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Natural hair festival set for this weekend on Martha's Vineyard

The Curated Curl

The Soulfully Textured Natural Hair Festival, an event dedicated to empowering people of color to wear their hair in whatever way makes them comfortable, kicks off Saturday (August 13, 2022) at Waban Park in Oak Bluffs. The idea is to bring people together to learn more about their natural hair texture, and help remove some of the societal pressure and stigma many people of color feel when they wear their hair naturally.

CAI's Kathryn Eident talked with The Curated Curlfounder Nike Okediji for a preview.

Eident Talk about The Curated Curl and its focus.

Okediji So probably back in 2018-2019, I decided to transition to my natural hair. At the same time, a lot of my friends were transitioning as well. But, for a lot of African American women, we didn't grow up with our own hair textures. Our hair textures were straightened at an early age. So, it's a whole process now, like trying to learn your hair again and the textures and how to manipulate it until the styles that you want and that sort of thing.

And so, we all started to have the same questions, so I decided to start a Facebook group, and then the group grew and we started talking to each other, asking questions. And then as that grew, I was like, "Well, we should start having events" because a part of it was also people just embracing their natural hair textures as they start to transition. They were having questions about, "Well, should I wear my hair like this to work?" And, “Is it professional?" and those sorts of things.

And in my mind I was like, "Well, we shouldn't feel like that, right? This is the hair that grows naturally out of our scalp. Why do we feel this way?" And so, I felt like we also needed to just learn how to embrace it more and to amplify the beauty of it within our own culture.

Eident So what can someone expect at the Soulfully Textured Natural Hair Festival that's happening this weekend on the Vineyard?

Okediji We have about four different panels that kind of dive deeper into just the embracing of natural hair, the culture, things that we experience at work.

And so the first one is breaking the bias, navigating natural hair in the workplace as told by C-suite executives. Another one is about breaking the stigma in classrooms and at schools and how to create a culture that is more open. And then we have a local hair salon owner from the Vineyard that's going to come and just answer some questions just about natural hair. And then we also have like a healing workshop because as we mentioned, there is some stigma sometimes attached, whether it's from within our community or outside of our community.

It's just kind of how to be more positive and develop a more positive relationship with one's hair. And then we have a vendor marketplace.

Eident There's this event mainly geared to women, or is it for all gender identities?

Okediji It's really for people of all genders, but it tends to be in majority women. And so, we will have some give-away products for men. If you think also just about the natural hair discrimination that people have experienced, just what we've seen in the headlines, it's all genders. So, we encourage everyone to attend.

Eident Massachusetts just enacted the Crown Act, which aims to address discrimination over how someone, especially a person of color, wears their hair. How do you feel about this new law, and does it impact your work with The Curated Curl?

Okediji I'm glad that it passed because just having started The Curated Curl and having the Facebook group, I've heard of so many people that have experienced discrimination in the workplace.

I do think, though, that we still have to develop the culture because we've had laws on the books for decades that deal with racial discrimination. Just because there are laws does not mean that the culture or the biases will disappear overnight.

And so, I'm hoping an event like this helps people to understand the issues. Like some people think, "Well, what's the big deal? It's just hair." But it's not, right? It's deeper than that. So, I do think that it's just important to continue the dialog so that people just learn more about what is happening, the cultural significance, why we embrace our hair and that sort of thing.

Eident Do you have any advice for people who want to ally themselves and support people who choose to wear their hair naturally?

Okediji It's hard to understand how to show support, I think, for someone that's not from the culture, but really what you want to do is just not put too much emphasis on it so that people don't feel like they're being othered. Sometimes too much focus can make you feel uncomfortable.

At the end of the day, when you're going into a workplace or into school, all you really want to do is be judged by your skill set.

Eident Nike Okediji, founder of The Curated Curl, and organizer of the Soulfully Textured Natural Hair Festival happening this weekend on Martha's Vineyard, thanks so much for talking with us.

Okediji Thank you so much.

Eident Tickets are available online and you can buy them the day of the event.

This conversation was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

Kathryn Eident was the Morning Edition Host and Senior Producer of News until November 2022.