- Courtesy of AJ Walker
- AJ Walker, an investigative reporter for CBS 12 News in West Palm Beach, Florida, started wearing her hair in braids in February.
- She said this is the first time in her decade-long career that she has been allowed to wear braids on air.
- Walker started wearing braids to feel closer to her mother, who taught her how to braid and died last year.
- Walker said her first day wearing braids “felt like the chains had finally been taken off,” and that she couldn’t stop smiling.
An investigative reporter in Florida is celebrating wearing braids on air for the first time in her decade-long career.
AJ Walker, a reporter for CBS 12 News in West Palm Beach, Florida, told INSIDER that at most of the news stations she worked for until now she was restricted from wearing her hair natural.
She said that at the start of her career, managers liked her to wear a straight weave, and the first time she took out her weave to go in a more natural direction with her hair, her boss was “furious.”
“He told me that was a fireable offense. He said in the future any changes to my hair needed his approval or I could lose my job. I was surprised at how angry he was over something that seemed so simple to me,” she told INSIDER via email.
Braids, for many African-American women, are more than simply an aesthetic choice. They’re a hairstyle rooted in history, and a protective style used to help women transition from processed to natural hair.
From the start, Walker spent money on expensive weaves and kept her hair straight – she worried that going natural would keep her from getting future jobs.
While she wasn’t told outright she couldn’t wear braids, Walker said it was clear that having straight hair was preferable for the local stations she had worked for.
“In the past, I discussed the possibility of wearing braids on-air with stations, the answer was ‘Let’s keep your hair the way it is.’ ‘We like your hair the way it is’ and ‘That’s too dramatic of a change.’ No station ever said the words ‘You cannot wear braids’ outright. Instead, it was just asked that I keep my hair the way it is. To me, that was still a “no” although it wasn’t worded that way,” she said.
Walker started working at CBS 12, a Sinclair broadcast network, in January, just after her mother died.
Before interviewing for the job, Walker had been wearing her hair in braids – something she said reminded her of her mother, who taught her how to braid her hair when she was 10 years old.
“When I was a little girl, my mother always braided my hair, and when I got good enough, I started braiding hers. When my mother had a stroke and was partially paralyzed on one side, I would often braid her hair when I came back home to Michigan to visit,” she told INSIDER.
Though she had taken the braids out while interviewing for jobs, Walker said Sinclair allowed her to wear them on air, and she started doing so in February.
She said her first day wearing braids “felt like the chains had finally been taken off,” and that she couldn’t stop smiling.
Walker told Yahoo Lifestyle that wearing the braids has given her a “stronger sense of self-esteem, self-worth and confidence as a person and as a woman. “
“Not many people realize that African-American and other women feel and often are forced to wear hairstyles that the company or news station deems acceptable,” Walker told Yahoo Lifestyle.
She told INSIDER that she hopes that her decision to wear braids will help others embrace their own natural hair.
“The more people see us in braids and our natural kinky hair, the more ‘normal’ it will become and we can stop hiding behind long or straight wigs and weave,” she said. “We are still professionals even with braids or natural hair.”
- Read more:
- How this 7-year-old boy is changing the modeling industry with his beautiful long hair
- A mother is accusing her son’s school of ‘racist’ rules after it asked the six-year-old to cut off his dreadlocks
- A black student is suing her former high school after being told her skin was ‘too dark’ to perform on the dance team, lawsuit says
- Hair discrimination is now illegal in New York City