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Rosenwald News


Last updated 2/24/2021 at 4:24pm

I like when you bring news to my attention or when you reach out and suggest a story or an interview. It feels like a team effort and that delights me no end. This week, thanks go out to Karen Darity (Mary C. Jenkins Community Center Board member) and Sherry Edington (designer and Rosenwald alumna) for two people that you will meet today.

Karen felt that it would be nice to regularly feature a wide range of people from the community, especially if they are doing good works and are inspiring in some way. Sherry is quite consistent in suggesting different people for me to talk to, and I am really appreciative of her ideas and also Karen's thoughtful suggestion.

Ladies first.

I first met Julissa Robinson at a 2015 "Afrocentric" Valentine's Day Fashion Show in Brevard. It turned out to be an exciting show and I was happy to be there to capture the story in print and photographs. Before the event started, Julissa was in one of the front rooms, doing what looked like beautifully intricate hairstyles for some of the waiting models. She was invited to participate because of her known talent with hair.

Julissa described her life today: "My life... I am 31 years old. I have three boys and three girls. I am a hair stylist in Asheville. I love it! I wouldn't trade my life at all."

She grew up in Brevard, attending Brevard Elementary and Middle, and graduated in 2008 from Brevard High.

"I was in the Junior Beta Club for honor students from 5th grade before being submitted to AIG (Academically or Intellectually Gifted.) I was a straight A student, always on the AB honor roll," she said.

How did she get involved with hair?

"In 7th grade, I started braiding," she said. "By high school, the braiding... it grew from there. My mom was really heavy-handed and I was really tender-headed. I thought, if I can just keep her out of my hair. So, I began practicing on myself and was determined to get so good that she would leave my hair alone. Cousins began to ask me to braid their hair. Then, friends would say, 'Do mine!' and it just grew. I was self-taught with braiding, but I went to school at Carolina College of Hair Design in Hendersonville to get my license to be a professional and to learn about other hair types. If a woman of a different race came to me, I wanted to know what to do without damaging or ruining her hair."

How did the arrival of the pandemic affect her life?

"COVID impacted me a lot," she said "I stopped work for awhile due to state regulations and then when I could start back up, I was cautious. I work out of my home, and I didn't want all of these people in and out of my house, having to do the temperature checks. I cut back. I've been fortunate, though, in that I really haven't struggled. All of my children are of school age. I kept them home. We would have a schedule from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. It was kids and virtual school. From 2:30 to 7 p.m. during the week, depending on hairstyles, I would have maybe two appointments. Saturday was my full hair day, with six or seven clients. My Saturdays were how we made it through the week."

Julissa credited her fiancé, Robert Hearst, with being a positive and helpful support in her life.

"He was the one who really encouraged me to do hair full-time instead of part-time," she said. "He knew that it was something that I loved. He saw how tired I was working for other people and he offered to help me while I went to school to pursue my dreams."

By a wonderful coincidence, Eric Hemphill who you will meet next, grew up beside Julissa's family, when they were children.

Eric shared, "She and her brother DJ used to live beside me as a child. I only know that she does cosmetics and hair and lives out of the county. I have good memories of my childhood and them next door. When we were kids, I played with her brother like crazy. She would be outside."

Talking about work, Hemphill said, "I have been with Dollar General for 15 years, 14 of which I have been the store manager. I wouldn't be with the company if I didn't like it. I grew up with this community and am familiar with our customer base. What I notice about people, is that everybody's different, from their personalities to their expectations. Working here and with people, the good outweighs the bad nine to one."

Growing up, Eric went to Straus Elementary, Brevard Middle and High.

"I wasn't involved in school activities really," he said. "I was kind of immature, just running around. I had no goals set until I was grown. I didn't take it serious like I could have. However, I have been working from the age of 14. I got my first job at New Adventures Daycare at 14. I still have relationships with kids that I met from there. It was the most fun job I ever had. Imagine, I got paid to play with kids."

What are some of the guidelines that Eric sets for himself and employees?

"I start out treating everyone with respect," he said. "If they become a problem, you do what you need to do to handle it. To handle it and get it out of the store and put the fire out."

Positives in his life, Eric noted, "My family, wife and kids, my employees, dealing with the public, my parents, and I still got both of my grandmas living."

Any areas to grow?

"What I can learn from life? I try to learn something personal and educational every day in life," he said.

With regards to COVID-19, "I wasn't affected too much with my job," he said. "I consider myself blessed. At the store, we try to help others who are struggling. We have done food drives and things like that. At home, my 11-year-old daughter had virtual school for the first semester. She went back to school for the 2nd semester, as she was slipping some with virtual. Since she's gone back, we've seen improvement. My son is only 4. He isn't in school yet."

As a man in society and a person of color, Eric offered his perspective and wisdom to others: "Educate yourself more. Quit believing false stuff and lies. Take people for who they are. Look at things the way they are. Take the truth, not as you want to believe it."

Eric describes himself as bi-racial.

"Most of what I see is fear of what you don't understand," he said. "This racism is American. Other places, other countries are different. We don't look at people the same way that they do."

He referenced his brother who was well travelled in the world.

"He said that other countries don't view us the way we are brought up here to see ourselves," he said. "We are looked at by them as a human being, not categorized because of the color of your skin. It's more diverse out there."

We talked a little about the contrast in worldviews before he remembered an anecdote from his childhood: "I got in trouble at Straus Elementary. On a form, we were to select one category for race. I selected black and white, being a smart aleck. I got in trouble with the teacher who took me to the office because they said that I couldn't select white. That was 2nd grade. My mother prepared us for this world. I'm mixed. I wouldn't want to deny either of my relatives."

So, selecting black and white made sense.

Enjoy your week!

(Newsworthy items for submission for Rosenwald Community News are welcomed from community members, churches, clubs and groups. If you have an idea for a story or interview for me to capture, please let me know at [email protected] or call (828) 421-8615.)


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