Damion Champ knew only one way to do his little girl’s hair: a style he calls the emergency ghetto-fabulous ponytail.
Beyond that, his only solution for fixing up his 6-year-old daughter’s locks was to “look for women who already do hair and ask them how much they charge.”
But Champ, who is 46, attended a workshop Friday at Eutaw Marshburn Elementary School that taught him how to do braids, buns and twists. The event reflects a growing effort by Baltimore City Public Schools to get fathers more involved in their children’s lives.
“My daughter would be laughing so hard right now if she saw me,” Champ said as he struggled to braid the long hair of a mannequin. By the end of the two-hour session, he’d mastered a bun — and planned to try it out over the weekend.
Eutaw Marshburn’s Judy Center has hosted “Fatherhood Fridays” once a month for the past two years. The school brings together a small group of dads to talk about anything from child support to how to get criminal records expunged.
But many dads came to Kimberly Dudley, a family service coordinator at the school, with a common request: They wanted tips on how to do their daughters’ hair.
“They expressed that they may not be with their kid’s mother or have joint custody,” she said. “When the girls are sent over, they don’t know what to do.”
It’s bigger than just hair, Dudley said. The time a dad spends brushing and styling his daughter’s hair is time he can spend asking about her friends, her classes, her ambitions.
“When you’re doing your baby’s hair, that’s quality time,” she said.
Across the city, the district has been holding similar events in schools to emphasize the role of fathers. At a meeting this fall, called Dads and Dialogue, a group of men discussed how to change the narrative around absentee fathers in Baltimore. They shared tips on how to help their children with reading and talked about strategies to get more dads involved in Parent Teacher Associations.
District officials said they believe that when male caregivers are involved in their children’s education, those children do better in school and in life.
Research backs this up: The U.S. Department of Education found that children of highly involved fathers are 43 percent more likely than other children to earn mostly As, and less likely to be suspended, expelled or repeat a grade.
“Having fathers involved and invested is paramount,” said Yolanda Abel, an associate professor in teaching and learning at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education whose research has focused on these family relationships. “It gives children a more solid foundation of who they are as a person, and therefore, they have less disruptive relationships to process and handle.”
Every dad who attended the workshop at Eutaw Marshburn — called Daddy Hair Care — was given a copy of the children’s book “I Love My Hair” with cover art depicting a young black girl with beaded braids.
The girl in the book is told she is lucky to have her hair because it is “beautiful and you can wear it in any style you choose.”
Each father also was given a packet with tips for how to do black children’s hair. “Your baby girl is your pride and joy and her hair should be her crown and glory,” the packet reads.
The workshop was done in partnership with Carver Vocational-Technical High School. Students from the school’s cosmetology program taught the class, instructing the fathers on the right amount of moisturizer to use and how to clip in barrettes.
To earn a state license, Carver’s cosmetology students need to log 1,500 hours of training. Events like Daddy Hair Care help them chip away at that requirement before graduation.
Kenya Griffin, 19, remembers how her father had “not a clue” about how to do her hair when she was growing up. She taught other dads how to do a braided Mohawk, laughing as they tried to figure out the steps.
Griffin is on track to graduate from Carver and take her cosmetology exam this spring. She plans to take business courses at Baltimore City Community College and eventually open up her own spa.
The education she’s receiving at Carver, she said, will allow her to get a job at a hair salon and make good money as she works toward her educational goals.
Kimberly Stevens, the cosmetology instructor at Carver, said her students can go right into the work force from Carver if they wish.
“They can work in any salon or braiding shop,” Stevens said. “They’ll be ready as soon as they leave.”
Before receiving a lesson from a “Carver Cosmo Girl,” Rodney Wallace said he only did his 5-year-old daughter’s hair if he absolutely had to.
“If her mother isn’t around to do it, I don’t want her going outside looking any type of way,” he said.
But now, he said, he’s looking forward to implementing the tips and tricks he learned at Daddy Hair Care.
“It’s a different bonding experience for us,” said Wallace, 32. “This is something positive for us to be doing. I do what makes her happy. If she likes it, I like it.”