Cancer survivor Dr. Andrene Taylor founded ZuriWorks in 2012 to target black women for prevention. Zuriworks uses hair care-themed events in artistic settings such as galleries to draw women of color towards the goal of cancer awareness while enhancing personal beauty. Bringing these women into spaces of beauty when they are not feeling or considered beautiful during cancer treatment is central to the Zuriworks mission.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Johnny Wright – personal stylist of first lady Michelle Obama — will headline ZuriWorks’ Big Chop to Stop Cancer in Washington, D.C. on October 24.
“He came on board, and he was always like, ‘Just tell me what you need me to do,’” Taylor told theGrio. “‘As long as the first lady doesn’t need me, you can have me.’”
Bringing awareness to black women
Although she has never had breast cancer, Dr. Taylor survived two recurrences of Hodgkins lymphoma after her initial diagnosis — a life experience she has used to help others.
“I’m not going to say I didn’t have moments where I questioned, ‘What was this all about?’” the 35-year-old said. “Rather than say, ‘Why me?’ I was always like, ‘What is this supposed to teach me?’” Taylor is now celebrating the 10th anniversary of her initial diagnosis, and is cancer free.
Based in Washington, D.C., her ZuriWorks organization has reached approximately 5,000 women. Stars of the hair care community, such as Jane Carter of Jane Carter Solution, have been supportive of its endeavors with time and products.
“The health of your hair begins with the health of your body,” Taylor said. “Having that great hairstyle means that you have to take care of yourself inside and out, and unfortunately, lots of times women in general, and black women in particular, don’t prioritize our self care. We put others before us. This focus on prioritizing yourself through taking care of your beauty and your looks is one way that we can engage women about their health to create change.”
The Big Chop to Stop Cancer
The ZuriWorks Big Chop to Stop Cancer is its latest event aimed towards creating change.
“[It] is going to be on October 24th at 1776, which is a great startup incubator that we are fortunate to be a part of here in D.C.,” Taylor said. “We’re going to have Johnny Wright there, and he will be big chopping women’s hair along with lots of other local celebrity stylists.”
A “big chop” occurs when a woman of color cuts off all her relaxed hair while transitioning to natural hair. The result is usually a “teeny weeny afro.”
Taylor chose this decisive beauty moment to illustrate the importance of breast cancer awareness to black women.
“You can say when someone asks you, ‘Why did you do this, why did you cut your hair?’ — It can be a little bit more than, ‘I did it for aesthetic value,’” Taylor said. Instead, Big Chop participants will be able to say, “‘I did it to raise awareness. I did it to stand in solidarity with the sisters in my community. I did it to make a difference.’”
Women of all hair types and backgrounds are invited to participate. Wigs for cancer patients will be made from the hair collected at the Big Chop.
Complicating the public image of cancer
Part of the goal of ZuriWorks is to change the image many have of the typical person fighting cancer. “Pink ribbon” campaigns are usually associated with homogeneous, middle class demographics. Taylor seeks to complicate that image with a more diverse portrait of breast cancer patients, survivors and advocates.
Zuriworks’ photography education program, The Exposures Project, is a literal instance of Taylor’s inventive approach in evolving this image.
Ultimately, she hopes Zuriworks will empower black women to fearlessly maintain their health through inspiration from the aesthetic realm.
“I think one of the messages that we want to get out through the program is that we have ownership of our bodies and that we have agency over it,” Taylor said.
The ZuriWorks’ Big Chop to Stop Cancer will be held in Washington, D.C. on Thursday October 24.
To support Zuriworks’ Indiegogo campaign for its photography education program, which features African-American cancer survivors telling their stories, visit the campaign web site.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.