Phaedra High: Flowing Naturally with the Movement

Phaedra High, director and co-founder, Colorado Urban Naturals.If you live in the Denver metro area, you will be hard-pressed to hold a conversation about natural hair without saying the name Colorado Urban Naturals, quickly followed by the name Phaedra. 
A self-professed “natural networker,” Phaedra High, is all about making natural hair and skin care products easily available to Coloradoans, particularly with the state’s dry climate.
A few years ago, the Denver native noticed that there was a high demand for natural hair care products in Colorado, but few resources. She and one of her associates, Andrea Grady, started investigating what was available locally, and then started the process of adding to and centralizing these resources. 

The result was Denver’s first Natural Hair Care Expo held at Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre in June 2014. It has been non-stop education and networking for the Urban Naturals since that time. Now as the director and co-founder, High is preparing for the third annual expo to be held  on Oct. 23. The fair-like event will feature workshops, demonstrations and entertainment. More than 500 people are expected to attend. 

A business administration graduate of Colorado Christian University, High has tested her wings through a few business ventures from branding, grant writing, event planning and financial planning. Not one to waste an experience, she has built on her background to help make the Urban Naturals the go-to resource in the state for men and women needing natural products, services and education.

The interest in the beauty industry did not come early for High, who was raised by her dad from the age of 10 years old. “My dad wasn’t into vanity,” said High, who has two sisters and three brothers. 
But, he was into cars. “We used to watch Auto Week on PBS. It’s still one of my favorite shows,” says High, who can list some of the vehicles from her younger days. There was the steel blue 1983 Buick Skylar, the first car her father purchased for her. It didn’t run. They had to push it out of the parking lot. There was the family car, a dark maroon Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciara that they took on road trips from Denver to Baltimore. She laughs when she remembers that the kids at school called it the hooptie. The first car she ever purchased for herself was an off-white 1992 Acura Legend from Craigslist for $400. She paid an additional $400 for a clutch. She learned how to replace the starter on that car, and it ran for about two years. 

The Conversations
Her eagerness and excitement about learning a new process and finding solutions has served her well. It’s no secret that the natural hair movement, often recognized as the shift from relaxers to natural hair, has become a lucrative endeavor. But it’s about more than money.

It spurs conversations that address a number of topics from the standards of beauty to making healthy choices. “I enjoy being natural, being expressive with my hair and being comfortable in my own skin,” says High, who captured others account of going natural through a video called, “Colorado Urban Naturals on the Streets Black Arts Festival.” 

The video, filmed at the 2015 Colorado Black Arts Festival, is a compilation of interviews she conducted while mingling with the crowd. She simply asked people why they chose to be natural. The answers were deep and practical. One person said she liked the convenience of it. “You are fine all the time when your hair is done,” she said. “You wake up fine. Go to bed fine.” 

The testimonials were a sign of more to come. 

The Colorado Urban Naturals is sponsoring an exhibit at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library entitled, “The Art of Being Natural.” The portrait documentary series, highlighting Urban Naturals in the Denver area, was co-created by artist Tya Alisa Anthony and the Urban Naturals, who coordinated the shoots, model casting and organized the first feature show. The people in the series, which runs through April 8, have chosen to live organically through nutrition, lifestyle, and personal hair style. 
Following the exhibit run, High will flow right into International Natural Hair Meetup Day, an annual event celebrated in more than 50 cities across the globe. This year it will be on May 21. The meetups are events designed to share information, techniques, inspiration and products to aid individuals in their natural hair journey. Each city does its own event in coordination with the day. Colorado Urban Naturals will be hosting a hair and fashion show on that day at AfrikMall in Aurora, Colorado. 

High’s decision to continue “kicking the tires” and investigating Colorado’s natural hair and skin care industry has turned out to be a worthwhile investment, locally and beyond. 

“I’m learning that if I just trust the process everything will be okay,” said High.
For more information, visit Colorado Urban Naturals.

“Black Women: Celebrating the Road Less Traveled” is a weekly online series published by Canady’s Corner to honor Black women who are making a mark in the world in their very own way.  



Lea L. Porter: From Single Mom to the Mrs. Colorado America Stage

Mrs. Denver At-Large 2016, Lea L. Porter. Credit: Brad Harper Photography.The reigning Mrs. Denver At-Large 2016 is poised to make a second consecutive run for Mrs. Colorado America 2016 next month, and this time she truly understands the magnitude of this stage. Lea L. Porter is an accomplished actor, who has appeared on stage, in film and on television. But, 10 years ago, she faced a real-life drama. 
“I was a single parent in every sense of the word. No financial or moral support. Due to abandonment at the time, I was in sub-par living conditions, technically homeless, fighting tooth and nail,” says Porter. “I was very pregnant, in my third trimester. I was working a retail job. My back was hurting. My feet were hurting. One day while I was at work, I just felt very alone.”

At the same time, she realized that she had the next day off.

“I needed to get away. So after work, I got my pregnancy snacks and called my favorite auntie to say, ‘we’re coming to see you.’ I drove the most peaceful drive of my life from Denver to Pueblo. It was a short road trip in Josephine Baker (aka Jo Jo Dancer, the name she gave her 2002 Black Nissan Altima.) “I had my baby in my belly, God and I. I knew then that I was going to be okay. Amazing what a short drive can do.” 

Though the trip did not resolve all of her problems, it changed her perspective to a more optimistic place.

Fast Forward to The Decision 
A little over two years ago, while working at a broadcasting company, Porter unknowingly met Emily Stark, the director of the Mrs. Colorado America Pageant. Stark had actually left the office, but returned a few seconds later and asked Porter if she were married. Porter had been married less than a year at that point. Porter recalls, “She handed me a business card and told me to look at the website. She said, ‘You should think about this. You’re beautiful. You should do it.’”

Less than two weeks later, Porter made her decision. It was then that she looked at the website and learned, to her surprise, that Stark was the director of the pageant. She was also the mother of twin daughters, who were once conjoined. “Her testimony spoke to me. If she can survive, I can overcome. I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to put my big-girl panties on and do something.’ ” 

That something entailed a conversation with her husband, who said, “Well, I know when you put your mind to something you’re going to do it all the way.” That was the support she needed.  

Walking onto yet another stage should have been a piece of cake, but it presented a dilemma. 

“The genres are very different. Being a performer, you have a character. When on the pageant stage, it’s just Lea. I’m very vulnerable,” says the graduate of the contemporary dance performance program at the University of the Arts Philadelphia and former dancer with Cirque Du Soleil Dralion. “A lot of people think performers are extroverts. But it was the opposite for me. I didn’t want to talk after the performance. I merely wanted to be Lea.” 

As a pageant delegate, she has had to put herself on the line, do fundraising campaigns and develop a platform. She has chosen to pull from her personal experiences to help single moms to help them overcome labels, stigmas, stereotypes and homelessness often associated with single parenting. Her purpose is to use her platform to encourage, inspire, and empower other single parents through their journey. But she has done more. 

At last year’s pageant, she made an impression on a 13-year-old Black girl who was in attendance to support her auntie – another delegate. Her auntie told me later that when she went home she talked about me, and said, “Look at her. She’s dark. She’s beautiful.” 

Lea L. Porter reading to first graders. Credit: Roy B. Photography. “Her auntie said that she fell in love with herself after that,” says Porter, who has made a number of appearances including at elementary schools to read to first graders. “She went on to compete in her first pageant and won!”

A young woman, also Black, came to support Porter at the competition and was so upset that Porter didn’t advance to the top 10 that she dared to enter her very own first pageant. The young lady reached out to Porter to help her prepare for her pageant. Porter is proud to report, “She took the crown!” 

She has also found a sorority of sorts within the pageant where married women can help to support each other. These are some of the reasons why the mother of four, through a blended family, is still in the pageant world. “You never know who is watching. It’s amazing,” she says.  

The 40th Annual Mrs. Colorado America Pageant will be held at 7p.m. on Saturday, April 16 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in the Denver Performing Arts Complex in downtown Denver. The winner of the state competition will receive a prize package valued at more than $30,000 and advance to compete with 49 other state delegates at the national Mrs. America Pageant in Las Vegas in August.

To purchase tickets for the pageant, visit Mrs. Colorado America
To vote for your favorite delegate, visit Fabulous Faces.

“Black Women: Celebrating the Road Less Traveled” is a weekly online series published by Canady’s Corner to honor Black women who are making a mark in the world in their very own way.  


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