AJ Walker, an African-American news reporter for West Palm Beach’s CBS 12 News, is celebrating being able to wear her hair in braids on-air for the first time. She and her colleagues considered it a momentous milestone in her more than a decade in the industry.
Walker, who is from Lansing, Michigan, has always dreamed of becoming an investigative reporter and she worked hard until now that she achieved it. Moreover, she aims to continue broadening representation on television, starting with her hair.
“There are many limitations placed on on-air personalities when it comes to our look,” Walker told Yahoo Lifestyle. “Your station makes it clear that they are within their rights to have control over how long or short your hair is, and hair color, whether or not you can wear extensions, braids, or natural hair.”
Walker shared that in the past, even though she was not directly prohibited to wear braids on-air, she felt like she was limited to only keeping her hair straight. Whenever she asked the prior companies she worked at about the possibility to wear it, they would often tell her “‘Let’s keep your hair the way it is,’ ‘We like your hair the way it is’ and ‘That’s too dramatic of a change,’” she explained.
But not until she tried to ask her current employer, the Sinclair station, about changing her look. She was glad when they allowed her to wear her hair in braids, which reminded her of her mother, who recently passed away.
“I had worn braids several months before getting hired when I was in between jobs, but I took them out to go on job interviews out of concern that braids might hurt my chances of getting hired. But I missed my braids,” she said. “It is a skill my mother taught me. When she died a few months ago, part of me felt like wearing my hair braided was preserving a part of her.”
Walker hopes the station’s decision to allow her braids is just a start to more improvements regarding issues in minorities and women and would open more opportunities for them.
“The freedom to wear my hair in a style that is a part of my culture and a skill handed down to me from my mother gives me a stronger sense of self-esteem, self-worth, and confidence as a person and as a woman. This is a hairstyle I chose for myself. It reflects who I am,” Walker said.
She also encourages young Black women to not be afraid to show the world who they really are.
“A long straight weave can help land you a job because you have ‘the look,’ but that isn’t really our look. That’s just an image we struggle to maintain,” Walker said. “Let us be ourselves. We are still professionals even if our hair is different.”