By Bobbi Booker
For the past dozen years or so, there has been resurgence in African American interest in natural hairstyles and care. Natural hair has been prominently featured with sports and entertainment stars and the general public has reflected the increased in popularity of styles such as cornrows, locks, braiding, twists, cropped and locked –most of which originated in Ancient Africa. The recent 13th Annual International Locks Conference: Natural Hair, Health & Beauty Expo in Philadelphia celebrated the splendor of Black culture through classes on overall wellness. The Expo, traditionally held during the first weekend of October, has expanded to two days of education, healthy food options, informative workshops, soothing healing circles, music, fashions, and a stunning hair show and competition.
Sakinah Ali-Sabree started as a conference volunteer and now serves as the operations manager. “The conference is about more than hair,” explained Ali-Sabree. “It also promotes Black businesses and have different vendors offer their products to the community and have workshops to educate the people in the community. It was an outlet for Black business that didn’t have a store.”
Although there has been a reemergence of natural hair, African Americans–and Black women in particular–still face an underlying tone that straightened hair is a more acceptable or professional hairstyle. As recently as August 2007, controversy erupted when “Glamour” magazine apologized for a staffer who called Black women’s natural hairstyles in the workplace “shocking,” “inappropriate” and “political.”
“People feel like ‘locks’ are just a hairdo, but it comes with a little responsibility,” noted Ali-Sabree who accents her hair with elaborate ‘Gele’ head wraps. “That’s why I always stress the importance of education and learning about your hair, culture and your heritage, and basically the background on locks and where it comes from. I’ll have Asians or Caucasians say to me, ‘Oh that’s a nice hairstyle’ or ‘Maybe I should try that,’ and tell them it’s a history behind it. It’s not just a hairstyle for me; it’s a cultural statement.”
Expo presenter and natural hair pioneer, Yvette Smalls, has long used the slogan “Braid It-Don’t Burn It” to promote a Pan-African appreciation of Afro-textured hair.
“Our hair is our crown and glory and we must embrace that standard,” said Smalls. “The standards of beauty that we’ve been taught are not necessarily beneficial for our people. I help Black women create our own standards.”
According to Smalls, natural hairstyles draw African Americans closer to their roots.
“I believe that a lot of the empowerment lies in self-definition and shared experiences,” expands Smalls. “I encourage hair harmony because the essence of beauty is in the soul, not in or of the body. My quest of self-discovery was beyond image and that’s what made me feel as though it were important to bond and share my experience with women so that we would have to go through some of the things we go through with issue called hair.”
The Expo also featured Hollywood newspaper columnist Rych McCain and his new book, “Black Afrikan Hair and The Insanity Of The Black Blonde Psych! (Why EVERY Black Afrikan “MUST” Wear Their Spiritually Divine, Nappy Hair Natural)!” ($25, Valley of Maat Publication). For over 20 years, McCain has researched the critical medial and social effects that have arisen from the poor self-esteem issues that African Americans have over their hair. “Hair is 75 percent of our personality,” said McCain, who has conducted education workshops for over 16,000 community youth and college students.
“The ladies know that,” stresses McCain. “They are not going to go out into the public unless their hair is together. I remember when my mother use to make sure that my sister’s hair was pressed.”
McCain research underscores the “spiritual divinity and physiological functions that natural nappy, kinky, and divine hair performs.”
“Our hair is the only hair that spirals out of the scalp and that’s because of the shape of the follicles but also because of our melanin,” maintains McCain.
“When you look at the spiral it is the most profound motion in the universe. Everything on earth spirals. Blood spirals through your vains. Flowers and all plants spiral out of the ground. When you flush or take a shower and look at the water, the water spirals down the drain because of how the earth moves. The same force that creates the spiral of water going down a drain is the same force that creates the same spiral that makes our hair comes out of our head in a spiral form. No other hair in the human family does that.”
The 13th Annual International Locks Conference: Natural Hair, Health & Beauty Expo2007 took place on October 6th & 7th from 11AM – 8PM at the Walter D. Palmer LLP Charter School 910 North 6th Street. Philadelphia, PA.