Gele Day is a celebration when woman throughout Chicago come together to empower each other, reconnect with the earth, stand in unity and wrap their heads with beautiful adornments. The history of the gele itself is one that is two-sided in regards to its interpretations. Gele is a Yoruba word for head wrap. Head wrapping is something that is extremely prevalent in many countries in Africa. It is often used to convey spirituality, prosperity and beauty. In contrast, in America, during slavery “hair wrapping” was adopted as a tool to cover the enslaved Black woman’s hair, thus concealing her perceived beauty and femininity in contrast to White women. However, following slavery, just as many things that were meant to cause shame and embarrassment, Black women embraced the practice of wearing the gele and reclaimed the meaning. The gele represents royalty, spirituality and beauty.
Black women and their families have been gathering for the past five years to celebrate themselves and to tap into their spirituality in a way that will make our world better and provide a sense of pride. The celebration is an opportunity for women to come together, reenergize and release feelings of negativity. Children play, people dance, learn from each other, pray and meditate. All of this culminates to a walk to the shore of Lake Michigan, where the energy is released into the water as a form of spiritual cleansing. We asked Essence McDowell, who was attending her first Gele Day, what her initial thoughts were and what she found once she experienced it firsthand. “My initial thoughts were beautiful African women coming together to look beautiful and celebrate each other, but I had no idea how deeply spiritual and restorative it was going to be. It’s so powerful to see us come together to have such a powerful message for ourselves and our community.” she said.