Resilient Roots – ep.101

Educational Empowerment – Ep.100
August 3, 2023
 Pursuing an Inclusive Society – ep.102
August 17, 2023

Shalita Grant goes beyond the surface to explore the profound impact of representation and empowerment in the realm of beauty. Even behind the scenes in the entertainment industry, lack of representation can have significant impacts on our life journey. Listen as she discusses her journey and how she overcame the challenges that fueled the inspiration to develop an all-natural, patent-pending hair care line.. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Welcome to the Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around equity, diversity, and inclusion. Each week, I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share or is actively part of building solutions in the space. Let’s get started.

Shalita Grant, a Tony nominated actress, spent three years as a series regular on a popular television show that garnered millions in weekly ratings. However, her tight type 4 hair was never welcome on set. The show’s producers demanded what they called, and I quote, “a professional look” that damaged Shalita’s hair and shattered her self-esteem. She made the difficult decision to quit what had once been a dream job and focus on healing emotionally and physically. After concocting a natural Henna Mud Masque in her kitchen that gorgeously defined her curls, Shalita fell in love with her hair again. She created Four Naturals Hair in her dining room in Toluca Lake, California in 2019 to ensure that her community, which is my community, could heal their type 4 hair by strengthening and embracing it, instead of altering it, chemically manipulating it, or forcing it to adhere to white beauty standards.

It has since grown into a nationwide salon and home care treatment system. The plant-based active ingredients renew, restore, and rebuild even the most compromised textured hair, naturally. Shalita’s clients, better known as her curlfriends can enjoy the pool or Hawaiian vacations knowing that when they emerge from the water, their hair will form head-turning curls that drop and define, camouflaging any existing issues like alopecia.

I certainly wish my mother would’ve had a product like this for me when I was a child, detangling without tears or fear. But after her experience, Shalita chose to heal both inside and out and created this standardized method to lift up other black women still struggling with fragile, misunderstood hair. When Shalita’s patent goes through, she will make history as only the second black woman to hold a patent for a natural hair product.

Yes, I am so excited to have Shalita Grant with me today on the Jali Podcast, and I’m really interested in your story, but I am a fan, so it’s like one of those things where it’s like, oh my gosh. Yes, I totally, I would love to hear you speak. I love the work that you do, and I’m just so excited that you are making such a contribution to the world in so many different ways. So thank you for being here.

Shalita Grant:  Thank you for that introduction. That was very lovely, thank you. Very heartfelt.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes, yes. I’m like, Hey. I mean, I love… Well, I won’t fan out right here, but I am definitely a fan. So I really wanted to just start, normally I start, the podcast is all about diversity, equity, and inclusion, which really is everything we do and everything in life. And so I usually start out just asking people to tell me a little bit about how they got to where they are, how did they become the person they are today? And you could kind of start wherever you want, but a lot of people go back and talk about their parents or whatever. But I know you have a journey and we’ll get to a lot of that, but just how did you get to where you are today?

Shalita Grant:  Oh, okay. Very good question. So I come from kids. My parents were kids. My dad was 17, so kids make terrible parents, they just selfish and they’re forgetful. So my mom and my dad, they weren’t together for very long after I was born. And my mom very quickly gave me up to her mom, who gave me to her mom. And so when I really came online, I was living with my dad’s mother, and I moved in with my mom when I was five, moved back with her, and that didn’t last very long because she ended up going to jail. Then her mom got us back. I spent about 10 years of my childhood in Virginia. When my mom got out of jail, that’s when all of my moving started. Not started, but continued because since I was born, I haven’t had structure or a pot where I have roots.

So I went to six different elementary schools. I went to the same middle school, but I never lived in the same place. I just never changed my address by that point. And then I went to two different high schools in two different states. So for me, having so much flux in my early life really helped me. The ends don’t justify the means, but as a millennial, we haven’t really been able to count on any structure. And that’s been true for me. I didn’t have a traditional parental structure. I always had to figure stuff out for myself. So going into acting was also kind of luck and happenstance. It was like I was at the same middle school and I knew the high school because I going and I was running track over there. And then we had this sleeping meeting and they told us about this governor school.

And so it was two different governor schools. I classified them as the smart school and the art school. And I was like, I’m going to go to the art school. And the only discipline that didn’t require a lot of schooling before was acting. And so I just wung it. And my mom actually helped me with my audition. The only play she knew, which isn’t a bad play to know is A Raisin in the Sun. And so she was like, don’t do a monologue. You should just do the whole scene and you should play both characters. And so I did, and I did the scene where Beneatha tells mama that she doesn’t believe in God and she gets slapped. So I slapped myself and I received the slap because I’m two different people, and I got into that school. And then by the time I was 15, I had my teenage angst.

So I started skipping and stuff. And then long story short, ended up with my dad’s family, and my dad at 12 years old decided he didn’t want to go to school anymore. So for him, when I moved in with them 15, he was just like, she don’t want to go to school. So he had me as their nanny, essentially taking care of the other four kids, picking them up from school, dropping them off from school, cooking, cleaning. And that lasted a while before I realized he is not going to let me go to school.

So I had to go on this campaign of, I want to go to school. I know that there is an art school, I should go there and audition. So we went, got an audition, and they let me in. And it was from that school that I learned about Juilliard and all of these different opportunities. And so I just said yes at that school, whenever there was an opportunity, I just said yes, and I always prepared, and then I just would win. And I found on myself the first person in my family with a passport, the first person in my family to leave the country twice. And this was at 17 years old. So it was through acting that I continued my vagabond life of my childhood, just way more upscale.

Melyssa Barrett:  Nice. I love it. Well, I mean, there’s so many nuggets in there, but I will say, just say yes is a good one.

Shalita Grant:  Yeah, just say yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  So then in terms of… I mean, obviously you went in the world and were successful in acting and doing a lot of things, and I know you had… I guess, let me take a step back. In terms of just the industry itself and representation, because we all know representation matters. How did having representation or not impact your journey on screen?

Shalita Grant:  So the constant in my childhood was definitely the television. And so I was a child of the nineties, so I don’t feel like as a millennial child I was without Black representation. Like, oh my God, I loved it. UPN. We would just watch all the shows. And so at WB, I had a rich, very rich Black foundation, especially through entertainment. And the other thing was that my mom’s side of the family was culturally and still is Nation of Islam, Muslim. So I have my great-grandfather who died when I was 12.

Everybody on my mom’s side of the family was super young. So my great grandmama died when I was nine. My great grandmama just died five years ago. So everybody was super young, but it came from the great grands, the switch from Christianity to NOI, Nation of Islam. And so while when I moved in with my grandma the first time when I was five, well, it was probably the second time I lived with her pre-five. But when I moved in with her culturally, she was still Nation of Islam, even though she wasn’t still practicing and going, but we didn’t eat pork.

When I moved in with her, my other grandmother ate pork. She made me pork chops every night. You know what I mean? It was good over there, but this one was turkey bacon and it was very different. But one of the things that I loved was that I was raised like, Hey, you’re Black. So we don’t do white barbies. We don’t do, you don’t idolize whiteness because there’s so much of that in our world already. So at home it should be a space of affirming you. So I loved that. So my journey into TV was one where I had a lot of hope. It was just like there’s so many Black people, but then when you get in a thing you recognize, it ain’t always what you think it is.

Melyssa Barrett:  It’s a little different than you think it is, right?

Shalita Grant:  Exact. So for me, the theater seemed like a really safe first space, because it was the first place that welcomed me, it was theater school, it was Juilliard. So I just thought, oh yeah, I’m just going to work in the theater for a while and then I’ll switch over to TV. And as a millennial, I was in school when the writer’s strike happened, when the recession of 2008 happened. So it was like, oh, the world that I’m graduating into is not the one that is from the nineties. It’s not. But it was better, you know what I mean, than the nineties, right? Because now we’re kind of more everywhere, whereas in the nineties, there were Black shows and there was very little mixing, and so graduating, my first job was in the theater, but three years later, I was a Tony nominee. So it was like I reached the top of the mountain in the theater. And in the theater when it comes to hair, everybody wears wigs. It’s not a thing. White, Black, Indian, everybody wears a wig because they’re functional, right?

Melyssa Barrett:  Right, right.

Shalita Grant:  When I decided that I wasn’t going to continue to try in the theater after the nomination that I was going to go to TV, that’s when I really learned about the experience of being a black actress in Hollywood and how dramatically different it is from my colleagues, my white colleagues.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes, right. Yeah. Well, and it’s interesting because I mean, I spent 30 years in payment technology working at Visa and financial institutions. And so a lot of the appearance, I mean, you have to… They’re typically looking at you and they’re looking for straight hair. And I’m older than you, but it was kind of one of those things where you’re always trying to acclimate. And what I love now is just being able to embrace our natural hair and do things that allow us to really celebrate who we are authentically. So I don’t know, do you want to talk a little bit about just your journey with hair and how you got into Four Naturals, how you started it, what that looked like?

Shalita Grant:  As an actress, you have this special… There’s so much of your life that your career touches on. So one of those aspects is your hair. My hair was super fragile. It didn’t have any curl definition. I struggled with dryness. If I looked at a heat tool, my hair was damaged to the point where I would have to get a big chop. So you’re saying so many Black women have to deal with showing up to work and what these standards meant, so as much as there is more hair diversity on screen, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Because the truth is over 95% of Black actresses are in wigs, like 95% of the time that they’re on camera. So even if the wig is a natural texture, it’s still a wig. This speaks to the truth that no matter what level of society, no matter what level financially you hit, when you’re a Black woman with type 4 hair, there’s no one to save you with your type 4 hair.

You get to the top of the mountain, you just have experts at hiding your hair, but there’s no one there that’s there to care for your hair, to help your hair thrive. And when you talk about a rich mindset versus a wealth mindset, a rich mindset is like, I can afford a $2,000 bussdown. A wealth mindset is I have all of my edges and amazing growth, retention. You know what I mean? So I thought that with my new riches that I will be able to invest in my hair and have that healthy, gorgeous hair, and that just wasn’t the case. For me, it was job after job or audition after audition, especially going to Hollywood. It was about transformation. Every role has to, I have to show up as the character, right? Because you’re competing with these A-list, B-list, C-list, and you’re fresh from New York, so you’re not on list yet.

I am like show you, to put on more bells and whistles. And so I just hoped, expected that when I get on these sets that they will be able to maintain whatever it is they want. Enter my first series regular job, NCIS: New Orleans. So 2015 I get this job, and by this point I am really good with the wigs and my leave out, just being able to do that myself. So I come on the show, the end of season one, and I’m in a wig with some leave out, and then I find out that I’m going to be the new series regular. So I think clearly, surely, surely they’re going to be able to work with me because I’m going to be regular on the show. And so I asked to have more hair texture because of the humidity in New Orleans, and it’d be much easier to maintain.

And the response I got back from this one producer in particular that he didn’t want to see vanity, so he didn’t want the curl to be too tight. So we had to do hair tests. And so season two, I came in with this wet and wavy wig, we wanted to put the sew-in in ponytails. So we all know the limitations of a lot of these looks, right? Even if you see celebrities on red carpets in wigs that they’ve put in a ponytail, they’re also not going to go running and putting hats on it and chasing… There are limitations.

So at every iteration of this ponytail, I would hit the limitations of either the construction of the ponytail or the very real limitations of my fragile hair. So one episode in the water in season two resulted in me having traction alopecia because I was rehearsing in chlorinated water, and I’ve had these tracks in forever, and it’s pulling, and I take it down, clean spot in the middle of my head, in my twenties. Then I start losing my hair on the perimeter in season three. And so by season four, the middle of my hiatus between season three and season four, it just became clear that I got to leave this job.

Melyssa Barrett:  It’s not getting better.

Shalita Grant:  It’s not getting better. It’s literally only… I was wowing the fans with my spunk and I was doing my own stunts and stuff, but at the end of season three, it was just all about my hair. So as a Black woman, that’s hard because our hair is such a random limitation in our lives. It’s just how it can derail your life. And the surprise of, really? I have all of these things and it really only comes down to this? It’s so disappointing.

Melyssa Barrett:  It is disappointing. Our hair is so much a part of who we are. I mean, not that we can’t do anything without our hair, but it’s just such a part of who we are. So I think your journey just shows just the self-esteem, the mental health aspects of the impact of, really? Just the hair? It’s crazy.

Shalita Grant:  But then when you pull it apart, it’s not just the hair. There is a reason that we’re all having the same experience, right? And there is a level of erasure, of white supremacy and colonialism when we just say, it’s just hair. And when other people hear your story, your trauma stories around your hair, and they’re like, I can’t believe, it’s just hair. And it’s like, yeah, well, hair is a way that people have been controlled by white people for centuries. It’s part of the assimilation. Literally, the natives were sent to assimilation schools. The first thing they did was cut the hair of the men. For the Chinese right before the Chinese Exclusion Act, one of the hate crimes committed against them in the San Francisco Chinatowns were having their queues cut by white men as a way of disrespect. So for Black women and Black men and boys, we all experience it if you have type 4 hair.

But speaking specifically to the Black woman experience, there’s so much tied to our femininity, and our femininity is tied to our social capital. When it comes to school and jobs, you’re told at every stage in life how important your hair is by the level of punishment, you’ve either witnessed someone experience or you’ve experienced yourself. So there is just this, I got to stay in line. I want to be seen as worthy of professionalism or that I’m smart and that I have a lot to contribute, but everyone’s always looking right above my eyes, right? They’re always doing that.

Melyssa Barrett:  Always, yes, absolutely. Tell us about Four Naturals and how you decided that you were going to, after having all of that real trauma, what made you start Four Naturals and what’s the story? How did you get there?

Shalita Grant:  So I’ll come through it from the perspective of, I was just trying to solve my Black actress problems. So I leave this show and I’m like, oh, the one aspect of my career that has constantly been a bane is my hair. So if I get on another show, I’m going to run into the same issue because the studios and the sets, like the hair union, they’re not trained on our hair. So there’s so many Black actresses that have the same story as I have. Mine was egregious, but still to this day, in the year of our Beyonce 2023, you still have Black actresses who do their hair at home or are showing up much earlier than everyone else. They’re expected to do their own hair before going on camera, and you have a whole trailer full of hair people just walking around you and cleaning and preparing for other actresses that they will actually work for.

So for me, it was really about, how do I create a sense of safety and resiliency around an area that can really go left? Because as an actress, you get rejected all the time. You got to be resilient. But my hair is so fragile, I need something that’s going to make my hair resilient. So I started looking into cosmetic chemistry and I started looking into the hair practices of the people of India, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Greece. And so in the summer or spring of 2019, I had come away with enough knowledge that I was like, all right, I think that I can potentially solve this problem.

So I did my first Four Naturals treatment, and the experience was this. Experience was, I said I needed it to be natural and I needed it to solve every type 4 hair problem that I have, my dryness, my lack of curled definition, my hair’s response to water, whether it’s humidity, rain, chlorinated water, all of the areas that I’ve experienced pain with my hair, heat damage.

I needed something that was going to address all of those, like super comprehensive, but really simple in the style that I’m used to, which is where I put something on and I sit and then I rinse it and it does remain in my hair. And so I did my first treatment and I had the Black girl trust issues because we’ve been through things, right? You’ll try a product and you’re like, oh, this is great, but that it stops working. There’s something that happens and it goes off. So I had my first treatment and it was like somebody drew a black line around each of my strands and that black line had weight in it and also magnets. And so all of my curl… I had these ringlets of curls, what you see today, and they hang and they move. Like PS, I just washed my hair like an hour and a half ago.

It’s completely dry, but it’s like right? So I go, all right, let me just make sure. All right, I’m going to do another treatment. Because what I learned about Henna is that it’s cumulative. So every treatment builds on the last. And so by my third treatment, I happened to look in the mirror a week after, and I knew that I had been rolling around on the floor, I skipped the bonnard a couple of nights, just lived life without really a care for my hair. And I passed by my reflection and girl, I get curls, and it was bangalanging, still like a juicy. And I was like, oh my God, this is it. I finally figured it out.

So what is it? It is the patent pending false treatment. The first step is the patent pending copyrighted detangling method because detangling is also an area that is a pain point for people with type 4 hair, you lose a lot of hair, it’s painful. You do one section and you go back and it’s tangled again. What is up? So I use some cosmetic chemistry and some cultural science, and I developed a detangling method. Then there’s the Henna Mud Masque, and that’s where the magic happens. And so the Henna Mud Masque is a concentrate of henna, indigo, just all these good humectants, and then you add some water to it, and henna has the ability to bind to your strand. The reason our hair stands straight up, frizzies out and gets stiff, you start adding all these products thinking it’s going to add weight to it, and it doesn’t. It just adds buildup.

Well, henna adds that physical weight. It has the cationic or positive charge to connect to our negatively charged hair. When you sit with avocado and mayonnaise and TRESemmé on your hair, you don’t see a difference, even though you tell yourself that you will. You don’t see, feel a difference. With henna, you do. The third is the Cassia Deep Conditioner that also contains Slippery Elm, which increases your tensile strength. What’s tensile strength? It’s the ability to bend before you break. And so that’s why our hair is so brittle, because it’s not moisturized, right? So when it’s not moisturized and it’s more prone to breakage, tensile strength infuses your hair with so much moisture that your hair becomes elastic. So you have the spring effect of your curls. It’s the elasticity. So then the fourth step is your Wash N Go, because this is now your hair’s new set pre-treatment, your hair is set on fro. Post-treatment your hair is set on curls.

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it. I love it. Oh my gosh, that is just awesome. I think you’ve just changed my life because I went, as you can see, natural about a year ago. I’ve been in braids for about a year now, and I took it down literally probably a few weeks ago, and for the first time, my hair actually curled up, but as you said, it doesn’t last. So I’m looking forward to this. I know there’s so many people out there that are interested in this because it’s a constant struggle rights to find the right product. It’s like a treasure hunt. I’m excited. So how do we find Four Naturals and what do we do to make sure we can access it?

Shalita Grant:  So mosey on over to www.f-o-u-r, as in the number four, naturals as in all of us and check out the homepage. I have a video on there that goes over all of the results, is this treatment for you? And then head over to our education page and learn. And then once you amassed all of this education for yourself, go over to the store and change your life. Because literally every curlfriend that has done this treatment has changed her life.

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it. Well, I’m going to be your new curlfriend, so I am looking forward to getting my pack and giving it a whirl. I’m so excited about all of this, especially as we think about just the CROWN Act and all of the hair discrimination that women have gone through, Black women specifically have gone through and Black men. And so it’s really exciting for me to be able to just highlight just all of the wonderful celebratory things you’re doing in the world.

So last question. In terms of, I mean, you now as an entrepreneur and having kind of gone through your journey and overcoming all of those challenges, because clearly you are just beaming and gorgeous and happy, but tell us, now that you’re an entrepreneur, do you have any other advice you might want to give? Or what has that journey been like?

Shalita Grant:  Yeah, the entrepreneur journey has been, it’s been a spiritual one. It takes a lot of growth to have an idea, but then be able to organize around that idea and not lose faith. And then especially if you’re a first timer, you got to struggle with the imposter syndrome, right?

Melyssa Barrett:  Absolutely.

Shalita Grant:  So here is my fix for those women, and it’s always women. It’s two things. It’s a two-parter. The first part is turn your imposter syndrome, like what it wants you to do, which is stop, end the road. You don’t know what you’re doing. Who do you think you are? You’re going to fail. That’s end of the road. I want you to turn it into a pit stop. So where you meet that imposter syndrome and the imposter syndrome goes, this is the end of the road, learn. That’s how you turn it into a pit stop, because it’s right. For me, when I first started, I didn’t have, as I started this, I didn’t have a great example for successful people, successful entrepreneurs. And both of my parents went into the entrepreneur lifestyle. My mom, because she had to, she was a convicted felon, so working for other people was not really a great option for her, but she also wasn’t very successful at working for herself.

So my imposter syndrome said, you don’t know how to do this. And I thought, you’re right, but I can find people who do because I’m a learner. So I found The E-Myth Revisited, and I started reading from other entrepreneurs about how to cultivate a successful business. And then when I had enough information, I kept going. And so every time my imposter syndrome flared up, I just took it as an opportunity to learn more, because that’s all that fear is about. And then the second part is look for… I don’t know if I can say this, but look for dickhead examples. So for a while-

Melyssa Barrett:  You can say whatever you want, hon, so yes.

Shalita Grant:  For a while I used Elon Musk as my dickhead example. So this was like before we all-

Melyssa Barrett:  What not to do.

Shalita Grant:  Before we all came onto my side of things and realized this guy is a moron. I would flip through Twitter and he would be all through my news, and everyone’s always talking about him. And so this was at a point where I knew a lot about Four Naturals, but I was scared to talk about it. And so I looked at this dickhead and I was like, Shalita, you think this guy’s a moron. I read the interviews and it was like, this guy’s a joke, but everybody’s like, he’s the greatest, right?

And because I’m a millennial, I have that contrarian in me. So I’m looking at him sideways and I go, well, you know what if he makes you so jealous? Because that’s what it was, it was jealousy, right? This fucking moron is all through all of this press, but you can’t get up and talk about something that is actually brilliant and actually life changing. So instead of just being mad at him, take his exam-

Melyssa Barrett:  Do something about it.

Shalita Grant:  Do something about it. So that’s all learn and then take action. And if you need a good dickhead example, there’s plenty of them out there, baby. That’s just one.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes, there are yes there are. I won’t even go into it, but there are too many.

Shalita Grant:  Exactly, exactly. So if they’re doing it, get up and do it.

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it. Well, thank you so much for joining me for this conversation. Truly, it is a highlight for me, and I am absolutely looking forward… And when I get my pack, I’m going to give you a shout-out and I’m going to let all my friends know how it’s going. So definitely I am looking forward to it, and we wish you the best of wishes, and I just really want to celebrate what you’re doing. I think it’s fantastic. I think the more you get into hair, the more you get into mental health and self-esteem and all of those things, and all of the people that come behind you. So I just really appreciate all you’re doing in the world and just keep going as you say.

Shalita Grant:  Thank you. I’m going to keep going and you keep going too.

Melyssa Barrett:  I will. I will. Thank you so much, and I look forward to following you more and join Shalita Grant and make sure you look up Four Naturals. So remember, F-O-U-R Naturals and check it out so you can go get your education on and then you can buy the product. So definitely do so. Thank you again, Shalita so much for joining me, and I look forward to it.

Shalita Grant:  Thanks for having me, Melyssa.

Melyssa Barrett:

Thanks for joining me on the Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week