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NACA – Innovatively Saving the American Dream:
POETIC JUSTICE –
Young “Celie” in “The Color Purple”
We, the developers of this web site, meant it when we said that we will present innovation from any source that we find it, if it can have a positive impact on society. This is why we are enthusiastically presenting this information about Ms. Desreta Jackson. Her story is going to have an impact on so many different levels, and we know we can not tell all the details in this space, but we are giving some of them because her accomplishments reflects what happens when people embrace innovation.
She will be known forever for what she accomplished as a child in her role as Young “Celie” in the movie “The Color Purple”; but what she is accomplishing as an adult will be even greater in magnitude. She has created a hair care product that will beautify millions of women around the world, and particularly for women of color, it will help in preserving their health.
To understand what she has done you need to understand where she started. Her family immigrated to America from the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, when she was nine years old. Even as a child she saw her self as being successful. She said, “My aunt told that when I was four we would take walks on the beach and I told her that one day I would be an actress, singing, dancing and starring in movies. This made sense to me because my mother was an actress and my father was a musician.”
Her mother settled the family in Los Angeles and like a number of immigrant stories of rags-to-riches when they come to America, her's was no different. Her family was on skid row; her mother was pregnant and collected cans daily to feed them and shelter them for two years. When they found housing in South Central that was a step up. But the atmosphere of gangs and drugs worried her mother about how this would influence her children. So when Desreta, after she had done a scene in a school play that was powerfully intense, told her mother she wanted to take drama classes, her mother told her yes.
This was not a simple proposition. Desreta said, “My mother worked two jobs and we still struggled to make ends meet. So when I told her that I wanted to take drama classes that would cost her $50 a month, this was a huge sacrifice. I was getting into trouble and fighting in school so my mother reasoned she needed anything that would take my interests from the streets. So she told me, 'I will take the money for your classes from our grocery money, so some days out of each month you will have to eat at school because there will be NO FOOD AT HOME.' I had two other siblings and we did it. She cooked what she had and rationed it, and we accepted the fact that some days we could not eat at home. She was willing to pay this price because she wanted me off of the streets.”
“I was taking classes for less than three months when my drama teacher told me that the casting effort had started for a major motion picture. She and others raved about my acting abilities and she told my mother that she thought I could carry this role. The casting call had gone out all OVER THE WORLD. I went to Morningside High School and my drama teacher arranged for me to meet Reuben Cannon there. (He is a renowned casting agent). I did not know him but I went on stage and gave my first reading. I gave another reading and he had me stand up and he looked me over. He had me come back for another audition that night at Steven Spielberg's production studio. I read that night and did a screen test. They gave me the part. By the time I got home agents had blown up my mother's answering machine wanting to represent me.”
The role that Desreta and Whoopi Goldberg played in “The Color Purple” as “Celie” was powerful because of their performances, and as a reminder to the country – particularly to the black community- of how people are judged and treated because of skin tone and hair texture. Celie was abused in part because of this and the verbal and physical abuse was graphic.
Desreta was asked how did making this movie as a 12 year old impact her. She stated, “It didn't make me feel bad about me. It made me to understand how complexions and hair texture are viewed here. In the islands you are not made to feel that, but in coming to the States I especially saw how children see this. I didn't internalize the negatives from the script because my mother was strong and she was my intellectual and emotional support. I see kids in this industry become messed up and it brings up the question of nature or nurture being the reason. Well, 90% of billionaires come from poverty and 60% of them didn't have a high school diploma, something or someone nurtured their drive to succeed. My mother's nurturing got me through this.”
So in light of the nurturing issue, her response to how did she become interested in being an entrepreneur and inventor was interesting. She said, “My mother. She was conscious about money and the need to manage it. She had me look at saving and investing so by the age of 16 I owned property. But when I became pregnant later on and discovered I was going to have a girl, I wanted to make her life better. I was into hair, especially braiding, and I was able to make good money doing it. I became more interested in directing than acting so I went to school to learn it better and braiding paid my way.
When my daughter was 4 years old she developed a skin problem that made it hard and black. I went to doctors for creams to treat it but they didn't work. I then started using plants and oils that from the islands that my mother taught me about and her skin cleared up. It made me think and I started formulating ideas that could deal with this problem long term. I created a natural oil blended from specific plants and I started using it to braid women's hair. It would heal scalp problems, dandruff, bacteria and dry scalp. My clients would call me and say their scalp problems were gone and what did I use. I called it my 'Special Blend'.
I had my own hair problems and I used it on my hair. I added a certain protein and I noticed it made my hair grow. Clients started noticing it with their hair. But my daughter's hair was thick and hard to comb. She disliked her hair and would cry when I did try to comb it. I decided to modify my product to address that problem. I wanted her to love her own hair, so I decided to make my own shampoo and conditioner. And I saw that the cycle remained. I excelled because my mother helped me and I also excelled further because I wanted to help my daughter.”
While Desreta was in school she took science and chemistry classes and that helped her to formulate and fine tune her products. She began using her formulations on her clients to see how they affected people. She said, “People don't understand what makes their hair different or what works to solve their problems. In the black community we hear people with certain hair textures say that they have 'Indian' in their family. Well I don't have any Indian in my family so I determined to know what can work to safely make our hair any texture that we wanted.”
From 2002 to 2011 she accumulated over 500 clients and did surveys on hair problems that generated over 5000 responses. She researched these responses and kept records and photos of each client to see how her products dealt with a variety of problems including alopecia and balding. She found that her products did indeed strengthen hair. She developed the foundation of a product line with natural ingredients that was safe for contact with hair and skin, that had natural chemical compounds, and that was Eco-friendly. And the name of her product line was created because of her daughter's hair. Her daughter's friends would say that her hair was so pretty and soft that it was like “Black Silk”. By the way, her daughter loves her hair.
Desreta officially launched “Black Silk” in 2011 and was met with some opposition from manufacturing operations that told her there was a “cheaper” way to make her products. She said, “I told all of them NO. I wanted the quality of my ingredients maintained. I had to fight with manufacturers because of their perceptions of my products, my people, and my intelligence. So we brought in our own manufacturers and we have a patent pending for the process that makes our products. One of my products does the same thing as eight different products. It has versatility for usage and purpose for different hair and different races. Black women can use these products to alternately wear their hair from braids, to curls, to Afros, and to wearing it bone straight, any time they want to. They apply it ONE TIME to their hair and then apply it to the new growth to maintain the conditioning effect. White women and women with naturally straight hair tell me that it is a fabulous conditioner and that it softens their hair to easily make it straighter if it is very curly and hard to comb.”
One of the major issues that her product line is going to tackle will deal with the health issue. Conventional relaxers, either lye or no lye, for decades have maimed and burned women where their hair has melted or have had burns that permanently scarred and disfigured their scalps. The pH in these relaxers have been compared to the same pH in drain cleaners. Now there are questions of what are the results of continuously having relaxers applied to the scalps of women for years. Reports have started circulating about autopsies done on black women that shows a discoloring in the fluid on their brains. Some have said the color is green and some say it is a gray color: But the issue now being discussed is what is happening when you have a toxic chemical that can burn hair and skin, that is getting into the blood stream of the human skull, over long periods of time. Concerns of developing health problems are now coming forward, and whether the price that black women having been paying for beauty is even greater than what they realized.
Because it is completely natural and safe, Desreta's product line completely eliminates this issue. But there is another issue that has plagued the black community even longer, and that is the psychological impact of having hair whose texture is not naturally fine or straight. An entire section of a library could be devoted to dealing with how this has been a problem in Black America and in equally so in foreign countries. This product eliminates this problem by allowing women and children of color to safely wear their hair in any style that they would like, that develops and nourishes their sense of self esteem. This is going to be discussed in greater detail.
Desreta's story is part of the narrative that makes America great. How she came to this country continues to underline the value that immigrants have historically brought to America. America's story has always been about its people, either those native or naturalized, who develop innovation that helps to build the country and move it forward; and we're going to need more like this to rebuild it.
“The Color Purple” was hard to absorb, in part when we saw how brutally Celie was being treated, also in part because she was devalued as a person because of her appearance. Therefore it is Poetic Justice to see the actress who as a child, played this scared insecure character, develop into this confident, beautiful woman that you can see in her photo. And it is even further Poetic Justice that this same woman has achieved success depending on the God given intelligence of her mind, not just her beauty, so that she can invent a product line that can safely enhance the beauty of other women all around the world. That's innovation.
If you want further information about Desreta Jackson and about her product line “Black Silk”, please go to her web site, www.blacksilkproducts.com.