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Friday, Mar 24, 2023

Black History Week features Book Signing with award-winning photographer and new hair events

The Anderson Freeman Resource Center (AFC) hosted Black History Week from Feb. 20 to 26, featuring various events that acknowledge and celebrate Blackness such as “My Beautiful Black Hair: Lecture and Book Signing,” Black History meals, Black to Ta Old Skool Karaoke and Hair Day.

Black History Week is an annual event held at the college every February designed for the celebration of Black History Month (BHM), officially established in 1976 to honor the achievements of African Americans. This year, responding to the theme of Black Resistance chosen by The Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the AFC has planned and organized a series of events to cherish the culture and achievements of the Black community on campus.

“We as students, workers and fellows at the AFC helped to research for the events,” said Julissa Rojas ’26, the AFC Fellow for BIPOC students. “We spent a lot of time coordinating and planning how we want the events to come to life because it’s important to create an affinity space for Black students on campus.”

The highlight of this year’s Black History Week events was the lecture and book signing with St. Clair Detrick-Jules, an award-winning filmmaker, photographer, author and activist whose work centers on Black liberation, immigrant justice and women’s rights. Sharing the collection of photographs and stories of 101 Black women embracing their crowns in her debut book, “My Beautiful Black Hair: 101 Natural Hair Stories,” Detrick-Jules discussed the importance of natural hair and hair care to Black people and their identity.

Detrick-Jules shared the story of her four-year-old sister, Khloe, who was bullied and became ashamed of her hair because her afro stood out in a predominantly white class. Relating to her personal experience and the stories of interviewees, she used a metaphor to explain the ongoing discrimination towards Black women because of their naturally curly or coiled hair.

“When you hold a glass of water for a minute, you’ll be fine… But if you have to hold it for years, it is almost unbearable,” Detrick-Jules said. “That’s what I think about when I think about the burden that so many Black kids grow up with, that burden of self-hatred, that burden of thinking that our hair, our skin color, and our features are not worthy of love.”

When recalling the interview process of the book, Detrick-Jules spoke of the power of first-person storytelling in building a close community of support and developing an appreciation of vulnerability within it.

“A community can just be a moment when the four of us sit in a restaurant and sort of create this understanding that it’s okay to be vulnerable,” Detrick-Jules said. “And [within the community] our stories are going to be met with nothing but love and grace.”

Detrick-Jules also spoke of the significance of the afro as part of the Black identity, describing how it could act as a connector to the past.

“Our hair is a tie to the root to which Black identity is grounded,” she said. “It is a reminder of the powerful ancestors who came before us and who survived so much that we could be here today.”

In the end, Detrick-Jules brought up the concept of texturism, an idea of privileging certain hair textures over others, and expressed her pursuit of creating a world in which “all hair textures are celebrated” and “no one feels like they have to change their hair in order to fit in.”

The most notable difference of this year’s Black History Week is the addition of hair events. Black History Month Barber Day and Hair Day were hosted on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, where barbers, braiders and stylists from Burlington were available for haircuts and hair design. Shampoo bottles and conditioners for afro were also given away to students.

“There aren’t many places where students with curly hair can get their hair done,” Rojas said. “So, we are creating something similar to that. In the future, we’ll probably have a vending machine selling hair products so that they are more accessible to students.”

On Wednesday, the annual Black History Month dining takeover was held at all dining halls on campus for all three meals. Students enjoyed dishes from the Black diaspora, including African American, African, and West Indian or Caribbean popular foods like Southern Fried Chicken, Escovitch Fish, Jollof Rice and Curried Jamaican Stew.

Other events included a karaoke night featuring music from Black artists and Black History Trivia where students competed in groups to answer questions regarding music, movies, people, sayings and history.

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