On Saturday June 8th, New York based modeling agency, The Lions, organized an event for World Oceans Day. If you’ve been on social media these past few weeks you’ve probably seen a lot of conversation among influencers and celebs like Smith family around the effort to clean up our oceans.

We are not separate from our eco-system; caring about myself and loving myself means also loving my space and the space that I share with all the life on this planet.

One of the agency’s top models, Ebonee Davis, has joined in on that discussion. “It means a lot to me to be a part of an agency that cares so much and has so much integrity, explained Davis. “I realize that we are not separate from our eco-system, so caring about myself and loving myself means also loving my space and the space that I share with everyone around me and with all the life on this planet.”

The event included partnerships with eco-friendly companies like the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (50 + whales were adopted at the event), Rob Green (Sza, Vic Mensa, and Justine Skye’s tattoo artist) doing live tattoos and a number of environmental friendly activations.

While all the craziness was going on, ESSENCE got a chance to chat with Davis about the fashion industry and upcoming projects. Hint: She will be filming in Africa, read below.

ESSENCE: You have become known for being a model that is unapologetic. Was there a turning point in your life that sparked this? 

DAVIS: There was definitely a moment in my life where I started to become more vocal and it was in 2016. 2016 was pivotal for me as a person and it changed the trajectory of my career. I decided to wear my hair natural at the end of 2015 and I really committed to the process of no heat and I chopped off my hair. It altered my spirit and I realized that it was due to Eurocentric beauty standards that I felt like I needed to represent myself in a certain way in the first place. I really had to go in and evaluate and question the subconscious beliefs that I hold about myself that don’t necessarily belong to me but were passed down from my family, society or the media. It just changed the way that I moved through spaces and now that I have access to spaces that aren’t typically occupied by people who look like me, I feel like I have a duty to be outspoken. I am opening the door and I am leaving it open for people that are coming after me. 

ESSENCE: The day Alton Sterling passed, you wrote a letter to the fashion industry. What was going through your head?

DAVIS: The day that I wrote that letter, my Calvin Klein campaign came out. That was the same day Alton Sterling was killed and it was just back to back murders of Black men by the police and something in my spirit was like, ‘this is not right’ and why is it that I’m in this industry that perpetuates these ideas about Black people and I’m not using my platform to say anything. If I can use my platform in the space that I am in to change that narrative then that’s what I should be doing. So in that moment I just felt this jolt of energy. Here I am, for the first time seeing myself represented with natural hair, the freedom that came with that and the uncaging of my spirit that came with that. I want everyone to experience that, so let me go into the world as a representation of what you can be. 

ESSENCE: What were some of the messages you were getting that day?

DAVIS: As you achieve success people expect you to become more quiet because they expect that success to pacify you and I did the opposite. I experienced this monumental moment in my career and it activated me and catapulted me so I was receiving messages that were like “Why are you talking, shouldn’t you just be happy and be quiet?” Or, “Why are you complaining? Cearly you made it.” It’s not about me; it’s about the system. I was getting a lot of messages of congratulations for the campaign and for the article. Now I feel like a lot of people who approach me recognize me from Twitter, the things that I have written and the words of encouragement that I put out.

ESSENCE: How was that transition switching to natural hair and how did the fashion industry respond?

The transition was very intense. I went through a long period of low self-esteem, just trying to convince myself that I was still beautiful because here I am at the time 22 years old. 22 years of having this belief system of who I am naturally and how I’m born isn’t good. When I first went natural and I walked into the agency I was with at the time, they were like, “That ‘rolled out of bed’ hair isn’t going to look good. You’re going to lose the clients that you worked with before.” It was hurtful–obviously I still remember it, word for word. But, I decided to stick with it; I just felt like this is the moment, this is the time.

ESSENCE: How do you feel about brands going after you only do fulfill the ‘Black girl’ aesthetic?

DAVIS: It’s really honestly a tough balance. I think for me, the thing about it more than being like, “Oh, I’m not going to work with them,” is like,”’If I do work with them what is my intention?” What am I going to do when I get into that room? Am I going to be like, “Oh, I’m in this room so that’s good enough?” Or, am I going to be like, “Ok, I’m in the room so I’m opening the door for other people to come in.” I’m having a conscious conversation that’s allowing them to realize that there is beauty beyond tokenism and that we can have more than one black girl on this set at this time. 

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The 2nd photo is the caption 😭

A post shared by Ebonee Davis (@eboneedavis) on

ESSENCE: You’re always twerking and having fun on Instagram, how do you balance that with your professional life?

DAVIS: Walking in my truth, walking in my authenticity. I don’t want to be bipolar, like literally. I want to be able to access every facet of who I am in any space that I’m in and I feel like that’s when I’m the most powerful. 

ESSENCE: What are some projects you are working on?

DAVIS: I’m going to be working on a film. My first feature film. We are going to be shooting in Africa for a few weeks which is super exciting. I play Hatshepsut, and she’s one of Egypt’s first recorded female Pharaohs.

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