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‘Grandmother of Hip Hop’ reflects on ban of her book ‘Nappy Hair’

Carolivia Herron displays her children’s book “Nappy Hair.” PHOTO BY MATT HOOKECarolivia Herron displays her children’s book “Nappy Hair.” PHOTO BY MATT HOOKE  TAKOMA PARK — Washington, D.C. resident Carolivia Herron, clad all in purple, carefully leans into the microphone at Takoma Radio. One moment the 71-year-old Howard University professor praises the 17th-century writer John Milton; at another, she laments the loss two years earlier to gun violence of young local rapper Douglas Brooks, known by his stage name “Swipey.”

Unfortunately, this year is a dubious one for Herron, as it marks the 20th anniversary of her children’s book “Nappy Hair” being banned by New York City Public Schools.

The ban occurred in 1998, after a white teacher taught the book to her third-grade class. Although the students enjoyed the book, protests broke out, as some considered the book racially insensitive. According to Herron, the majority of parents who complained about the book did not have children in the class.

“They felt a white teacher had no business teaching about black hair,” said Herron. “Because the word nappy had been used as an insult in their families, but it was never used that way in mine.”

The book itself is an uplifting story, telling African American girls to take pride in their natural hair. Nappy Hair is written entirely in call and response form, giving the book a unique rhythm, and paying tribute to African American traditions.

“It’s an important issue for black girls and women that many other people don’t understand. People who say ‘everyone wants to change their hair’ … have no idea what black woman go through when it comes to their hair,” said Herron. “It’s hours of time, lots of money, and, for many people, self-esteem troubles. They don’t believe they can get a job if their hair is in a natural state.”

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Artist and children’s book author chosen to participate in outdoor arts festival

Raya Salman, one of the juried artists at Rockville’s A-RTS festival, poses in front of her booth. COURTESY PHOTORaya Salman, one of the juried artists at Rockville’s A-RTS festival, poses in front of her booth. COURTESY PHOTO  For a time, despite her devotion to it and training at the prestigious Sorbonne University in Paris, Raya Salman “couldn’t afford to live on art.”

Still, Salman, who was born in Lebanon and later relocated to England with her three children before landing in Montgomery County in 1991 and remarrying, wasn’t ready to give up on a professional art career.

Now that her children are 35, 32, and 28 – she also has two grandchildren – she is making up for lost time.

“I paint religiously two times a week,” she said. “One day a week I devote to marketing and social media.”

Her efforts have been recognized. Salman is one of seven Montgomery County artists selected by a jury to participate in A-RTS, a free annual outdoor arts festival at Rockville Town Square, which took place earlier this month on May 5 and 6.

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