In Chad, the women say God left a gift in the mountains to make their hair grow. If the flowering plant that produces the seeds, which these women have been blending into a silky powder and applying to their hair with oils for a millennium, is a gift from God, it would only be one of the innumerable ways the Creator’s abundant grace is revealed through Black women’s crowns of glory, given by the God who numbers the very hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7).

My own hair story is braided with the story of my faith. Like a crown is to a queen, a regal mane is to a lion, or leaves are to a tree, hair is a visually powerful symbol of identity.

Thousands of years ago, Nazirites—men and women who showed their dedication to God by letting their hair grow—also believed that hair was inseparable from the identity of a person. The Hebrew root word for Nazirite translates to “an unpruned vine.” Similarly, cutting the hair, or “pruning the vine,” for a Black person can be the same as being cut off from the symbol of one’s identity.

The most famous Nazirite was Samson. Unlike other men and women who took the vow to become Nazirites for a period of time, Samson was a Nazirite “from the womb” (Judges 13:5), his entire life dedicated to God. As he grew up and into the purpose God had placed on his life, performing superhuman feats throughout the land, Samson wore his unshorn hair in seven long, thick braids (16:19). He was stronger than any other foe because no razor had ever touched his head—until his lover, Delilah, betrayed him. After she had his braids chopped off, Samson awoke to find himself shaved, weakened, and surrounded by his enemies. They gouged out his eyes and enslaved him in their prison (v. 21).

It would seem like Samson’s purpose, like his hair, was lost. “But,” the Bible tells us, “the hair on his head began to grow again” (v. 22). Samson eventually vanquished many of his enemies, reclaiming the glorious purpose God had for him all along.

Majority-white society has long said that Afro-textured hair and hairstyles are not standard, unprofessional, messy, and unnatural. It demands that Black people straighten, change, or cut off our natural hair. The result of this pressure is the weakening of our self-esteem. But we have a secret. Like Samson, the strength of our identity is ultimately not in our hair but in our close relationship with the God who created us and our natural hair. God said we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14). God said our hair is very good (Gen. 1:31).

My own hair story has been complicated—and my identity in God ultimately strengthened—by a diagnosis of central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA). This is a form of hair loss that is commonly experienced by Black women. While previously believed to be solely attributable to the tight hairstyles and harsh chemicals we use on our hair at early ages, current research suggests that CCCA can be linked to multiple factors, including genetics. CCCA destroys hair follicles, and this leads to inflammation, scarring (cicatricial), and permanent hair loss, more often than not starting in the central part of the scalp, or the crown.

At first, I was confident I could reverse the CCCA. But when I got my first salaried job, my mindset shifted from healing the damage to my hair and scalp to covering it up. My hair’s condition worsened, and I became discouraged. Eventually, I spent all my time with my head covered by wigs and scarves. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see God’s good creation. I saw balding and brokenness.

But where I was disheartened, my mom and my sister, Sylvia, were helpful and patient. Where I had hopelessness, they had faith.

What made me ashamed made them proud. Instead of covering my scalp’s damage and alopecia with added hair and wigs, I was covered—in the biblical sense—by their love, as they encouraged and coached me to honor my hair care regimens. I was covered by Mom’s hair prayers over me. I was covered by my sister’s affirmations of the beauty of my natural hair.

Because of the words they spoke over me, words God has promised for me, I could trade the broken crown of my physical head for a spiritual crown of beauty and self-confidence, believing that my identity begins with how my God, the one who knows the number of coils on my head, sees me. What God put inside of me to reflect glory—my creativity, my spirit—matters more than what is (or isn’t) on my head when I look at my reflection.

My natural hair journey has been both a spiritual and physical journey toward grace, and it’s a journey I’m still making. Mom and Sylvia walked alongside me when I was healing. They are beside me now, helping me remember that the one who created us crowned us first. Shining atop our heads is a divine diadem with all the lightness of air, the radiance of honor, and the weight of glory. Along with the fractals in snowflakes and the curved petals of flowers, our coils are very good.

Article continues below

Melissa Burlock is a researcher, writer, and the coauthor of My Divine Natural Hair (Broadleaf Books, March 2024). Her musings on Black literature and culture have been featured in outlets like She is an alumna of Winston-Salem State University and resides in Indianapolis, Indiana.

An adapted excerpt from My Divine Natural Hair: Inspiration and Tips to Love and Care for Your Crown by Shelia, Sylvia, and Melissa Burlock © 2024 Broadleaf Books. Reproduced by permission.