Grace Ann Blake: Healing, Grace, and Beauty

Lola MagazineLola Shreveport, Megann McDaniel

While reading a book by Clint Davis recently, I came across the following passage that resonated with me deeply, prompting me to revisit it several times over the next few days. As a survivor of trauma who has defied the odds and, hopefully, broken the cycle of dysfunction, abuse, and poverty for my family, Clint eloquently articulated thoughts that I had never before encountered or considered.

“If you can learn to recover from the trauma you have experienced, that means you have changed what you believe about yourself. Trauma recovery is not about changing just your behaviors, but changing what you believe deeply about your worth and ability. ‘Hurt people hurt people, but healed people can heal people.’”

I never considered that to overcome my circumstances, I had to believe I was capable and worth more from a very young age. We can change our circumstances, but we must first believe in ourselves. It is then, I believe, up to us to help others heal as well. Grace Ann Blake not only believed in herself at a young age, but she clawed, fought, and screamed her way out of many unhealthy situations. It was not an easy road, but she found healing, grace, and beauty. Grace Ann then made a career choice to help others find their strength, beauty, and confidence by becoming a stylist. We all know our stylist is much more than someone who cuts/colors our hair. They become our friends, therapists, sounding boards, and much more. She was also recently elected Caddo Commissioner for District 8. Although she always looks put together, warm, and welcoming, she also embraces the messiness of life and has a rare sense of rawness and realness. Grace Ann is a testament to believing in yourself, not giving up, and fighting for yourself as well as others.

You have been a stylist for 32 years. How and when did you decide on this career?

The trauma I experienced as a child and teenager (which we will discuss later) led me to my career. We all want to be seen for who we feel we are or can be. My beauty and strength were taken away from me. Through a journey of healing, speaking out, not allowing my voice to be shut down, and not giving up on seeking help and protection, I regained my beauty and strength. There was a time in my life when I was covering my body because I did not want to be seen as a physical, beautiful woman. The woman I am now is not shy, not hiding. I am now capable, strong, and seen. I learned to let my inner beauty shine, and I want to be able to do that for others as well.

You have owned Avalon Salon for 25 years. What inspired you to open your own business? What challenges did you incur along the way? Did you receive any particularly helpful advice or mentors along the way?

I grew up with a family of entrepreneurs. I dropped out of college; I was dyslexic. I did not want to go to college; I wanted to help people feel beautiful. Through helping others with their hair and makeup, I can help them feel beautiful. I knew when I was 14 years old that I would someday work in business and in government in some capacity. I had an amazing Civics and Free Enterprise teacher named Mrs. Pouncey who taught me that business owners were successful, which is something I wanted. I will always be thankful to Mrs. Pouncey for helping me find my direction.

I wanted to create my own salon because I wanted to create a different experience for my guests. I wanted them to feel safe, at home, and welcomed. This time is about them, not about the stylist. When I have clients tell me they feel welcome and at home, it is the biggest compliment I can receive. As for challenges, our community is not always easy or business-friendly for aspiring entrepreneurs. Attaining permits and zoning was a struggle. I spent 2 months proving that my salon, signage, frontage, foliage were within proper ordinance. A client, Bill Gleason, who was a young banker at the time but now owns a skydive operation, helped me create my first business plan. I then went to LSUS and received business advice for demographics and location that would best support my company for high traffic longevity.

As a stylist, you have a significant impact on a client’s life. Their hair can impact their confidence, image, ability to find employment/love, etc. What is it like servicing so many clients each day knowing that each brush of color or snip of scissors can have large implications for a client for months to come?

That is why I do what I do. I want to help in the most important moments of someone’s life: a child’s first haircut, somebody’s first school dance, a job interview for their dream job, a person walking down an aisle for the most important commitment of their life, or someone is going to be buried and this is their family’s last physical memory of their loved one. At the end of the day, if you love what you do, and truly love what you do, you show up for those moments.

You manage a staff of 10-15, which is nearly all females. What is that like, working with and managing such a large number of women?

I love getting to impact and support women the way I wished I had been when I was young. It is important to me to share how you can be a strong voice and create a path financially as well as emotionally to give yourself the most beautiful life imaginable. Honestly, I know nothing different. Working with people can be challenging, regardless of gender. We are dealing with human nature.

You and I have spoken about our history of trauma. Your willingness to be so open and honest is very inspiring to me, but the work you have done to heal is even more impressive. Further, your diligence to help protect your children, staff, and loved ones from experiencing trauma and/or to seek healing from their trauma is amazing. Do you mind touching on this?

I am who I am because of all of that, the trauma. I look at my childhood trauma as a blessing because it shaped me into the person I am today. But it is also important to constantly seek wellness so that we can be healthy and strong enough to help others. The only way we can make a mark on life is if we make a difference. The way we can make the greatest impact is to help others. You must help yourself first so that you can help others, just like the oxygen mask on the airplane. We must take care of ourselves first so that we can take care of others. I am currently writing a book titled Snapshot, which discusses my journey with trauma. It has been a lifelong dream to write this book, and I am nearly halfway through it. Simply beginning to write this book has helped provide another source of healing.

You experienced a lot of trauma as a young child: sexual, physical, and emotional abuse from various family members. When you took steps to find safety and protection, numerous people and systems failed you. You reached out to family, teachers, police, government programs, and in one way or the other, those people and systems failed to serve a basic and fundamental role of protecting our children and providing a safe and healthy environment. One of the greatest ironies of all was your mom’s job teaching others how to avoid the exact situations you found yourself experiencing. Can you please share how this all impacted you as a child and now as a woman/mother/employer/government official?

My mother worked as a social worker helping educate women on the resources available to them to get out of unhealthy and unsafe situations. Yet, our family was enduring the very unsafe and unhealthy situations mom was preaching about. I have vivid memories sitting under her desk listening to her talk to clients about these programs and services and being confused and conflicted over the irony. I struggled to understand why we did not take advantage of these services, why we endured the pain and suffering. Mom talked the talk, but times were different then and honestly, I am not sure she had the strength to walk the walk. I knew I would find my voice and would help others do the same. I want to help make sure others know the resources are available and that the people and systems in place do not fail those in need.

You recently were elected Caddo Commissioner for District 8. Congrats! What inspired you to run for office? What challenges did you face in this pursuit?

Through my trauma, I found my voice. I learned to speak up and take action even if it was uncomfortable or the outcome was uncertain. I learned to advocate for myself. I decided to run for Commissioner because I wanted to be able to have a voice and take action for all in my community, not just for myself. I can and will seek out to help others. I will provide a voice and resources for those in need. I come to this knowing there are checks and balances that must be in place for us to provide long-range help. Financially we must be independent; we cannot expect others to take care of us. We must find a way to take care of ourselves, to support ourselves first. As a strong female leader, I want women to be independent and not rely on systems. The systems can be used to support and to help, but my biggest advocacy is for people to rely on themselves and to then help others. Challenges. As a woman, it goes back to watching my mother fight for women’s rights and for women to be financially secure. I have, myself, lived a life feeling I am woman, hear me roar. I ran for office in 2023, and I hear the whispers of: ‘you’re just a stylist’, ‘how can she run a company and be in office’, ‘how are you going to do both’. The craziest part is oftentimes I was asked this by other women. My answer was and is, I created life, I ran a household, raised children, started, and ran a company while being part of PTA, cooking dinner, homework, sports, being a part of organizations and going to church. Every single day women multitask with and without support. I did not run on a platform of ‘being a woman’. I ran on the platform of being capable, yet there was a question of whether a woman was capable. I want to be seen as a capable woman representing the people of Caddo Parish in district 8 as we grow our community and help to make it a more beautiful and safe community. I hope through my voice others will feel more comfortable in using their voices for their hopes, needs, dreams of our community and will share ideas, wants, and needs so that we as leaders can be held responsible not just in words and action.

You are a wonderful mom with two amazing children. You also appear to have raised your children with very deliberate yet slightly unconventional ways. Do you have any advice for us parents earlier in the journey attempting to raise just as equally well-rounded and amazing children? Anything you wish you would have known or could have the chance to ‘do over’?

You can never hug or read too much with your children. Also, protect your child from social media. I live my life with intention and with authenticity. I try to live with no regrets. But I do regret quitting piano. I quit because I feared failing and messing up in front of others. And now as an adult, I live life being honest that I may not have all the answers or be perfect, but I will do my best every day.