There’s a good chance you’ve seen this vintage video circling the Internet. Sporting a spherically coiffed head of picked-out curls, a young Kathleen Cleaver of the Black Panther Party breaks down why she and her peers wear their hair “like this."
“The reason for it, you might say, is like a new awareness among Black people that their own natural appearance is beautiful,” she explains. The camera cuts from one revolutionary Afro to another. That was in 1968.
Almost 50 years later, amid nationwide protests against racial profiling and urgent cries insisting “Black Lives Matter,” this fusion of beauty standards and a pro-Black movement — two seemingly disparate issues — has emerged yet again in the form of Naturals4Change.
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Founder Natasha Gaspard, a born-and-bred Brooklynite, teamed up with 11 natural hair bloggers and influencers to create a space for members of the natural hair community to advocate for social justices and human rights issues facing people of color.
"The response to the creation of Naturals4Change has been tremendous!” Gaspard recently told BET.com. "We’ve gotten messages from new followers that they’re excited about raising awareness, spreading information and working on solutions for real change socially, politically and economically."
Keep reading to learn more about the makings of Naturals4Change and its growing community, as well as Gaspard’s reasoning for why the natural hair movement is inextricably bound to the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
BET.com: What sparked the idea for a concept like Naturals4Change?
Natasha Gaspard: After feeling the disappointment of the decision to not indict Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Mike Brown, the non-indictment of Officer Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner and the many blatant killings of Black men and women at the hands of the police happening across the country, I posted a question on Instagram asking the natural hair community a simple question: “What can WE do?” I asked them what are we going to do to ensure our freedom for this and the next generation. I asked for real solutions that can affect REAL change. I received a ton of responses with all kinds of ideas to that simple question. It was as if people were waiting for this discussion to happen within the community. I know the natural hair community has the capacity to make a real impact because we already have. Look at what the natural hair community has accomplished online already. We’re changing the conversation around Black beauty, wellness and lifestyle! I wanted to know how we can harness that power into changing the very system that continues to marginalize Black people.
BET.com: What projects or campaigns have N4C done so far? How much of a role has the Internet played in these ventures?
Gaspard: We decided to launch the Naturals4Change platform on Instagram and Facebook for Black History Month with a social media takeover. The goal of the online campaign was to raise awareness around the issue of police brutality while unifying the natural hair community in a call to action for immediate policing reform and a call to end racial profiling. Our strategy was for the team and partners in the [natural hair] community to get the attention of our audience by flooding their timelines with synchronized posts every hour on the hour. Each post featured striking images of men and women who lost their lives to police killings. We included the story around their murders, personal information about their lives and also included actual action steps people could take immediately to make a difference.
The current natural hair movement has grown to its current height because of the power and reach of social media. We understand that the Internet is a great vehicle to engage people, spark conversation, spread news and information and ideas with lightning speed all over the world! The reach is tremendous! The Internet is the great equalizer…the media cannot control the Internet and social media.
BET.com: How does the natural hair space coincide with #BlackLivesMatter and similar movements sparked by the police-involved deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner? Have you encountered any critics who've discounted or doubted the contributions of individuals from the hair and beauty space?
Gaspard: The #BlackLivesMatter movement was started by three Black queer women who sought to affirm all Black lives. Black people have and continue to be deprived of basic human rights. We acknowledge the injustice that exists that makes the natural hair movement necessary. Men, women and children of African descent have faced discrimination, job loss and ridicule because of the texture of their hair. We in the natural hair community have been working very hard to combat the negative images and stereotype around the texture of our hair. We speak out with our blogs, YouTube videos and social media conversations. Now we’re taking it further by expanding our scope to include ways in which we can all work together to make changes in our communities. We need all the support we can get so we encourage BET readers to join our Facebook group and follow us @Naturals4Change on Instagram and Twitter.
Follow Patrice Peck on Twitter: @SpeakPatrice
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(Photo: Naturals4Change/Yolanda Renee of EtcBlogMag)