Sometimes, the very thing that brings a person the most trouble in life can become a source of joy and inspiration.
Keya Trammell has a condition called alopecia, which caused her to start losing her hair when she was just 2 years old. Though she covered her head with hats, scarves and wigs, she was often teased by others kids. Her wig fell off once in first grade. In middle school her first crush hurled insults at her on a school bus. And adults, she says, always assumed she had cancer.
Trammell, now 27, is an aspiring singer who performs as Gifted Keys. She always wore wigs on stage and in videos until about four years ago, when her grandmother convinced her to bare her bald head. Trammell’s first au natural video went viral: 1.3 million views on Facebook and more on World Star Hip Hop.
The thousands of comments included people loving her look – and many who trashed it. That was tough, she says, but she says it gave her even more reason to proudly bald.
“I felt like I should take on the responsibility to walk the streets bald. To walk the streets as an alopecian. And the moment I did that, I felt like myself for the very first time. I was just like, ‘This is me. And I’m good with me.’” She says that after that she handles the familiar questions with a different attitude. “When you’re good with yourself, other people are like, ‘Hey why are you bald?’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ve got alopecia!’”
Soon after that first video went viral, Trammell was performing – bald – in central Illinois. She saw a little bald girl in the audience. “And I saw her mother crying,” she remembers. “And I was like, ‘I think that little girl has alopecia.’”
The girl was Zion Glass. Her mother Robyne Glass says Trammell was the first person besides Zion that she’d ever seen with alopecia.
Trammell says she felt like she was seeing a younger version of herself. Now she and her young protégé are in touch often.
“It’s a blessing,” said Robyne Glass. “I just want Zion to know it’s OK this is who she is and she’s still gonna be amazing. And then to meet Keya and to see that she’s actually walked in the same shoes as Zion, that’s a major load lifted off me.”
Now Trammell mentors and inspires a lot of girls with alopecia, like sisters Jayla and Denise Winkfield. They and their mother Sharon were at Trammell’s recent concert in Hazel Crest, Illinois.
“She should be like a poster girl for alopecia,” said Sharon Winkfield.
“I think she’s a good role model to children like me because she’s not stopping what she’s doing. She’s not stopping life trying to be sad and stuff,” said Jayla Winkfield. “But she’s moving on and going to bigger places and doing greater things with her life.”
Keya Trammell performs at The Promontory in Hyde Park on Tuesday, Aug. 20.
On Friday, Sept. 27, Trammell is organizing a special section at a White Sox game for those with alopecia, and their friends.
Note: This story was originally published July 17, 2019. It has been updated.