Breanna Reeves and Aryana Noroozi |
Organizers of “My Hair, My Health” hosted the 11th annual celebration in person on August 28, after being forced to host the event virtually for the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Community members from across the Inland Empire gathered at Fairmount Park in Riverside to celebrate and uplift all aspects of Black health.
This year’s theme was “Removing the Stigma from Our Crowns” and the event emphasized the significance in deconstructing stigmas that impact Black communities such as those associated with Black hair, mental health and practicing self-care. Reverend Bronica Martindale, a committee member, explained why it’s important to engage and reflect on the impact society has had on how Black women and women of color see themselves, especially when it comes to the topic of stigmatizing Black hair.
“This is why this event, ‘My Hair, My Health’ is so powerful because we take back the power of who we are as a culture. And we take back how we reflect on our own hair,” said Martindale. “Society, historically, has either tried to make the image of the way our hair grows out of our head [look] unhealthy, so that has contributed to an unhealthy outlook on the way we accept ourselves.”
“My Hair, My Health” seeks to “edify, illuminate and raise awareness of health — first of all,” said Phyllis Y. Clark, Founder and CEO of Healthy Heritage Movement, and a founding member of the movement.” The event was co-emceed by Teslyn Henry-King, founding member and Program Coordinator for SBCPH Nutrition and Eryn Young, MPH, program director for Just Muv Consulting.
“The fellowship that we’ve been able to have throughout the years, whether it’s in meetings, whether it’s in collaborating with various people, has been beautiful because we all came to the same place to say, ‘Hey, something has to change’ and we didn’t wait on some large organization to find us to do it,” said Young, one of the committee members of “My Hair, My Health.”
Stepping into our power
The event featured a conversation between community psychologists Dr. Sayida Peprah-Wilson, founder of Diversity Uplifts, and Dr. Janiel L. Henry, CEO of Women Rise Psychological and Wellness Center, who explored the relationship between mental and physical health, and how to achieve social and emotional wellness.
“We’re so busy. We’re caring for everybody else that what happens is that we can’t show up in the way that we want to,” Dr. Henry said. “We’re able to come together today and really be able to shift this mindset and then have this conversation, because we can shift that story. We can step into our power and that’s what we’re doing here today.”
Dr. Peprah-Wilson and Dr. Henry addressed the crowd as they spoke about the importance of acknowledging social and emotional wellness, and ways to achieve wellness through acts of self-care such as setting boundaries for oneself and developing a balance in life.
“Every time that we take back space for ourselves, that’s revolutionary because somebody somewhere is hoping that people won’t,” Dr. Peprah-Wilson explained.
Following the presentation, the speakers sparked a Q&A session by asking the audience: “Where is it hard to find time for yourself?” Audience members shouted out answers as the speakers gave tips and offered expert advice to attendees who asked questions about mental health.
The mini festival included performances by youth who modeled traditional African attire and performed a choreographed dance to the infamous Lion King song, “Circle of Life.” The celebration attracted attendees from all of the Inland Empire, with some traveling from Hemet, Pomona and Beaumont to participate in the festivities.
“I want our little girls — our princesses, our teenagers, our young adults, all the way up to grandma…what I would like for them to leave with is to see the pride of their Blackness,” said Clark. “We’re a family unit. We love ourselves. We’re beautiful, unapologetically.”
Vendors and nonprofits join the celebration
Local vendors and community-based organizers were in attendance, including the Riverside Community Health Foundation (RCHF), Building Resilient Communities, Black Infant Health, and Broken Crayons Still Color. The organizations in attendance provided resources to attendees to help them “move forward” as communities continue to grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The celebration also included hair demonstrations and presentations by Linita Hawkins, MS, author and founder and owner of LovelyLocs Natural Hair Care Products™ and Shor Denny, MS, founder and CEO of Community Now, a nonprofit that provides mental wellness support.
Music was provided by DJ Mystique who gave a testimony of her own experience with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She found the conversation with Dr. Peprah-Wilson and Dr. Henry impactful as she explained that there has always been stigma around seeking mental health services, especially growing up as a Black girl.
The event was sponsored by RCHF and Inland Empire Health Plan (IEHP), and supported by local organizations such as Healthy Heritage, Just Mov Consulting and San Bernardino County Public Health Nutrition. “My Hair, My Health” committee members include Reverend Bronica Martindale of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, Teslyn Henry-King, MPH, MPA, RD, Program Coordinator for SBCPH Nutrition, April Gillis, Project Coordinator at Healthy Heritage Movement and new 2022 committee members Carla Towns and Shavon Johnson, of Delta Sigma Theta San Bernardino Riverside Area Alumnae Chapter.
A previous version of this article stated that the event was co-emceed by Terri Akens, director of Community Health Programs at Riverside Community Health Foundation. The event was co-emceed by Teslyn Henry-King, originator and founding member.