Saturday morning I wash my hair for the last time, don my TOMS shoes and drive to Seattle to shave my head.
It’s 74 degrees Fahrenheit at Westlake Center, but it feels more like 100 as a small crowd gathers to watch seven brave souls give up their hair. A light breeze lifts the black banner that hangs above the stage. As the banner drifts back into place the red letters become legible again: BaldSolidarity.org.
Bald Solidarity is a Seattle-based nonprofit that works to raise the status of women around the world by advocating against gender inequality and the violence that results from such inequality. Every year the organization highlights an issue of gender inequality and raises money to fight it. This year the issue is maternal mortality.
The World Heath Organization estimates that 1,500 women die from childbirth-related complications every day. That’s more than 500,000 every year.
I think that’s a problem.
Bald Solidarity’s founder, Beth Roberts, knows she doesn’t have the solution. She knows she doesn’t have the skills to end the injustices she hates so much. So she came up with a way to make people talk about it. She shaves her head every year to become a human billboard for issues of injustice and raises money for an organization that’s equipped to do something about it.
“Bald Solidarity is small. We can’t solve all the problems we want to, so we hunt down charities doing really good work on the ground and send our money to them,” Roberts tells the crowd.
This year, we raise funds for UNICEF, whose goal is to reduce maternal mortality by three quarters by 2015.
I remember the first time I heard Beth talk about shaving to fight injustice. It was more than three years ago. She had long blond hair and she was starting this nonprofit organization to raise money and support for women around the world. She said something that day that changed me. You can find it on Bald Solidarity’s website: “Hair is just a marker of our identity, and giving it up is our way of choosing to support women around the world who don’t have much choice at all. We think making a difference begins with making a statement. A bold one.“
It’s not every day you’ll find people shaving their heads in public.
But, then again, it’s not every day you’ll find Bald Solidarity.
I’m scheduled to shave last at this year’s event. Four other women and two men have gone before me. They stand in the crowd grinning. They aren’t worried about how they look; they are proud that they stood up for something worth believing in.
I set my camera down, make my way up to the stage and wink at my niece.
The hum of the electric hair trimmers near my ear and the gentle prickle as the cool blades sever my tresses from my scalp fill me with sadness. Not because I am giving up my hair, but because I wish there was more I could do. So I pray. I pray that I will be brave enough to continue to speak out against injustice (having no hair will certainly help that conversation happen). I pray that no one will leave this event the same. I pray that God will use our small act to invoke big change. I pray, because I know our Father is the only one who can rescue the world.
We shave because we know Beth is on to something. She knows we can support a cause with our money and walk away unchanged, or we can support a cause with our hair and never be the same again.
Sarah E. Richardson is a visual journalism student at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. She has a near obsession with ending injustice and is a sucker for a good cause.