Amber Curry Empowers Women of Color Through Hair

Amber Curry, 32, originally from Denver moved to Nashville in 1997 with her family.

“It was a huge culture shock,” she said. “I hated Tennessee when I first got here but there was nothing here, not like how it is now.”

Amber went to Blackman High School in Rutherford County and then graduated from MTSU in 2006 with an undergraduate degree in theater performance.

“I performed for a while and took a break after undergrad for a year,” she said. “I decided I wanted to go to graduate school, so I moved out to California and got my Master’s in Fine Arts at the University of California at Irvine.”

She said she misses the weather and the food of Los Angeles, but said she’s definitely a Northern California kind of girl.

After she graduated in 2010, Amber moved to Washington D.C. where she worked for a small nonprofit and interned at the Kennedy Center. In D.C. for about three years, Amber began working as an event manager and helped produce festivals and cultural events. She said three years of the work was long enough, and she decided she wanted to move back home.

COMING BACK HOME

In 2012, Amber moved back to Nashville.

“I came back to Nashville and tried to do some different things with Tennessee Performing Arts Center, but it was not a fun atmosphere to acclimate in,” she said. “Everyone there had been in their positions forever, and there weren’t a lot of new faces and definitely not a lot of diverse faces circulating. So I got to the point where I was like I want to do something else.”

Amber knew she didn’t want to be working at a desk in corporate America. She knew she wanted to be her own boss, so she took a year off to relax and think about her future. In the meantime, she was doing hair.

“I’ve always been doing hair. My grandmother was a hair stylist, and I always changed my hair. The guy I was dating at the time said he thought I should go to hair school,” she said. “My initial response was, ‘I already have two degrees. That doesn’t make any sense.’ But then I started thinking about it, and I thought it could work, and I could be my own boss.”

Amber set up interviews at cosmetology schools around Nashville. In the summer of 2013, Amber started at Aveda Institute Nashville.

“It just came naturally. It was the first time I was in school, but I didn’t really need to compete. I got it. It clicked, and I just wanted to keep learning more.”

The next year, in 2014, Amber won a PBA Beacon Award and had the opportunity to travel to Professional Beauty Week in Las Vegas.

She said she realized she got into hair because her salon experience as a black woman was not good.

“Without me knowing, it became my mission to create a positive salon experience specifically for women of color.”

Amber said black people have big misconceptions about their hair.

“We’ve been told that our hair is ugly and nappy, that we need to relax it, straighten it, put a wig on it or put in some weave but the way it comes out of our scalp isn’t cool,” she said.

Stylists have also learned to echo that to their clients, she said, and not empower women, but making them feel trapped in a cycle harmful hair treatments to please what other stylists and the media say.

Amber said the appropriation of black hair gets seen throughout Western society and culture but said what’s lacking is the acknowledgment that black hair is a skill and a craft.

LUCY BELL

“Lucy Bell is totally off the cuff.”

Amber and her business partner, Donnie Tiller, opened Lucy Bell Hair Studio in 2015.

Donnie was a client of Amber’s at another salon when she asked her if she wanted to open up one of their own. Amber laughed it off at first, but Donnie pursued it and found a space in Smyrna. She said from there, it just took off.

“Lucy Bell was her grandmother’s name who, like mine, was a hairstylist,” she said. “We’ve taken from it, Lucy being the first woman and have grown that into a brand and a model.”

Amber said it’s just her right now in the studio and said it’s hard to find dependable people in the business who are passionate about their craft.

“The idea here is to change the experience for women. I’m all about educating when it comes to hair,” she said. “Most women don’t have much education. They go to the salon, they get their hair done, and then they leave. If their hair falls out three weeks later and they don’t know why then they go back to the salon.”

Amber focuses on scalp health, care and empowering women of color to know how to do their hair beyond her chair.

Because of her mother’s rule, Amber wasn’t able to get a relaxer in her hair until she was 18 years old.

“Learning how to do my hair at a young age empowered me in a lot of ways and ended up leading me to feel empowered to do other things as a woman,” she said. “For one, it taught me how to be bold in general. I cut my hair, pressed my hair and didn’t do some of the best things for it, but my mom never felt bad about it. I just had to do it myself. I had to learn my own hair. I think it just taught me to be unique in myself.”

Amber said the most rewarding part for her is when she’s able to challenge people’s perception of their hair and when she sees it click for them. She said she wants people to come in and get their hair done, but she also wants them to be able to do it at home.

“When they start that swing, and I see that smile, that’s super gratifying for me,” she said. “I just want everyone woman to know that they are beautiful, and to embrace what it is for them not what is seen in the media.”

NASHVILLE: HOME BASE

Having lived in Nashville off and on for almost 20 years, Amber has watched it grow and change.

“Don’t get my wrong, I love the growth, but there’s a history here, and it shouldn’t be erased,” she said. “There are people who have been here when it wasn’t so hot and cool to be in Nashville. Those people have access to a view and a perception of the city that everyone should be exposed to so that we can make sure we are keeping the city’s character.”

Right now, Amber lives in Western Nashville and commutes to Smyrna. Her family lives in La Vergne, but she’s lived all over the city.

“Out of all the counties in the area, Rutherford County is the one still struggling the most with racial division,” she said. “From issues with the police to people of color and just people being poor.”

Amber said she hopes with the influx of new businesses and new growth to Rutherford County’s small towns comes diversity.

Some of her concerns about Nashville and other surrounding communities like Smyrna and La Vergne are people of color having access to things and being equal to everyone else.

“We’re all diverse. Period. Even within our blackness, whiteness or whatever that may be. What happens, in the South in general, is that’s forgotten, and we hold and cling close to stereotypes.”

She said the only way people are going to be able to move passed any of that is by communicating.

“What’s happening now is that no one is talking, and we’re all angry and yelling in the car and silently to ourselves, but no one wants to talk about it to others. We don’t have to agree. Clearly, we all have our own opinions, but there might be some more understanding if we stop and chat.”

Amber said no one is any one thing, and what is sold in the media is a gimmick. She said for some people it’s hard to separate the black people they see on TV to the black people they see in real life.

Some of her other concerns for Nashville include mass transportation issues and more centers and museums for art. She said places like Cheekwood and the Frist Center for the Visual Arts are great but that the city needs a more vibrant art and theater scene.

COMMUNITY as DEFINED

For Amber, a community is all about having a diverse group of people come together and recognize their differences and their sameness. She said it’s a fluid thing and an exchange of knowledge, both positive and negative. She explained that to her, it’s  a type of support that should challenge and push one to do better.

“A community is a place where you should be able to express who you are without feeling puerile. It’s being accepted for who you are no matter what that is and then being able to operate within that space.”

She said until one accepts who they are as a person and where one stands on values and passions, then they’re not able to fully thrive successfully.

“We have a lot of people operating in the world who have no idea who they are, and they’ve been told it’s wrong to feel guilt or to feel anything,” she said. “If we just love and let people be who they are supposed to be then we’d have a better understanding of ourselves.”

Amber spent most of her twenties caring what everyone thought and who was going to be disappointed about this or that. By the time she was 28 years old, she had realized she had to come to terms with life and take it a day at a time.

“I tend to get way ahead of myself sometimes and then psyche myself out because I’m trying to think of every scenario before I get there,” she said. “Being present and in the moment and dealing with what you have right now along with finding support, friends, and family who will allow you to do that is important.”

Amber said being authentic is a key thing for her.

“I cannot afford to be something that I’m not, so if that means a foul mouth, no-bra-wearing woman then I don’t give a fuck because I’m not going to be something I’m not. It hurts too much.”

She said sometimes there’s way too much pressure to be an adult and that most of us don’t come into our own and settle until our late 20s and 30s.

“We need to work on the quality of life, experiences, the people we meet, and learning and connecting. We need to live our life, and love it.”

To make an appointment with Amber and see the studio space click here.

Thanks for reading Nashville!

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