World Afro Day is the vision of a mother called Michelle DeLeon, who was inspired by hearing her daughter sing about how much she loved her natural afro hair. Like most social entrepreneurs, the idea was born from a desire to make a difference and be the change she wanted to see in the world. Hearing the genuine joy in her daughter’s voice inspired her to create something that would counteract the negativity often associated with naturally kinky, curly, coily hair.
The inaugural World Afro Day takes place on Friday 15 September 2017 and is endorsed by the United Nations Office of the Commissioner of Human Rights in alignment with the International Decade for People of African Descent.
The date, 15th September is significant because it’s the same day that the law in the US was passed last year (2016) to make it legal for employers to discriminate against people with dreadlocks. That’s right. It is legal for a company to not employ someone because of a hairstyle.
Some might say, well, wearing your hair in dreadlocks is a choice. If you want to get a job – just cut them off? However, for some it is not just a hairstyle it is part of their cultural identity and lifestyle.
We spend so much time at work; to be told that you are not allowed to be your authentic self, particularly if your hair is a natural expression of your unique identity, is an infringement of human rights. It’s also counterintuitive to all the rhetoric we hear about an increasing emphasis on diversity and inclusiveness.
This, among other hair biases that affect afro hair in its natural state, has been shown to play a role in the negative perception of its suitability in the workplace, anecdotally and through academic and field research. With the media bombardment of Eurocentric mainstream beauty ideals; reinforced with the often negative language used to describe afro hair, this has been shown to have a negative impact on some children’s self-image and understanding of the uniqueness of their hair.
For me, World Afro Day is personal in many ways. Last week my god-daughter was born. In 2017, do I want my her to feel that how she wears her hair needs to be a consideration for the type of career she chooses? Should she feel the need to use products that could be potentially harmful to her health to fit in? Ridiculous, right?
World Afro Day has been created to provide a platform to challenge this through education and celebration. The day is being commemorated with a ‘Recordsetter’ world record attempt in the morning with 500 school children from all backgrounds participating in the largest ever hair lesson focused on the science of afro hair and the importance self-confidence.
In the evening there will be a celebratory adult event featuring keynote speakers from the US and the UK, a hair demonstration with Vernon Francois, celebrity hairstylist to Lupita Nyong’o, Solange and Ava Duvernay and much more. There will also be Careers & Curls panel conversation with key influencers with different perspectives and musical performances. The event will be broadcast globally live via Facebook and Twitter.
To support this initiative, you can buy a ticket to the London event. Tickets cost £12 and can be purchased here