Black History Month: What It Means to Me
Every year in February, the US celebrates Black History Month, which is a time we recognize the people and events important to African history and its storied diaspora. Tipping our hats to cultural movers and shakers and milestone moments, championing community-led projects and embracing one’s Black heritage all come to the fore during this month of recognition.
Black History Month, or African American History Month, was initially proposed by Black teachers and students at Kent University in February 1969, a likely crescendo from the decade’s Black Power revolution. Subsequently recognized by then-President Gerald Ford six years later, the month-long observance has now come a long way in giving due acknowledgment to prominent figures and experiences within and involving the Black community.
Of the latter, the Black hair or natural hair movement has recently, and very popularly, dovetailed as its own discrete cause, gaining visible traction and visibility in mainstream media. From Hollywood movie shorts to celebrity callouts, state legislation to grassroots causes propagated via social media, the move towards accepting and loving one’s natural hair texture has become a campaign with both a political and personal impact on one’s identity for thousands of people. This personal effect then involves a journey towards celebrating cultural identity hallmarks, such as natural hair texture and historically Black hairstyles.
Why should we be aware of this movement? Why give cultural props to already-mainstream looks? Why do we need to talk about transitioning? Why should we make a move towards natural at all? All Things Hair spoke to five Black women we love on what this personal evolution to embracing natural hair has meant for them. As women, mothers, proactive members of their communities and respected professionals in their fields, the sentiments behind these hair journeys, and all the fabulous looks to be had along the way, go beyond Black History Month—or even hair itself. Read on:
Black History Month: Women We Love Weigh In
“Embracing your natural hair is you showing the world who you were meant to be.”
“Black History Month is a great time of reflection on where our society has been and where it’s going,” says Victoria Davis. “It’s beautiful to see how far it’s come. It’s not just a celebration for Black people, but for all people who believe in the advancement of the culture. The month of February and beyond provides many learning lessons about Black culture. For me, I make efforts to support local community events and organizations however I can.”
Ebony Marie Chappel
“Many of us were not raised in environments where our natural hair was considered beautiful or even appropriate; it’s incredibly pressuring to force yourself to leap from that to full acceptance without any journey in between.”
“It’s a time to highlight the excellence that people of African descent represent every single day,” says Ebony Marie Chappel. “A lot of people get hung up on the fact that it’s the shortest month of the year without understanding the context: Black people chose this month because of both Frederick Douglass’ and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays. It started as just one week—Negro History Week—and has since expanded to an entire month that’s celebrated not only in the US, but all over the world.”
For Chappel, it’s also an evergreen experience. “I like to embrace the Black 365 lifestyle, but in February, I do try to support local community celebrations and educational events.”
Starla Kay Mathis
“Once I started my natural hair journey and falling in love with my hair, it allowed me to love myself more inside and out.”
For some, it’s also a poignant way to remember the achievements of people that have paved the way before them. “Black History Month allows me to reflect on the excellence of our ancestors and present-day legends,” says Starla Kay Mathis. “During this month, I’m inspired to look at my own contributions to society and how I can make an impact. Black excellence is surrounding us all throughout the year, and during this month it’s nice to take the time to reflect, support, and inspire.”
“Our hair is such an expression of uniqueness and individuality. Use that to your advantage and see it as becoming more of yourself. Your hair is your God-given gift!”
“Black History Month was really big for me when I was in school since that was when institutions celebrated Black culture and history,” says Kimberly Crowder. “As an adult, I love seeing what companies do marketing-wise in order to celebrate this time of the year. Personally, I celebrate the joy and struggles of being Black all year long, including learning about our history. For me, Black History Month is extending year around. There’s so much to know and learn, and one month isn’t enough time. I don’t think about any part of my Blackness in terms of one month,” says Crowder. “I celebrate my amazing hair all year by learning about it and finding what works for me. The natural hair journey is a beautiful and changing one.”
For Mathis, it starts at home: “We have a nice collection of books for our family to read that shares our history and stories of African American leaders,” she shares. “I believe sharing these stories will leave a long-lasting impression on our children’s lives and on generations to come.”
“We all are beautiful and unique in our own ways, just like our hair.”
Michelle Thames is quick to note how Black hair has been a crucial part of Black history, and what that means in terms of feeling societal pressures in this modern age. “In the past, and still today, Black people have felt compelled to straighten their hair texture to fit in; Black people were made to feel that in order to move in society better, we had to look like everyone else. By me locing my hair, I am now embracing who I am,” she says.
Thames, whose hair is worn in dreadlocks, says it is an amazing yet inexplicable experience. “I get to also teach my daughter how to love herself and love her hair the way it is,” she adds. “I read books with my daughter to teach her about the brave heroes who fought for the rights of Black people. She was so happy they learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Garett A. Morgan, the latter of which we did her school project on! She was so excited. It’s moments that like that make me smile.”
Hair and heritage
Understanding the connection between hair and one’s identity is integral to the movement, and quintessential in the journey towards self-acceptance. “As a mother, I teach my daughter that our natural hair is versatile and that all styles of black hair are beautiful,” says Mathis. “I wear my hair in a variety of ways, from my beautiful natural curls to Marley twists to a bomb blowout or straight with waves—our hair is our crown, and as queens, we can rock it in any way and be regal! I’ve been natural for 12 years and I take many breaks from wearing my hair in its natural state to wearing protective styles,” she says. “I find that taking a break is much needed, and then I find myself missing my curls again!”
Davis wholeheartedly agrees. “The work we’ve done over the past decade has really helped women connect to their roots. Thanks to the natural hair movement, there are countless amounts of women embracing their natural hair, and it truly warms my heart. I have the same feelings toward my own hair: I’m on year 10 now and I still love to see the fun things I can do with it!”
Ed’s note: No matter what style you’re looking to achieve—whether it’s natural locs, some beautiful braids or are transitioning for the first time—ensure your hair is cared for with the proper products for your hair type. Gentle-cleansing and ultra-moisturizing shampoos and conditioners are particularly effective for natural and curly textures: They provide much-needed hydration to strands without stripping, creating the perfect foundation for resilient, defined curls. Emerge, a hot-off-the-press label catering specifically to natural and curly hair types, is one to watch. We love how the brand addresses lots of the main concerns of these hair textures, particularly the need for buildable moisture, definition, and frizz protection. Try Emerge It’s Knot Happening Sulfate-Free Shampoo, Smooth Mover Conditioner, and My Mane BFF Leave-In Conditioner as part of your regular hair cleansing regimen.
Loving—and hating, and loving again—your crowning glories
Inspiring others to love and embrace their natural texture has been one of the quintessential pushes of the natural hair movement, as hair is an explicit expression of cultural heritage and as such, should not be suppressed, bothered, or deemed less-than. “Now is a time when being natural is much easier than it’s ever been,” says Crowder. “Different textures are paraded on social media in all their glory—and using that as an example and index to styling is a great place to start. Also, taking the time to learn your own hair is so important, because what works for someone else may not work for you.”
“Accepting your natural hair is a personal journey that no one will understand but yourself,” says Davis. “Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint—so just cut yourself some slack! There will be days you love how your journey is progressing, and other days you won’t understand why you’re on it. It’s important to unveil why you are doing this in the first place,” she reassures.
Chappel echoes the sentiment: “Don’t feel guilty for having days or even extended moments of time when you hate what your hair looks like. When I have rough ‘hair love’ moments, I do a protective style like braids, twists, crochet weaves, or even wigs. It allows me an opportunity to beautify myself without harming my curls. I like to play with different styles and expressions all the time. At the end of the day, it’s about defining yourself for yourself and not for the approval of others. Do whatever it takes to get that and maintain it.”
Ultimately, it is not just the destination, but the road towards self-love that helps spur growth and confidence in embracing who you are—no matter the hairstyle or texture. “Love who you are, how you are,” adds Thames. “I think sometimes we care too much about what others think of us that we want to hide who we really are. We need to stand strong and tall and take up space. We shouldn’t have to shrink or go by anybody else’s standard of beauty but our own.” —as told to All Things Hair.
*Answers have been edited for length and clarity.