Five days ago I was in Paris, France speaking on a panel at a natural hair conference and drowning myself in tears.
Sure, the beautiful way in which our hair grows from our scalp is reason enough to inspire such an emotional reaction. However, my weeping was about more than just our marvelous manes. My Parisian jaunt was a true celebration of #BlackGirlMagic — the international edition.
The purveyor of this magical moment was The Natural Hair Academy (NHA) — an organization that puts on the annual conference in order to fill a gap in education and resources for the French natural hair community and, of course, celebrate the beauty of our kinks, coils and curls. But to be clear, NHA is not an actual educational institute, rather the name is simply a homage to the organization’s dedication to gathering the best hair experts, products and tastemakers from around the globe. And somehow I was lucky enough to be a part of this year’s thoughtful curation as a speaker on the Empowerment Panel.
But before I dive into the awesomeness of sharing a stage with an impressive group of powerful black women, while speaking to an equally amazing crowd of 750 brown beauties — let me paint a quick picture for you.
The NHA conference — now in it’s fifth year — was held in a large event space at the stunning Floral Park located right outside of downtown Paris. Imagine approximately 3,000 black women buzzing about, attending hairstyle tutorials by people like Felciia Leatherwood and popular blogger MoKnowsHair, stocking up on products from over 30 vendor booths — including SheaMositure and Cantu, swapping complements (along with hair tips), and forming friendships that will no doubt outlast that glorious day in the park.
Chimole Williams, NHA co-founder, certainly understands the power of bringing black women together from around the world — even if the initial attraction is the love of natural hair.
“This is such an event for the diaspora. All of the African women are here, the Caribbean women are here, American women— they’re all mixed in and blended. They bring their own different flavor,” Williams, who lives in New York City but runs NHA with her Paris-based business partners, explained to ESSENCE.com.
To be honest, it felt like a mini Essence festival — the perfect combination of sisterhood, style and soul.
That trifecta was certainly palpable during the Empowerment Panel. I was joined on stage by image activist and writer Michaela Angela Davis; “Mad Men” and “Dear White People” actress Teyonah Parris; Magatte Wade, the founder of Adina World Beverages and Tiossan; and Kelly Massol, creator of the France-based natural haircare line Les Secrets de Loly. And we each brought a particular je ne sais qui to the table.
Mason expounded on the importance of supporting the growth of black-owned businesses. Wade passionately sung the praises of black womens’ contributions to the world and how we need to continue to thrive. Parris was candid about owning her natural beauty and paving the way for others in Hollywood and beyond. Davis amazingly delivered the historical and cultural significance of being unapologetically black. And I shared both the trials and triumphs of my journey as a fashion and beauty journalist in a world where there are very few. Cue the tears. All the tears.
Because of the language barrier I wasn’t sure my message would be delivered with the fervor and sincerity I desired. Couple that with the fact that us American participants were assigned a translator who also had to interpret what we was saying. But my worries of being completely lost in translation were swiftly dispelled when after the panel ended I found myself surrounded by a slew of beautiful brown faces — all beaming with looks of gratitude, empathy and many even had tear-filled eyes. We hugged, we cried some more and finally we vowed to keep in touch.
“Intersections are important. and that’s a part of the pain. We’ve been separated in so many ways — emotionally and physically,” Davis told ESSENCE.com. “But when we come together, that’s the super power. When we come together and understand that we’re all connected, that’s what’s dope.”
Furthermore, one of the biggest ah-ha moments of the day was realizing that not only is the natural hair movement global, but that we also share many of the same concerns including self-acceptance, representation in the media, and colorism — just to name a few.
“It’s not just about the hair. That’s what’s so exciting for me. It’s about self and self-acceptance, and self-love,” Parris told ESSENCE.com. “And that’s why I’m excited to be here and on the Empowerment Panel with you and these other amazing women and entrepreneurs. At the end of the day, it’s not about how we look — it’s about how we feel. And everything will be alright after that.”