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When a social worker and barber team up to empower foster children in L.A. they began to find angels | The Light Series

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When social worker Courtney Henderson and barber, Eric Dafney, joined forces, a one-time event, spear-headed an organization that gives African American foster children a powerful lesson in radical self-care.

Where are you located?

Los Angeles and Rancho Cucamonga, California.

What did you create? 

A hair and skincare event for African American foster children, where non-black foster parents can bring their Black foster children to get their hair done, while also receiving education on hair and skin care maintenance for African American children.

Our Mission: Lost Angels’ goal is to provide foster children, low income and at risk children and teens in the local area, a safe and nurturing environment in which they can receive all of the necessary tools that are essential for individual success. In our mission, we promote the importance of mental health and mental discipline through counseling and workshops.

How did we come up with the idea? 

Courtney: The hair care event was really born out of a need that I saw as a CPS social worker.  I combed countless black children’s hair at my desk, after they would show up looking unkempt because their caregiver did not know how to take care of their hair. Once I left child welfare, I still wanted to find a way to help address this issue and I figured I’d run the idea by Eric, who‘s a barber and was already doing work in the community with Lost-Angels.Org foundation. Without hesitation, he said, “I’m in, let’s do it!”

I used my contacts with San Bernardino County Children and Family Services to get their assistance with promoting the event, and Eric secured the location where the event could take place.  We were both able to solicit the help of local stylists and barbers who believed in the mission and wanted to support.  

On the day of the event, we served more than 50 children, who received everything from haircuts to braids.  We had no idea the overwhelming response we would receive and the magnitude of the need for this service. While this event was intended to be a one-time affair, it was clear to us that there was a bigger need.  

Additionally, the success of the first event garnered the attention of the powers that be in the local child welfare and non-profit sector.  As a result, we decided to do another event a few months later, this time with the backing of a local non-profit Children’s Fund and San Bernardino County Children and Family Services.  The second event was a success as well, and has catapulted us into making this an ongoing service that we provide to these children, as well as collaboration on other projects and events.

When did you recognize your talent? 

Eric: I don’t consider having goodwill for others a talent.  It’s more about just understanding that we all have a part to play and that every bit helps. Doesn’t matter the void, issue addressed or how many you can reach, everyone counts and anything you do that can inspire, give hope, will, motivation or better some one’s circumstances is worth the efforts. I just try to be in tune with my surroundings. I understand the importance of a person’s mental and emotional well-being so I always look to connect with individuals beyond the surface. Whether the encounter is brief or extended, I try to find something to connect with that’s beyond the superficial. 

Courtney: I don’t know that I would call it, “talent,” so much, as experience. Most times, people come into fields like social work because they themselves have experiences that lead them to want to help others.  For me, I know the impact that other people’s influence had on my life. Now, I want to use those experiences, as well as, my education and professional knowledge to empower others.

Who or what inspires you? 

Eric: I’m inspired by the overall will and determination shown via the Black community. How against all odds, they not only continue to survive, but also thrive in every aspect of American society.  As successful mothers, fathers, sports figures, artists, educators, leaders, entrepreneurs, you name it… 

Courtney: I am inspired by anyone who has stepped outside of themselves to help someone else in need, or anyone who had an impact on a child’s life so that the child felt seen and heard.  It’s so easy to go through life and be focused on our immediate circle. It takes someone special to be willing to go the “extra mile” or step outside of oneself to do something for someone else that may never be repaid or acknowledged. 

How did you create an audience or community that appreciates your work?

Courtney: There will always be youth in need of guidance and mentoring. Our goal is to identify the need and do what we can to help empower our youth so that they can become self-sufficient and positive contributors to their community. 

When the work is pure with no ulterior motives people will see it, appreciate it, and in turn support it.  I had no idea that a thought, which lead to a conversation, would turn into something that is impacting children’s lives, and self-esteem or that it would get the buy in and support of major agencies and organizations.  

Which of your accomplishments give you joy? 

Courtney: Any service that we provide brings joy because we can see the impact that even the smallest gesture has on the families and children we serve. The smiles, tears and excitement we see bring joy and a renewed sense of purpose.   On a personal level my biggest accomplishment is being able to overcome my own life obstacles, while being a blessing to someone else. I learned that I don’t have to wait until my life is perfect to help someone. The act of service even when I’m in my own personal struggles is healing for me and for them.  

Another dope thing we think you should know.  

Eric: To me life is all about passion, dedication and determination.  Having the passion, dedication and determination to follow up and follow through despite seemingly insurmountable odds. I have a burning passion for my community, culture and our contributions to this country. For many of us finding our passion, insight and direction a lot of times is just a matter of connecting the dots (where we’re from to where we are and analyzing what it took to get there).  I’m dedicated to being a line that helps connect people to their dot or being a dot that helps connect their line, a gateway to opportunity or a bridge to insight. 

At an early age I recognized that the odds of making it were not in our favor.  From my early years of discovery as a little boy, living with my mother and brother in the Mar Vista Projects, to my years of coming of age, and learning the codes of survival in the streets of South Central Los Angeles, the tone for who I am today was then set. This was a crash course in survival and for the children in my community, how we adapted to the surrounding chaos and constant flux was going to either make us or break us. 

For many, the fundamentals of the “hood” or “codes of the streets,” take precedence over the fundamentals that are required to establish one’s self in mainstream society. Having experienced first hand, so many friends, family and associates who fell victim to the negative circumstances that plagued our environment, I recognized how important that having a foundation of principles and discipline would increase your odds of survival. The odds of survival hinged on an individual’s mental capacity and state of mind.

With that said, it is imperative to build habits that are fundamental to survival despite the obstacles or the environment. The ability to have mental, emotional, physical (exercise and nutrition), and financial discipline doesn’t develop on it’s own. Like an exercise or refined skill, it takes practice. Despite the curve balls, hiccups, cross roads, side tracks and life’s inevitable, these fundamental have to be mastered into your DNA so that when life’s curve-balls are thrown your way, you can use your fundamental disciplines and structure to bounce back, regroup or reset no matter how far you may slip or fall off track. 

Having mentored many youth and adults throughout the years, I’ve always focused on these fundamentals as my foundation for direction, discovery and rediscovery. These fundamentals have proven true for many. As well as, myself, with helping to build momentum in the direction in which we are looking to go. All the while, bridging the necessary distance from what we are looking to leave behind. I personally know the success of this approach because I myself have had to source them at different times throughout my own journey. When you find yourself at life’s crossroads, the outlook is blurry and on the surface it feels like you’re face to face with what feels like insurmountable uncertainty; you’ve actually found the perfect time for self-reflection and rediscovery; it’s your opportunity for mental, physical, emotional and spiritual growth. It’s the perfect time to get back to what we call our, “Fundamental Keys,” and unlock and new and better you.

We’re all looking to make a difference in our world and I believe that by focusing on communities, we’re going to make the most substantial impact. The world is made up of these important social connections and if you foster them positively, they’ll yield huge dividends – in love, care, and a better world. 

With that being said this quote from Frederick Douglass sums it up: “It’s much easier to build a strong child than it is to repair a broken man.”

How to connect with Courtney and Eric.

Website: www.lost-angels.orgInstagram: @lost_angls_org — Facebook:  @lostangelsfoundation


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