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NorCal nurse supports widowed friend with unique hair fundraiser

A Nigerian-American nurse seeks to build a home for a widowed childhood teacher with funds raised in part by a unique personal sacrifice.

Francisca Emefiene Pinkney with her husband Arthur in January 2024. (Arthur Pinkney/Facebook)

In the ancient practice of Christian tonsure, men were known to cut off their hair as a sign of humility and reverence, especially as a sign of entering religious life as a monk. In very modern northern California, one Black Catholic woman is taking a similar leap of faith to help a friend in need.

Francisca Emefiene Pinkney, a registered nurse and member of St. Columba Catholic Church in Oakland, says she shaved her head for 2024 to dedicate funds normally used for hair care to the construction of a home for her childhood mentor—a woman widowed in Pinkney’s native Nigeria.

“When I was in high school many years ago and being raised by a single mom, I was very challenging and hardheaded. My teacher, Njideka, took it upon herself to set me straight and ensured that I stayed focused on my academics to become a better version of myself,” Pinkney told BCM, noting that the death of Njideka’s husband, Godwin, eventually put her in dire financial straits.

“Currently, she cannot even afford to pay her rent. While talking to her, I could hear the pain in her voice that only a widow can express.”

In addition to her other contributions, Pinkney hopes to raise $50,000, which would cover the cost of completing construction that began when Njideka’s husband was still alive. She has raised several hundred dollars so far. 

In Nigeria, like many developing countries, women can often face unmitigated economic distress after the loss of a spouse. According to recent data, the West African country is home to roughly 15 million of the world's 258 million widows and has struggled with supporting them economically and socially. A 2008 public opinion survey found that 58% of Nigerians feel widows in the country face some amount of discrimination in public life, with fully a quarter describing it as a “great deal” of prejudice.

Pinkney, who moved to the U.S. in 2006, has maintained her own support for marginalized women in Nigeria through the Divine Mercy Family Foundation, which she founded to help pregnant teens through their childbearing process.

When the opportunity arose for her to help her old teacher, she jumped at the opportunity when she realized how much she could save up by simply shaving her head. 

“Funds for braiding my hair will be contributed towards the cost of building the home,” she said, noting that her monthly hair upkeep could range in the hundreds of dollars. A survey conducted in 2023 found that African-American women spend more on hair care than other U.S. ethnic groups, with more than a fifth spending 25% of their monthly budget on it.

While Pinkney did not fall in that category of spending, she said a “holy unrest” spurred her to make a sacrifice for the sake of Njideka.

“Her ability to connect to students is unmatched,” Pinkney said in the description for her fundraiser.

“Together we will give Njideka her dream home and establish a lasting connection with the community.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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