In her dream, she heard a booming voice from above. “What better way can you serve me?” the speaker queried. From deep down inside, Nicole Walters knew it was the Voice of God. She looked around in her dream and noticed familiar stylist chairs, water basins, and shelves lined with sleek-shaped products. “I'm in a hair salon!” she exclaimed. But it was not any hair salon with which she was familiar. Yet, she felt comfortable being there. All of a sudden, she uttered prophetic words in her dream: “Divine Connection!”
Then, her eyes opened, and she was awake. Walters was left with the awareness that God was calling her to use her ten plus years of experience as a hair stylist and had given her new venture a name.
So, in 2008 the hair stylist opened Divine Connection Hair Spa, a salon that caters to hair needs within a “Christ-centered environment.” When a client at the hair salon chooses the Redeem Me Hair Therapy, not only is she receiving an olive oil treatment for dry hair, she is soothed in an ambience of soft Gospel music and encouraging Scriptural verses on walls of warm hues of brown and beige. A cozy lounge area is decked with a leather sofa, a variety of herbal teas, Christian tracts, and the Bible. Services range from simple haircuts and washes to hair relaxing and coloring.
Divine Connection faces Washington Avenue in Brooklyn. The busy commercial street is three blocks away from Bedford Avenue and intersects with the Brooklyn Museum and the Botanical Garden. The sound of trucks, construction, and lively small businesses shout continuously during daylight hours. To create the quietude of a meditative hall, the entrance doors of Divine Connection are kept closed. The signal is that Walter’s hair salon is place for the transformation of ordinary life. Thirty to forty clients “of the faith and unfaith” walk through the salon's dark wood front door every week.
In a salon or barber shop, each one of us expects—hopes for!--a metamorphosis of appearance. One moment there's a head of messy hair. The next moment your stylist says, “Viola!,” and you barely recognize yourself in the mirror.
Walters is very tuned into how a new hair style can make a person feel different. “Short cuts are my favorite,” she says. “I like the creativity and how it changes the individual's personality. They carry themselves a little different and change the way they run their fingers in their hair.” An edgy hair cut can be enough to give a person an extra oomph in their step.
Walters herself has a short pixie cut that fits her sharp-minded charm and mild-mannered demeanor. She is observant and open but also a very private person by nature. Her public life weaves together an obvious outer with a hidden inner transformation just as her saloon mixes hair washes and Jesus.
Her artistic pursuit in hair matured before her Christian identity did. Ever since she cut her own hair at age 15 in Trinidad, Walters knew she had a gift for styling. Family and friends told her, “It looks like you went to a salon!” Soon, they asked Walters to cut and style their hair. Then, they told their friends, who told friends, and so forth.
When she decided to enroll in beauty school at the age of 18, Walters officially began her career as a hair stylist. She moved to New York City the following year and started work in East Flatbush. The excitement of being in the big city doing hairstyling had an underside of some personal imbalance. At about the same time Walters became a single mother raising a daughter. In her early twenties, she recalls, she also had too many parties and too much alcohol. “I was trying to fulfill my emptiness of not belonging,” said Walters. However, she doesn't go into specific details about her personal challenges during that time.
As far as God was concerned, she occasionally thought about faith and believed in Jesus, but she “didn't take it seriously.” Yet, she also felt that her life and that of her young daughter could be better. Then, a push toward a deeper life arrived in the form of the devastation of 9/11.
After the World Trade Center fell in 2001, unresolved questions in her heart bubbled up. “When 9/11 happened, I asked myself-- do I want to go to hell?” It was a way of asking if she was just letting her life drift away without any direction. “So many people died tragically for no reason,” Walters recalls. “You never know when you'll die. Can I die not knowing God? What's the reality of it all?” If God is real, then life has a divine connection. “I wanted to have a relationship with Him, and I knew I should have.” (Also, see our special series on the spiritual impact of 911.)
In October 2001, a friend of her sister encouraged Walters to attend Emmanuel Church of God in Flatbush. Led by a new senior pastor Curt E. Courtenay (now Bishop), the church aims to be “a vivacious group of believers who engage in ministry to foster balance within the family unit for the glory of God.” Walters flourished. She was baptized into the church on December 2002.
As her faith gained traction in her life during the years after her baptism, Walters became dissatisfied with the secular salon in East Flatbush where she worked. She craved a different experience for herself and her clients. “Christ was the center of my life now and I wanted to create peace. I wanted something where a client can come away from the hustle and bustle of work,” said Walters.
Walters believes there's a divine plan for her, the salon and its clients. “What's in my heart is that I want to encourage everyone to be the best they can be. God gives each of us a vision and we should live those dreams that's in our will,” Walters says with a determined voice and fire in her eyes, “Divine Connection means the holy connection between what you do and God. I am because He is. I am God's divine cycle on earth. I am his vessel, everything that I do and say has to represent him.” Here is a woman who knows exactly what her worth and intentions are in life.
Four years after the store's inception, Walters reflects on the state of her business, “I always knew who God was and something I wanted in my life, but it [Divine Connection] has gone way beyond what I expected. I just expected to keep my hair clients, but I gained more clients than I can handle.”
In her off time, she studies the Bible to apply it to her personal and professional life. If a client has a personal issue, Walters won't hesitate to share how the Bible helped her to jump over hurdles in her own life. At other times she takes the opportunity to learn about her clients' challenges and solutions.
Walters is an excellent listener, and she recognizes its importance in dealing with clients. “People have always said that I'm comfortable to speak to,” Walters reflects. After she became a Christian, she felt that God wanted her to develop that gift to encourage others. To open a conversation, she starts by asking her clients about how their day is going. Once they relax, open up about their problems and personal lives, the conversation becomes something greater than chit-chat. “As hairstylists, we are the client's psychologists. They share intimate stuff with us,” said Walters. Walters' faith also impacts her staff.
One client—lets call her Leslie to protect her identity—was “having a hard time. She was looking sick and getting smaller and smaller.” Walters listened empathetically but unobtrusively. “I never pry,” the hair salonist says. She never knew exactly what was going on with Leslie and never asked, but she did invite the woman to her church. “It's been 6 months now and Leslie gained a little weight,” she notes. Leslie and Walters now share comeback stories and plan to collaborate their passions soon. Leslie works with make-up.
Two staff members have also added faith to their work at Divine Connection and now attend Emmanuel.
Of course, the religious environment doesn't appeal to everyone. “Some people say that I'm forcing a faith,” admits Walters. She argues that she tries not to offend anyone. She hopes clients will give her the same tolerance that she takes into an Arab Muslim food store, for example. “We have Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims, and Jewish clients,” adds Walters.
Walters is organizing workshops and prayer sessions with Emmanuel Church of God to help the community this summer. “In June, we have a workshop called Women in Stilettos. It's about walking in your shoes. Women have many roles, as a mother, worker, etcetera. We'll have skits and prayers,” said Walters with a chirp in her voice, “For me, I'll get inspired, motivated, and pushed. Sometimes daily things tear me down, all women have challenges.”
Walters' biggest life struggle so far has been as a single parent raising her daughter, who's now 17 years old God “is letting her turn into such a decent woman,” the mother says thankfully. “She knows what she wants. She's not easily intimidated. She expresses herself so clearly,” Walters says with a smile and hint of pride. They say that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Our Dream Series starts today. Coming up: Dreams in an African American church; and The Power of Dreams in the Bible!