Dr. Willie Morrow was one of the most iconic figures in San Diego history.
Among his myriad talents, he was a beloved barber who cut the hair of a slew of Black professionals, including Earl Gilliam, the first Black judge in San Diego County, NBA star Michael Jordan and MLB player Willie McCovey.
Morrow even received a U.S. Department of Defense contract in the 1970s to teach barbers on military bases around the world how to cut, shape and style Black hair.
Publisher emeritus of the San Diego Monitor newspaper, which he founded in 1986, Morrow also wrote the book “400 Years Without a Comb,” first published in 1973.
Morrow, the creator of the trademarked Afro Pick hair comb also created the hair texturizing/permanent wave treatment called California Curl – forerunner to the Jheri Curl.
And from 1979-89 he was the owner of the only Black radio station in San Diego, Magic 92.5 (XHRM).
Morrow passed away last June at age 82 but his legacy is living on – and then some – by way of his 56-year-old daughter, Cheryl Morrow.
Cheryl Morrow, a native San Diegan and graduate of San Diego Academy, calls herself a second-generation entrepreneur with future-forward vision, and calls her father “Mr. Morrow” when speaking about him.
She is keeping many of her father’s dreams and goals alive while also looking to stay connected into the 21st century, and well beyond.
“I’m having fun,” she said. “I had a great childhood, I had a great father, but you don’t get forever. You get the good stuff while you can. I’m a futurist, so that kind of leaves a lot of gap between what you have inherited and now. Thank goodness Mr. Morrow was a futurist, too. He was consistently innovative, so that kind of laid the groundwork for me.”
Cheryl Morrow runs several businesses that have her father’s fingerprints on them, including The New California Curl (C-Morrow.com), the BLKXL incubator and the San Diego Monitor News media – which she says was “the first African American newspaper to be digitized” and the first local paper to have NFT covers – but she has made them her own.
“You inherit a lot of things from your predecessors,” Morrow said. “Hopefully, what makes a great legacy is that you inherit the passion. That’s the most important, that’s going to drive you to the next generation, the passion that you’re going to be able to increase the inheritance. That is one thing I think successors to do not realize, that in order to carry on a legacy, you really need the passion.”
Morrow said she remembers going to the chemistry laboratory that was Morrow’s shop on Market Street, and says that’s where she got comfortable with the executive and administrative parts of the beauty world. But she said that is not where her true passion was.
“It was the innovation, and that’s my passion – to make new things and new beauty categories,” she said.
Morrow likes to tell the story about how she decided to leave the comfort zone of San Diego in her early 20s. She purposely chose to live in New York for two decades, staying Harlem from 1990 until 2010.
“That is when I wanted to grow up,” she recalled. “I chose the Big Apple, which was the perfect city to have a name. It was quite an experience. I didn’t even have a winter coat! I bought a vintage $5 wool coat on Broadway and Lafayette Street. I didn’t know what that slow dropping white stuff was that was coming from the sky but I learned quick to cover up! I had that coat the day I left. I When I came back to San Diego, I wanted to give Mr. Morrow and my family the best of my performance.”
Morrow said entrepreneurship is important to her and that she will continue to feed the new generation of how people receive news.
“We have content writers from all aspects of life, which is very important,” she said. “People are connected to the digital devices, getting so much information so fast. The news cycle turns so very quickly, so it’s important that you are a smidgen ahead in your subject matters and in your headlines.”
Morrow said that her company continues to manufacture the original, patented Afro pick combs that made their debut in 1962 and calls San Diego “the home of the Afro.”
“San Diego is very instrumental in beauty because it has so many hallmarks because of Mr. Morrow. I plan to continue the legacy of California Curl but also expanding it. And instead of regular manufacturing, we are creating cosmetic couture, which means that you as a client can come in and we’ll design it especially for you.”