An image of Serwa sitting in a salon chair, holding hair cutting shears.

Serwa came to Northwest Access Fund because she was serious about improving her credit and starting to save. She had heard of Northwest Access Fund a decade earlier, when she participated in her first business development program.

By the time Serwa started working with an Access Fund financial coach in 2018, she already had a business license and had been operating her own hair salon for several years. Unfortunately, her work was aggravating her disability and she had to stop. Serwa’s financial coach worked with her to create a monthly savings goal so that she would be able to purchase the assistive technologies she needed to continue in her profession without jeopardizing her own well-being.

While working with her financial coach, Serwa experienced homelessness and says she wasn’t able to save as much as she would’ve liked to. Still, she was able to save enough to purchase a lot of essential assistive technology: a straddle stool, LED lighting, a therapeutic mobile sauna with an Infrared light system to reduce pain in her knees, and a Google Nest for setting appointments and staying organized.

While working towards her savings goals, Serwa had also become increasingly interested in natural hair. She worked with her financial coach to save up to purchase a training course from the natural haircare system Sisterlocks. She is currently working towards certification.

After starting her training, Serwa started to learn more about efforts to pass the CROWN Act in Washington State, which would ban discrimination on the basis of race-based hairstyles and textures such as braids, locs, twists, and knots.  Serwa lobbied on behalf of the act and gave testimony before legislators in Olympia. “I’ve heard plenty of stories from behind the chair,” Serwa explains, “and I wanted to be a part of that revolution.” Washington became the sixth state nationwide to pass a version of the law in March 2020.

Although people who have been discriminated against on the basis of their hair can now file complaints with Washington State’s Human Rights Commission, Serwa doesn’t feel like the law’s passage is the end of the struggle. She started a cohort program for children at Leschi Elementary School that taught them about the CROWN Act and their rights, and she wants to start a grassroots coalition for people with issues and complaints about hair-based discrimination. She is passionate about “advocating for herself” and “teaching others how to advocate” for themselves.

Returning to her experience with Northwest Access Fund, Serwa says that financial coaching is “definitely worth it. You may not know what you really need until you finish the process. My financial coach was a really good sounding board, gave really good advice, and always encouraged me, which was really important.”

An image of Serwa on the far right in a black-and-white striped and mustard sweater. Senator Melanie Morgan is in the middle in a red dress.
An image of Serwa and fellow supporters of the CROWN Act. Serwa is on the far right wearing a black-and-white striped and mustard sweater. Senator Melanie Morgan, who introduced the Act to the Washington State House of Representatives, is in the middle in a red dress.