Sah'Rah Stylz and the Journey to Freedom Project are coming together to educate Portland on natural Black hair.
"Most of the kids from our community, they get their hairstyles from a magazine," says Kisha Kelsey, founder of Sah'Rah Stylz. "Most of the time, a magazine doesn't portray how we really look or how we're supposed to look or how it's okay to look. They think it's revolutionary to wear your hair the way it grows out of your head."
Kelsey and JTF founder Karanja Crews hope to provide the Portland community with an opportunity for creative expression, cultural self-awareness, and fashion, beauty and personal empowerment with their event the Hairitage Jubilee: "A R/Evolution of Our African Roots."
The first portion of the event, which will be held on Feb. 23, will feature children's activities, including a lesson on Black hair through the ages and a showcase of S. Renee Mitchell's new children's book "The Awakening of Sharyn: A Shy & Brown SUPER GYRL." Following this, there will be a panel discussing and demonstrating how to treat Black hair. There will also be a workshop put on by Amber Starks.
The second half of the event will feature a fashion show displaying Black hairstyles over the ages and a hair battle between local barbers and stylists. There will also be free and low-cost haircuts for kids, as well as music, photos, drumming, poetry and dancing.
Crews says this is part of the larger celebration of Black History Month, and specifically, is a nod to Madame CJ Walker, who is regarded as the first female self-made millionaire in America. Her fortune came from developing and marketing hair and beauty products for Black women.
Crews points out that hair, especially in the Black community, holds more importance
than a simple fashion statement.
"Hair is political," says Crews. "The reason why is because you find a lot of people in our culture changing our hair to fit in a certain box or to make it look like who is dominating our society, i.e. straight hair, white people, Caucasians."
Kelsey adds that hairstyle choice can play a role in employment. Some institutions have policies that prohibit employees from wearing natural Black hairstyles like dreadlocks.
Kelsey notes that the corporate community has made some progress and many institutions are becoming more accepting. According to her, natural hair has made a significant comeback on the East Coast, signaling that women's insistence on wearing natural styles has helped shift societal perceptions.
"The biggest question is how it's going to be accepted in the corporate world," she says. "The main thing we worry about is how other people think and not how we feel."
According to the organizers, the event is targeted towards youth because they are the hardest to reach. High school aged teens are especially difficult, says Kelsey. She notes that most of her clients at Sah'Rah Stylz are 40 and above.
By putting on the event, she and Crews also hope to challenge problematic Eurocentric ideals of beauty.
"It's rare that you find African American woman wearing natural hair," says Crews. "It's seen as being nappy and not beautiful. To me it seems because it's not deemed as beautiful. It's seen as being nappy and not beautiful. It's important to educate the community and raise awareness about the importance of our culture and our heritage because it's who we are.
"This is how God made us. If we have kinky hair we should be proud of that. We should honor that and celebrate that rather than trying to change that. There's a scripture in the Bible that says a woman's hair is her glory. To me it's like a crown."
The Hairitage Jubilee will be held Feb. 23 at the Ambridge Center. Family events will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. while adult festivities start at 6 p.m. and go through 10 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and all children 12 and under get in free. The organizers encourage attendees to bring three non-perishable food items to donate to needy people in the community.