Natural haircare entrepreneur Simeko Watkins-Hartley to award scholarships to Essex County teen girls


Natural haircare salon owner Simeko Watkins-Hartley will confer scholarships of up to $200 apiece on seven Newark-area teen girls Saturday at Rutgers University, a culmination of the free, 12-week Born-To-Be A Natural Leader workshop series that she and a small army of volunteers administered for the young women. This is the program's second run in as many years.

Watkins-Hartley, a Harlem native with 20 years of natural haircare experience, opened her Meko, New York salon and spa in Orange, NJ in 2010, bringing a legion of her existing clients along with her. Her storied career includes a seven-year run managing the renowned Khamit Kinks natural haircare salon in Brooklyn. Watkins-Hartley is also a graduate of the Rising Tide Community Business Academy, which boasts 800 alumni graduates in its network.

She said her clientele of women from diverse professional backgrounds is part of what inspired her to create the program, which she currently funds out-of-pocket, and with the help of volunteer workshop leaders and space sponsored by The Center on Spruce Street in Newark.

"My passion is to help women learn to embrace and love their natural beauty, inside and out," Watkins-Hartley said in a phone interview. "This program is extension of that. As a successful salon owner, it's one of my passions to give back to teenage girls that, like myself, grew up in the urban community."

Essex County schools served as the primary pipeline for teen girls to participate in the program. Applicants were required to write essays about why they wanted to participate. The workshops themselves ran the gamut of topics, from natural haircare to scholarship searches, resume writing to vision board creation.

The teens were also exposed to local women entrepreneurs in the area through the program. Pooka Pure and Simple, the new natural body product shop that recently opened on Halsey Street, helmed a workshop about how to build a beauty business. Aleia K. Moore of Moore 2 Life Motivations lead a workshop on self esteem and leadership skills. And Watkins-Hartley herself taught the natural haircare workshop.

"When I look at girls in urban communities, I see myself," Watkins-Hartley said, when asked about her motivation to launch the program. "I'm with the teens on Saturdays, which are the busiest days at the salon," she continued. "To me, it's all worthwhile, because I know the importance of having somebody there that believes in you. Doing this is very worth the time, and I know it'll definitely pay off." She added that she appreciates being able to give back to the community, since people from the community are who make her business a success.

The scholarship gala will take place this Saturday at Rutgers University. Teens will present their essays to a panel of judges, who will award the top three essays with additional scholarship funds, as well as a donation to the charity of their choice. Personal finance entrepreneur Tiffany "The Budgetnista" Aliche will receive a Community Service award during the gala.

For more information about the program, email

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