidznfp— Noelle (@_noellegroup) April 29, 2020
She teaches transracial adoptive, parents of biracial children, & foster families how to handle & care for black hair ✨👑
Not all heroes wear capes some braid & comb ! Visit: https://t.co/Finr9BxbYH pic.twitter.com/mlxR6Hldq6
Thomas's initiative is similar in spirit to a Birmingham foster mom's thoughtful routine for emergency placements that come to her house. Brittany Burcham, who houses teenage girls placed in protective state custody, also understands how powerful small gestures can be when it comes to youngsters in foster care. Therefore, she goes to great lengths to make their stay with her as comfortable as possible, including providing a welcome basket containing necessary items they may have forgotten when packing for their sudden arrival. "I learned what's needed in my welcome basket over time," she told BuzzFeed. "When a kid is given a trash bag and told to pack their items [in] 10 minutes, most of them do NOT think about deodorant or a toothbrush. They're grabbing clothes, sentimental items, and their makeup. So... I have a foster closet stocked with [necessities], plus other [items] that I don't include in every basket but have available, like razors, underwear, socks, and hair products for my African American girls."