There was a time when not one month could go by without me slapping a full kit of white, creamy toxic hair relaxer on my innocent, brown and stressed out scalp. It was tiring, methodical work that made me a scientist, mathematician, doctor and hairdresser before the kitchen sink. While the boxes insisted I wait six to eight weeks before a relaxer touch up that promised a chemical recipe that could turn my nappy edges straight, there is a spirit in my scalp that grows wild and fast and, looking back, I think it felt or hoped that maybe if it pushed out two inches in one month I would get a chance to see its natural beauty and cease the barbaric ritual. And I’m a smart girl. And I listen. So, one day, I did just that. Instead of running to the local CVS to get a box of “creamy crack” — preferably any one that was on sale for $6.99 (because that’s how much I love myself) — I stared at my curling scalp in my tiny apartment on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, and thought, as many sisters who go natural do, “F— this!” I got in my little red Eclipse with the dented door and headed to the barber. “Cut it off,” I said to some random brother with clippers in his hand a few minutes later.
I’d find myself at the natural altar a few times before my latest stint being relaxer free. The best part about this five-year journey is that so many more sisters are aboard. Sometimes I feel like we all got tired of the calendar hawking for the next relaxer setting or hair appointment all at the same damn time. We stopped caring about who would date us and how we would live with “nappy hair.” We whispered to ourselves that we would figure it out and work with what God gave us. Right? We figured out what I tell my college students going natural all the time: “Stop saying it’s too difficult to deal with your hair the way it grows from your scalp. Love your hair. Love yourself.”
But it’s not all love here, either. The struggle has been too real. It ain’t all roots and berries and Erykah Badu CDs. Sometimes we feel ugly or tired. We get sick of twisting and picking, finding Afro puffs behind the toilet and watching styling videos on YouTube. Sometimes it seems that all the work of having a natural is equal to the work of having a relaxer. You wonder, is it worth it? And then you see yourself in the mirror. In a picture. In your little sister or daughter’s eyes after she’s gone natural, too, and you think, “F– yes!”
I felt that way yesterday at ONE Music Festival, a burgeoning Atlanta born music festival started by Florida A&M University graduate and business mogul Jason Carter. This year’s fete brought to the stage solid and sought-after soul and hip-hop acts, including Daley, Alice Smith, Kendrick Lamar and Nasir Jones. While I, a consistent supporter of Carter’s concerts and vision (because it is a musical movement and statement present in the ethos of the festival if you’re paying attention), certainly adored the onstage crafting that paired Lamar and Jones on the main stage in celebration of a bridge through hip-hop storytelling that mapped 20 years of progress, and connected the stories of black boys in the West and East, like pairing a fine wine with the perfect steak, what set my eyes fishing was the beauty in the crowd.
Yes, the brothers were in number, looking strong and smiling like it was spring. But what most moved me was the large representation of naturals in the sprawling amphitheater. Afros and braids, closely cropped cuts and locks, some dyed blond and blue and green, some free and wild like cotton just growing on the side of the road, all lovely, like a parade of black beauty. Sometimes, I sat back on my blanket and just watched the women. They were laughing and hugging. Lingering on each other. Some were in groups of naturals.
I turned to my friend, a New Orleans beauty who rocks a short curly Afro and speaks like honey is set at the back of her tongue, and asked, “Did you notice all of the naturals out here?”
She sat up on her elbows on our blanket and looked around, squinting beneath the bright sun and said, “We’re the majority.”
I looked again and took in her observation. She was correct. Most of the women before me were natural. I smiled and announced that this wouldn’t and couldn’t have been true just five years ago. We rapped about what the change could be due to and laughed at memories of salon visits and then fear of rumors of what relaxer kits were doing to our bodies.
Soon, a silence fell and we went back to sunbathing. Alice Smith was singing some mean tunes in the background. I thought, “I’ll write about these sisters tomorrow. I’ll pay tribute to all of these women out here.”
I wanted to record what Allison Richard of Naturally Twisted Hairstyles noted: “Natural hair matched the vibe at OMF – free, bold, individual.”
Here it is. Click ahead to check out the many beautiful pictures of sisters with naturals I saw yesterday at ONE Music Festival.
–Calaya Michelle Reid is blackwritergonerogue on social media.
Images courtesy of Instagram.