Kinks, Curls and Swirls

What’s Your Why?


I am fortunate to have worked in spaces that allow me to mentor and support the amazing journeys of youth scholars, activists, thought leaders, and seekers.

Last week I spent a few days sharing career advice with undergraduates, graduate students and post-docs.  In one of the sessions, I shared a small vignett of my educational journey. I realized that in preparing to do so (as in times past), it brought up uncomfortable memories. I could be angry and point fingers, but what I have chosen to do is to help those coming behind me. I also realized I didn’t use some of the power I had out of fear, lack of confidence, and lack of guidance.  I can’t save them from all of the racism, gender  bias, microaggressions, setbacks, or failures. But I can share my experiences and lessons learned, while also being a part of the solution through providing equitable and accessible education.

The organizations and grant initiatives that I am affiliated with are focused on diversifying our STEM and biomedical workforce and the academy.

When I was a child, I always asked “Why is this?”, or “Why is that?”  I have always been inquisitive and curious about the way things are, and the reasoning behind actions or decisions.  Now, I ask those questions about the representation of women and people of color in decision making spaces and in our institutions of higher education. As a chemical engineering undergraduate, I had zero professors who were women or persons of color in my department. I was blessed to have two black men professors for one semester of calculus and one semester of chemistry; however, that was in my entire 5 years of college. (Yes, I changed my major a few times but I finally made it out – Thank You Laude!)

Now I ask the question, “Why haven’t things changed over the past 20 years since I graduated from college?”

It’s not easy being the only one in: the room, a class, a meeting, a lab, a deparment, a program, or any space. It is particularly difficult when your otherness is a threat or unwelcomed in the space.

There are those soldiers who are called to kick down those doors and fight on the frontlines for change. I have realized that I am the general.  An army general is responsible for combat readiness or troops as well as strategic decision making during and after war. Because I have been on the battlefield, I can detect land mines and I also know some of common threat tactics.

This leads me to My Why (well, at least one of them).  I help young girl scientists strategize on the battlefield as they fight to pursue their dreams of becoming engineers, mathematicians, astronauts, physicists, health professionals, environmentalists, and the list goes on. Why? Because I know the struggle perosnally and now I’m in a position to help open doors, create doors, and shatter ceilings! Of course, I support girls on other pathways. In all cases, I remember my journey and realize everything I’ve learned is a step ahead for them.

I have other passions and interests, but this is one that fueled the launch of Celebrate Sisters Foundation with my sister.  We are here to share our knowledge, experiences and networks to girls interested in and pursuing STEM fields.

On this #FreedomFriday I am honored t help girls freely express their big dreams and aspirations with strategy and insight from my experiences. That’s My Why!

What’s Your Why?

Ja’Wanda S. Grant, PhD

(l) With Xavier students and faculty at the  Leadership Alliance National Symposium.

(r) With Leadership Alliance Doctoral Scholars at the closing ceremony


Celebrate Freedom – A New Beginning

It’s #ThankfulThursday and I want to share a snippet of my testimony.

Please know this wasn’t easy to do or share.  Some called it brave, some called it bold – it all started with me being plain tired!  I am liberating myself and I welcome others to join me. Not by doing exactly what I did, but in finding your own way to be free, whatever that means for you!

And so it begins…


Hair and skin issues have been my worst nightmare since I was a child. A combination of hereditary hair loss patterns and tension styling landed me in a position of seriously exploring hair transplantation. After years of being picked on as a child, I always sought beauticians who understood something about hair loss/prevention and hair care. As a teenager I had a lot of skin issues, which I finally got under control with Accutane (now isotretinoin). There is no worse feeling than to be going through puberty and adolescence dealing with visible skin/hair issues. I got stares and questions. And kids can be just plain mean. I always saw hairstyles I wanted to wear, but because of my alopecia, I couldn’t wear any of them. And of course, folks would ask questions like, “Why do you always wear your hair the same way?”

I was still getting relaxers when a dermatologist explained that I had seborrheic dermatitis. My skin would form dry patches on my face (resulting in discoloration) and scalp (as really bad dandruff). Dermatologist prescribed all types of creams and shampoos. I found a beautician who focuses on scalp and hair treatment who I visited weekly. Things started to get better, but my temple area wasn’t really growing. I finally found a trichologist who made her own products and customized hair oils based on the clients’ needs. We even tried electrical pulse treatment (yes, like Jack Nicholson in Anger Management!)

The honest truth is that I stopped some of these efforts because they were soooo expensive and I could not maintain them. (We won’t talk about all the money spent in hair products with claims of regrowing hair!) When I moved to NY for my post-doc and had challenges finding a beautician out in the middle of the forrest (where I was living and working), I had a moment like Sanaa Lathan in the movie Nappily Ever After,  and cut it all off in tears in my bathroom with some scissors.  But with my hair loss on the sides, I wasn’t comfortable rocking it.  So I wore head wraps – every….day.  Finally, I got tired of that and found someone to help me with the natural transition, and I graduated to headbands. Headbands brought on HEADACHES 🤕! I realized I couldn’t go on torturing myself with the headaches so we used a texturizer to loosen my 4f pattern to attempt to cover the sides (yes, my natural hair is super tight and coily I have self-proclaimed 4f).

In the end, I wasn’t feeling comfortable OR confident  because it still pretty much exposed my thinning. What better next step to avoid going back to the relaxer than a full on wig?! I bought wigs from the store, ordered some online, and then finally found someone to make a custom unit for me! I’m sure those of you who have done any of this know this is $$$$$$$! So I wore those until I encountered my first windy storm where I was concerned about the security of this unit on my head!!!! I couldn’t have my hair flying off in public (we’ve seen enough videos of that!) So I started getting them sewn on, and then only to be reminded that my scalp needs regular shampooing to prevent extreme irritation and dandruff.  It seemed that I kept running into dead ends where my hair was concerned (no pun intended 😬).

When I moved to hot and humid New Orleans, I knew I couldn’t go on this way much longer. The units were soooo hot!  But I really didn’t want the relaxer again. Guess what I did next?  I got a relaxer, despite my deepest desire to stay away from the chemicals on my scalp. At that time, it felt like the only way I could be free! And for I while, I felt much more free wearing my own hair (similarly to the women who visit Razor Chic in ATL!)

But eventually, the reality of my skin and scalp condition resurfaced with flare ups and really REALLY bad dry scalp. Once again, I found someone to do the scalp and hair treatments while I was getting the relaxer, but deep down I was so tired of this cycle. Fast forward, I had a biopsy and my new dermatologist diagnosed me with Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia (talk about a tongue twister). We talked about my journey and my options and decided on a new treatment, Platelet Rich Plasma injections. This was a formal way to determine how likely it would be for the hair to ever regrow in my thinning spots. After several months of these painful prickly injections, we decided to stop. We talked about hair transplant options and I decided to let that option sit for a while.

When my grandmother passed unexpectedly, I needed to go back to SC for her funeral. Days prior I had just gotten a relaxer and my scalp was so dry and scabbed. I was back on the cycle in my mind plotting my next step (going back to wigs was the latest thought).   I decided on a temporary fix – quick weave (if you have NO clue what I’m talking about, just Google!)  I met this new stylist and she is very familiar with women struggling with various types of alopecia (hereditary, traction, chemotherapy-induced, etc).  We talked about getting a wig, but I told her I was contemplating just taking it all off!  The second time I went to her and we were reevaluated my hair condition, I told her I was seriously ready to be free of this burden. I had text her a wild style (for me, at least) – but she didn’t think I would really do it.  At that moment at the shampoo bowl, I said “I’m ready.”  She said, “Let’s Do it!”

We revamped our entire original plan for the appointment and I got my freedom! The women in the salon that day were amazing cheerleaders.  My stylist even had Alexa to play “I am not my hair” by India Aria featuring Akon!  There was a healing happening in that chair as that music played and she released those chains!

I am not looking for affirmations (although I am so touched by what I have received so far.)  I did this for ME and all the women out here struggling to keep a certain look while torturing their skin and hair and their minds! As Minnie Ripperton said, “I just want to be free!”  I know I may get questions, but now I get to share a little more of my story with the world.

What I do ask is that you all be mindful of the jokes you make about people and hair loss/thinning.  It is a traumatizing thing to go through, particularly for women who have so much pressure on our physical appearance.  What woman doesn’t want to feel beautiful and be told that we are as well?  Well, sisters, let me tell you.  YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL HONEY!  Your truest beauty starts with YOU, the inner you – and how YOU feel about YOU.  I started affirming daily who I am and who God says I am.  I am a daughter of the most High King!  What God sees is all that matters.  Don’t get me wrong, I prayed and prayed and PRAYED for a miracle.   What ended up happening was that I became consumed by the weight of my issue and that weight carried into every area of my life.   No, I haven’t given up on a miracle. I still believe in miracles!  I am using this step as a reset – I will be more regimented with the treatments my dermatologist has prescribed, and also making some dietary changes that I believe are good for my overall skin condition.


Your issue may not be external like mine, but I know you have something. Everybody has SOMETHING!   Some may say I’m brave. Some may call me crazy. But the reality is, I am ME, and SHE is FREE!


Dr. Jay’s New Do (inspired by this amazing model – unknown)



Transformation Lab: Makeover Beauty Salon

Hair: Sherell Randle

MUA: Nysha Carter



Happy Birthday, Leontyne Price!

Today in BlackHERstory, a SHEro was born in Laurel, MS.  Her name is Leontyne Price.

A Trailblazer in BlackHERStory

leontyne price

Photo from The Fabulous Birthday Blog

I came across several posts about Leontyne Price today while strolling through social media.  I have not studied her story in depth, but I wanted to share a few things that stood out from what I learned today.  Much of what follows is in response to the interview by Susan Taylor for Essence Magazine linked here.

  1. She made 92 today!  Happy Birthday to you from Celebrate Sisters!
  2. She’s a native of Mississippi – my second home state.
  3. She blazed the trail for black opera singers as the first African-American to become a prima donna at the Metropolitan Opera (1).
  4. She received 13 Grammy awards and was nominated for 25 (2).
  5. This woman has enough confidence to go around!  Not only can she hold her own, she shows us how to love the skin we’re in.  It goes way beyond her external beauty – she loves herself and it manifests as boldness.  Sometimes as women, our confidence can be viewed as a negative trait.  Leontyne Price has graced all stages and ages with courage and the confidence of a SHEro!
  6. Here’s what she had to say about success (starting at 3:11 in the video interview.)   “Success is a luxury. Success is what you’ve done.. you aspire to. Of course it means certain things if you are successful. To certain people it means a fur coat, jewelry, cars, all the creature comforts. I have those. But aside from that, it means I can do as I please. I call the shots. I think success means YOU call the shots.”  I can totally get with this definition of success.  This also means that success isn’t calculated by a title or financial status – but instead by the ability to have choices.
  7. In her interview with Susan Taylor she talks about being yourself – which is courageous. “You cannot make a willow out of an oak.”  Basically, you can only be who you are!  The take away here is a reminder to stay in my lane, and also to bring all of me to every space I’m in.  I can only be me.
  8. She “retired” in 1985, but she doesn’t like to use that word.  Her reference to a mathematical expression is worth a graphic. (Plus, I love math.) Ms. Price left the opera, “on the crest of a wave” (Fig. 1).  I attended a lecture by President Michael Sorrell at Tulane a few weeks ago, and he said it this way, “Leave places better than you found them.”  When you do exit a space, leave it better as you step into your next era! Since I mentioned it, check out our selfie with President Michael Sorrell (“Prez”) and a few students from my honors program.

crest of wave

Figure 1.  Electromagnetic wave (Image from Universität Wien)


President Michael Sorrell (Paul Quinn College) took a selfie with us after his lecture at Tulane.

9. Her final comments in the interview reminded me why I am so passionate about mentorship.  After leaving the opera at the peak of her success, she wanted to help mold someone else who aspired to be an opera singer.  As she states, “A little bit of me will always be around.”  That’s what you call making an impact and leaving your mark!  I want others to be able to go farther and higher than me by standing on my shoulders and learning from my journey.

Today we Celebrate Leontyne Price. #GirlBoss

With Joy and Gratitude,



  1. Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History

#BlackHERSTory #LeontynePrice #SHEro #BlackHistory #BlackHistoryMonth #CelebrateSHEros #CelebrateSisters

Black HERstory Reading Challenge

One of the nice things about Instagram is that you can follow people who share cool resources.  I am a resource junkie!  But I’m no hoarder – I do share.  I’ve been following a few posts on Instagram focused on #blackhistorymonth and one that stood out was a post by @hereweeread.  She shares a variety of picture books for kids, many featuring black characters, and promotes a range of authors.  In the Celebrate Sisters mentoring meetings, we always check-in with the girls on what they have been reading.  They don’t all like to read, but our goal is to help encourage reading – which sometimes means finding new ways to make it fun or finding out the types of topics they find interesting!

Last February (2018) we featured Marley Dias and #1000blackgirlbooks, and we want to continue in the spirit of promoting books featuring black characters.  This February, we are putting a spin on this and promoting #blackbooks through the #BlackHERstoryReadingChallenge.  Yes, you read it correctly.  We want to encourage reading about BLACK WOMEN who would have totally gotten the #GirlBoss tag in their day!

We will be using Black History Bingo as a guide to this challenge to our girls (and anyone who wants to join) to READ about the black women in history.   The Bingo card says “Picturebook Bingo” since it was created for younger readers.  We are modifying the challenge for all ages!  Young readers are encouraged to read black picture books, while others should read at their level!

To sweeten the deal and make the challenge more fun, we have a special prize!  One of the goals of Celebrate Sisters is to show girls positive role models by featuring girls and women who are business owners, and leaders in their fields and the community.  The winner of the #BlackHERstoryReadingChallenge will receive a collection of bracelets designed by Rockin’ Rootz Designs.  These are handcrafted unisex bracelets designed to inspire and enrich our communities through embracing our culture!  Follow them on IG @rockinrootzdesigns and see more of their collection. A few samples are pictured below!

Are you ready to join this challenge?  Here we go!  READY. SET. READ!

Follow these instructions  to be enter the drawing for the Rockin’ Rootz Gift Set!

  1.  Follow @celebratesisters on Instagram
  2.  Tag your friends to join the challenge.  We encourage doing this WITH your daughter/niece/mentee.
  3. Download Black History Bingo here.
  4. Post your Bingo Results with titles of the books and authors (so others can get book ideas for their reading list!) and don’t forget to TAG @celebratesisters
  5. You will be entered to win!

LET’S HAVE FUN!  Tag us even if you don’t get “BINGO” to show your participation and join the #GirlBoss community!

With joy and gratitude,


IMG_4873Dr. Ja’Wanda and Ms. Bianca supporting Rockin’ Rootz Designs at Unity Fest 2018 in Gulfport, MS.


A few pieces from the Rockin’ Rootz Designs custom collection


  1. Here Wee Read | Black History Picturebook Bingo |
  2. Marley Diaz | #1000blackgirlbooks |
  3. Rockin’ Rootz Designs |



September 2018

By Dr. Ja’Larna

Respect is something we all desire and want. Sometimes we expect it and sometimes we demand it. We introduced this topic at our September meeting with our mentees.  Our definition of respect is the act showing kindness and considering others. We had the girls discuss how they should be respectful to others. Also, they had a lot to say about how disrespect looks and situations in which they have felt disrespected.

Our mission is for the girls and others to know that respect not only comes by what you say, but also by your actions. Respecting others regardless of race, gender, disabilities, or social status is a must.  Essentially, it is a reflection of your character. Although you may be respectful, it does not guarantee that others will respect you in return. However, don’t let that deter you from doing what you know is best. Michelle Obama said it best; “When they go low, we go high.”

“Show respect even to people who dont’ deserve it; not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection of yours.” -Dave Willis