Former meteorologist Rhonda Lee might just be the new face of natural hair activism. After the 37-year-old news veteran responded to a Facebook comment that criticized her short natural afro, her news station in Shreveport, Louisiana fired her because she violated a rule, which states that employees cannot respond to controversial social media posts. The incident went viral, with social media sites buzzing 0ver whether Lee had the right to defend herself. About a month later, national attention over Lee’s story has died down, yet the plight of black women wearing natural hair in the workplace will continue. What’s next for Lee, who has made this plight part of her professional mission? We caught up with her to see what her plans are after publicly taking on the mantle of natural hair pioneer.
theGrio: What are your next steps? Will you stay in news or will you become a spokesperson for natural hair acceptance, for instance, by speaking at all the new conferences about the topic?
Rhonda A. Lee: What I think is so funny about all of this is that people have all these plans for me, but I just want to do the forecast! (Laughs.) I’ve been asked about [whether I've thought of] writing down my story and I thought, “No I never did!” I would love to continue to be that station scientist that I set out to be in the first place. If I can do that and still be that hair care activist, I love it! I kind of adopted that role [over the last] few weeks or so myself. I say I adopted it. In reality, I think I have been in this role of activist since I’ve started doing the weather.
When I was a news reporter, I used to have long straight hair and I used to do one of [those hair flips] all the time. I would think about my hair 24/7, but then I cut my hair.
Then I decided to do weather, which is typically, let’s be honest, an older white man’s game, and I’m a younger black woman. Polar opposites. It’s been a little tough, but without struggle, there would be no progress. I can honestly say I’ve done a lot of soul searching. I was about to quit. [I thought], I cannot keep going from market to market and being told that my hair was a mess. I cannot keep doing this.
But then through the support of so many people — I have a wonderful family unit — I was always told, “You were clearly put on this planet for something big… so just stay with it.”
I think I’m going to try and continue to forecast, but if I can be a voice for natural hair everywhere, I’ll do it. I’m all for it at this point. We’ll see what happens, but let’s get through the holidays first.
What was your reaction to all of the positive support from the social media community?
I thought it had national implications when [my story] first happened, but then again I was really angry because I lost my job. But as time has gone on now, it’s weird. I was just looking at the calendar on my wall and it has been almost a month and it seems like it happened yesterday. I mean everything has just been flying by so quickly. I thought maybe I would get something like a big blurb out of Dallas maybe, because Dallas is two and a half hours away. “The story will go no further than Texarkana and I’m going to be searching for a job,” I thought. I had no idea. I was getting support from everywhere from Canada to Australia, British Columbia, Ireland. I mean, I’m still overwhelmed.
I’m just overwhelmed by the show of support and it gives me encouragement, too, that I’m encouraging other people. I’ve had messages where people who have cancer are writing me saying they’ve been inspired. I’m thinking, Rhonda, you can’t be so selfish as to give up now. You’ve got a battle ahead of you and you’ve got to suit up and make it happen.