Community Innovator Update: Curls on the Block

Sophie Gullett

April 2018

Executive Summary

Project: Curls on the Block 
Project lead: Analise Harris

Curls on the Block (COTB) was a Design Challenge winner in February 2016. COTB was awarded $10,000 to implement a project designed to help girls of color see the connection between their everyday experiences with hair and beauty regimens and the educational and job opportunities within science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM). The project is led by Analise Harris, who has worked as a teacher for six years. During her time as a teacher, she saw the lack of resources provided to young girls of color in education, specifically pertaining to beauty standards and the road to careers in STEAM. 

According to her website, while working as a teacher, Analise "realized that girls of color were often receiving extreme punishments, experiencing lower self esteem and essentially not having good self care starting as early as elementary school. More often than not, those issues were linked to their hair, not taking off a hoodie or bandana, being teased for a bad hair day and asking for basic supplies such as hair ties or hair gel. In order to address the glaring issues, Analise started offering safe spaces for girls to explore beauty and hair care needs, eventually creating the standards based curriculum.”

After winning the design challenge, Analise worked to create a curriculum that would target the gap she saw in education. COTB offers sessions that connect the production of hair and skin products for women of color with the STEAM-driven processes behind their creation.  COTB facilitators work with girls ages 6-16 once a week for ten weeks to increase participants’ confidence and self-esteem, strengthen relationships between participants, and increase their interest and engagement in STEAM. 

In addition to these sessions, COTB also offers the annual “Miss Curly Self eSTEAM Pageant” which allows young girls with curly hair to “celebrate their curls and highlight their achievements in STEAM”. The event even received coverage by the local news:


Hear Analise go deeper on the importance of COTB:

Project Journey

Opportunity Statement

How might we help girls of color see the connection between their everyday experiences with hair and beauty regimens and the educational and job opportunities within STEAM?

After winning the design challenge, Analise worked on organizing COTB and creating a curriculum that would help her reach her goal of connecting beauty and STEAM for girls of color. She offers weekly sessions as well as individual workshops. So far, Analise has run several COTB sessions at schools in the Denver area. She’s expanded by running facilitator trainings with five women to teach them how to support students during the program. Here Analise can be seen with her fellow COTB facilitators: 

She is also working on COTB subscription boxes and has hosted her first Curly Self eSTEAM pageant:

Analise also built out her website and developed four COTB characters, each of which represents a unique personality and appearance to help girls better relate to the to the content and learning in the COTB curriculum.  With the help of illustrator Adri Norris, Analise is also getting her first book printed: Harriet’s Yellow Jacket.

Analise has attended conferences and retreats to help build her network. She’s made connections in Jamaica and the United Kingdom and has been fortunate enough to find additional investors. She also formally registered COTB as a non-profit in 2017.

Looking to spread the word? Download the COTB Media Kit here.

Project Impact


Analise began running COTB sessions in the fall and winter of 2017. Schools included the Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design, Morey Middle School, and the Denver Center for International Studies - Ford. She has held commnity-based seminars and workshops at Women Rock the Rockies, the Vickers Boys and Girls Club, and other communities as far away as Illinois and California. The first Curly Self eSTEAM pageant had ten contestants and four sponsors.

Overall, Analise has reached over 250 children through all COTB offerings.

A survey was administed to one of the COTB groups. The girls were asked how they felt about themselves and how they felt about careers in STEAM. Coming into the program, many of the girls saw the possibility of themselves being successful in science careers, but felt less confident that they had the skills to do so. When asked why they joined COTB, the girls gave the following responses:

"I did Curls on the Block the first year because I was feeling abnormal, so I wanted a place where I could be with girls like me. I joined COTB for a second year in row because I enjoyed participating last year."

"[I joined] because I like seeing black people in a white school."

"The first year I joined because she wanted me to. This year I joined because I enjoyed it last year."

"[I joined] because I want to see programs that focus on African Americans."

"[I joined] so I can love myself."


Lessons Learned

If you want to try this…

  • Find your niche! Find what you’re passionate about and pursue that. 
  • Take it a day at a time. A project like this can quickly become overwhelming. Break it into small steps to make it more manageable. 
  • Invest in others. If part of your project requires outside help, invest in other local, small businesses to make important connections.
  • Listen to the negativity, just not too closely. If you receive negative responses to what you’re doing, try to find areas of growth in what they’re saying but don’t fixate on it
  • Pay someone to do what you don’t want to do. It can be unnecessarily draining to take on every part of a project. 
  • Seek out mentorship. Find someone who’s doing/done something similar that can help guide you.
  • Figure out what to monetize. Analise initially found herself doing a lot of servies for free, but over time she found ways to monetize COTB so that it was more sustainable. 

When working with students...

  • Expect the unexpected. Students will say unexpected things-- try not to let your reactions be too strong or too opinionated. 
  • Show empathy. Students may bring up difficult experiences so try to be understanding and empathetic. 
  • Facilitate, don’t force. Let students reach their own answers.
  • Provide space for student voices. As Analise says, provide a structure that they can fill up with “emotions, fears, questions and joys”.
Advice for Others

Analise shares what she's learned along the way and her advice for others doing something similar:

Moving Forward

Analise looks to the future of COTB and shares what she hopes to achieve (some of which she's already done since we last checked in with her!):

Reflections from the Innovation Partner

Innovation Partner Alicia Milner has been working with Analise on COTB.  She says that Analise has a wealth of ideas which she embraces enthusiastically and passionately like they are part of her life. So far, Alicia has seen girls who have participated in COTB having important conversations about the stigma surrounding natural hair. She believes that COTB offers a safe place for “women of color to talk about one of the most important and time consuming things in their lives”. Providing girls of color with role models that look like them is an important step in helping them accept themselves.