The History of Box Braids

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[Detangling Our Roots] Stop the co-opt. In a new series exploring Black hair origins, we trace this form of braiding back thousands of years to the Nile Valley

Do you remember when syndicated radio host Don Imus referred to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hoes” back in 2007? Sure, this happened nearly a decade ago, but derogatory statements like these are exactly thr reason why the phrase “it’s just hair” is often dismissed by many Black women.

For us, it’s never been just hair mainly because our hair has never solely been ours to begin with. Black women have been told our natural kinks, coils, curls, waves and everything in between aren’t beautiful and should be changed to meet European beauty standards. Yet, when the Kardashian-Jenner clan or anyone non-Black wears hairstyles that first appeared on Black women, such as cornrows, Bantu knots or a Yaki-textured ponytail, it’s considered “new” and “chic” in the mainstream media and renamed in many instances. However, these same hairstyles are often deemed as “ghetto” and “unprofessional” when the person is Black.

From strangers wanting to pet our heads to the cultural appropriation and “columbusing” of some of our most beloved styles, the hair that sits on Black women’s heads has always evoked plenty of fascination and conversation.

Recently, I came across this tweet:

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Are Black women notorious for switching up our ‘dos constantly? Absolutely, but that’s part of what makes us us. Let’s own it.

From bountiful afros to bold cornrows and Bantu knots, Black women have rocked some dope hairstyles over the years. Many came and went, but a popular ‘90s hairstyle reemerged a few years ago when Beyoncé and Solange started rocking it again.

We’re talking about box braids, and though Bey may have revived the hairstyle for the masses, Janet Jackson first set the trend in 1993 with her film debut, Poetic Justice. The minute the credits started rolling, nearly every Black woman and girl in America wanted box braids, so they could throw them in a high ponytail, dress them up with a white turban, or simply rock them under a floppy newsboy hat just like Janet.

Read more of my latest piece for EBONY.com [here].

NEW COVER ALERT: China Anne McClain Slays Sesi Magazine’s Fall Issue!

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Meet Sesi magazine’s fall cover star, China Anne McClain, as she shares deets about upcoming movies and possible new music. Also, you’ll find my byline inside the mag. For this issue, I penned a piece about the different ways Black teens can cope with witnessing race-based traumas in the #BlackLivesMatter era we’re living in at the moment.

Shipping starts next month, but reserve your copy now before they sell out: sesimag.com/subscribe.

Goin’ for the gold!

 

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Tierney Isaac, a Broadcast Arts major at Washtenaw Community College, served as an intern on the production staff that produced the broadcast of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials in Omaha, Neb. (Photo Courtesy of Tierney Isaac)

WCC student scores an internship at U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials

Calling camera angles and shots, spotting athletes, running in and out of production meetings, researching, and fact-checking was all in a day’s work last month for Washtenaw Community College student Tierney Isaac.

The Broadcast Arts major recently returned from completing an internship at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials in Omaha, Nebraska. A match made in heaven considering Isaac swam her way through high school and comes from a family of swimmers.

While working as production staff for nearly two weeks, Isaac rubbed elbows with several high-profile people, including the legendary sportscaster Bob Costas, and even witnessed 22-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps complete his final Olympic challenge. Once again, Phelps made the team.

“There’s a lot of relaying back and forth, which can be stressful, and there’s definitely a sense of urgency at all times, but it’s also exciting,” Isaac said. “One of my proudest moments was hearing the production manager tell the director, ‘It’s OK. I trust her.’”

Luckily for Isaac though, it wasn’t her first time doing something of this magnitude. In 2012, she worked as a production runner at the U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials. And for the past three years, she’s spent her summers working at the Phillips 66 National Championships. That meant Isaac became used to working 14-hour days. But she points out that her most-recent trip wasn’t “all work, no play” all the time.

“After each day came to a close, all the staff and crew would just hang out and let loose,” she said. “It’s weird because we were all exhausted by that point, but the adrenaline keeps you awake.”

But the fun didn’t end there.

Members of the media competed in a swim race for the chance to win an Omega watch. Though Isaac didn’t win, she received some sound advice: Hustle and smile.

“That’s true for anybody,” she said. “Knowing your stuff is important and if you don’t know something, you better find someone who can help. Things go by so fast in production, so you can’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s takes true collaboration to successfully pull off a live event.”

Since classes cannot fully prepare anyone for the unpredictable world of production, Isaac plans to take advantage of every opportunity before transferring to Marymount Manhattan College in New York City next year. She already has another internship lined up this December at the Short Course World Championships in Windsor, Ontario.

Interestingly enough, Isaac almost didn’t go into production. She started off her college journey as an architecture major at Washington University in St. Louis but quickly realized it wasn’t for her.

“I always worked on production events during the summer,” she said. “It started out as just something fun to do until I realized it could actually be a career.”

Isaac’s passion for television is now in full mode thanks to WCC. She says the college’s affordability gave her the freedom to explore all options before deciding on the one that was best for her.

“What I will miss most about WCC is the people. The teachers I’ve had have played a huge role in shaping my career. Without their passion for the subjects they teach, I probably wouldn’t be so passionate about the field myself,” she said. “The environment WCC fosters of collaboration and support among the students is amazing and I’m so thankful for it.”

This story originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of On The Record.

The greater the struggle, the greater the victory

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Journey from standing in line for bread to becoming a bank vice president included a stop at WCC

Washtenaw Community College alumna Alina Verdiyan grew up in Azerbaijan and enjoyed what started out as a typical childhood. It wasn’t long, though, when her life was one of much travel and, eventually, not knowing where her next meal was coming from.

“I just remember being in music class and my mother came in to excuse me and we drove straight to an airplane that was waiting for us,” she said.

At age eight, Verdiyan was too young to understand that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was worsening. She did, however, notice the drastic changes in her family’s lifestyle from that moment on.

Barely two months after fleeing to Armenia, the 1988 Armenian Earthquake struck, measuring 6.8 on the surface wave magnitude scale.

“It was devastating. We had no electricity, no heat and no hot water,” Verdiyan said. “We used to stand in line for hours just to get bread, and when we finally received it, it was covered with lice that we picked out before eating.”

Several years later, Verdiyan’s family immigrated to Moscow—where the living conditions were better—and resided there five years before eventually settling in Ann Arbor when she was 17. Her mother, who was a chief economist, and her father, who was an entrepreneur, had only $1,000 to their names when they immigrated to the U.S.

“It was hard and I don’t know how we did it,” Verdiyan said. “Aside from not speaking English and being unable to communicate with anyone, it was also a culture shock.”

Verdiyan admits she didn’t understand why everyone seemed to smile all the time.

“I thought they were off their rockers until I realized this is just a happy country. People here are happy,” she said.

When it came time to take ESL courses, Verdiyan’s then boss suggested WCC.

“The professors I had were just as good as the ones you’d find at a university,” she said.

Between juggling three jobs and going to school fulltime, Verdiyan remained focused, eventually transferring to and graduating from Eastern Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in computer information services.

But, crunching numbers and handling money interested her the most, so she continued working at her local TCF Bank as a teller following graduation.

It wasn’t long before others noticed Verdiyan’s strong work ethic and at 22, she became the bank’s youngest branch manager. At 25, the bank promoted her to bank officer and senior investment specialist. She went on to start her own award-winning financial services practice and sold a share of it a few years ago.

Today, she serves as a vice president and client advisor for Old National’s wealth management group.

“WCC was so good to me. I received a quality education and paid almost nothing for it,” she said. “It’s a great college, and if it wasn’t for all the patient counselors, financial aid staff and professors, I wouldn’t have made it.”

Although Verdiyan’s road to success was a rocky one, she’s grateful for it and firmly believes the greater the struggle, the greater the victory.

“If I can do it, anyone can do it,” she said.

This story originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of On The Record.

Working together in perfect harmony

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Members of the Concordia University-Ann Arbor pep band perform at football game last season (Photo by Beth Steinkellner)

WCC and Concordia collaborate to share musical opportunities

Nothing seems to bring people together like music.

And for the past year, Washtenaw Community College and Concordia University-Ann Arbor (CUAA) have worked together harmoniously, pun intended, to offer new and unique musical opportunities for their students.

WCC students can now take music classes at CUAA and CUAA students can take music technology classes at WCC.

Additionally, WCC students earn a financial stipend for joining and playing with CUAA’s pep band and drum line during the entire football season.

“Often, kids who spend years dedicating themselves to learning and perfecting an instrument stop playing once they get to college,” said William Perrine, Chair of the Music Department at CUAA. “This gives them the opportunity to continue to play and learn while socializing and building friendships.”

CUAA’s drumline preseason practice takes place August 15-19 and pep band rehearsals are scheduled for August 22-23.

“The collaboration between WCC and our neighbor CUAA offers our students the opportunity to supplement their music experience and education,” said WCC Performing Arts Department Chair Noonie Anderson. “CUAA is just a short bus ride from WCC and the faculty and staff at CUAA are eager to welcome our students into their music classes and performance groups. Both colleges’ students benefit from this partnership.”

For more information, contact William Perrine at william.perrine@cuaa.edu or 734-995-7232.

This story originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of On The Record.

The road to U-M started at WCC for these future educators

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The University of Michigan recently admitted eight Washtenaw Community College students as part of its incoming cohort of future teachers in the U-M Teacher Education program.

Transferring to U-M this fall, six students plan to study elementary education while the other two pursue secondary education.

“Many of the WCC students who applied had both experiences with children and course work that conveyed a strong commitment to developing skills and expertise needed to continue on the path of teacher education,” said Dr. Timothy Boerst, Chair of Elementary Teacher Education at U-M’s School of Education. “It’s clear that WCC students are enthusiastic about learning to teach and we are excited to welcome them to our program.”

Boerst notes the number of students transferring from community colleges to U-M’s Teacher Education program has increased in recent years. He also points out the substantial increase in the number of applications and admissions from WCC reflect the recent work to enhance communication and support transitions between WCC and the U-M Teacher Education program.

“Having eight students accepted for transfer to the U-M School of Education is a fantastic testament to the quality of students we have at WCC,” said Kris Good, Dean of Arts and Sciences at WCC. “These individuals have worked very hard and should feel extremely proud. We are also proud, as an institution, of the relationship we are building with the U-M School of Education to ensure this opportunity exists for many more WCC students in the future.”

For Charles Held—one of the eight students admitted, enrolling at U-M might not have happened if he hadn’t enrolled at Washtenaw Community College first.

“WCC helped to clarify my career path, elevate my aspirations, and empower me in my pursuit of working in education,” he said.

This story originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of On The Record.

Like your wheels? Bring ‘em to WCC

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Classic vehicles fill the WCC parking lot at last year’s Cars & Bikes On Campus show. (Photo by Steve Kuzma)

Classic vehicles fill the WCC parking lot at last year’s Cars & Bikes On Campus show. (Photo by Steve Kuzma)

If you have a car or motorcycle you’re proud of, show it off at Washtenaw Community College’s 13th annual Cars & Bikes On Campus show.

The event takes place on Sunday, Sept. 25 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in parking lots 2 and 3.

Whether vintage, original, old or new, bring it out for a chance to win a custom, hand-made trophy made out of car parts. Events at the show include:

  • Tour of WCC’s Auto Service, Auto Body, Advanced Manufacturing, Motorcycle, Welding, and Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning Departments.
  • Motorcycle Dyno Shoot Out (begins at 10am); categories include Best Modified Stock Metric and Best Unlimited American.
  • Family fun: children’s activities, food and beverages, and musical entertainment.

“This marks our 13th year of hosting Cars & Bikes on Campus, which showcases some of the finest cars and bikes from members of our community, as well as our students, faculty and staff,” said Brandon Tucker, Dean of Advanced Technology & Public Service Careers at WCC. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to showcase their talents and the state-of-the-art labs and classrooms. All funds raised go directly to support scholarships for students within our programs.”

To register your car or motorcycle, visit www.store.wccnet.edu/carsoncampus.

For more information about Cars & Bikes On Campus, call 734-973-3550 or email carandbikeshow@wccnet.edu.

This story originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of On The Record.

Meet Dr. Ayanna Howard, One of the Nation’s Most Promising Engineers

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If you’ve ever wondered what a Black woman roboticist looks like, shift your attention to Ayanna Howard, owner and chief technology officer of an Atlanta-based company called Zyrobotics.

Recognized as one of Business Insider’s 23 most powerful women engineers, Howard makes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fun and accessible for children with disabilities through educational apps, wireless toys and e-books.

Why focus on children with special needs?

“When you make something accessible and inclusive to kids with disabilities, you make it accessible and inclusive for every child,” Howard explains.

Many children with disabilities face motor limitations. This makes touching the screens of devices like a tablet or iPad difficult, impossible even.

Here’s the wow factor: TabAccess, a Bluetooth switch interface, allows anyone with motor limitations to control a tablet or iPad without touching the screen. Zyrobotics’ products also work to strengthen fine motor skills, timing and visual perception.

At first glance, the Zumo Learning System—Zyrobotics’ newest product—looks like any other stuffed animal, but this turtle, a wireless smart toy, communicates with a combined tablet upon touching its shell.

With Black women making up the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S., Howard utilizes online resources to effectively market her startup. She credits Google AdWords for getting Zyrobotics noticed as it approaches 100,000 downloads.

Read the rest of my story for Ebony.com [here]. 

Reaching higher

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Casey Fox, 20, says he cried when he was accepted into the 22-week YouthBuild construction skills program at WCC. (Photo by Jessica Bibbee)

‘It’s a whole new me:’ WCC student credits YouthBuild program with changing his life

For the past five months, Casey Fox has been repainting community parks and completing various community service projects around Ypsilanti, while working to put the pieces of his life back together.

Fox, 20, owes his newfound success to YouthBuild, a nationwide program aimed at teaching building construction skills to disadvantaged youth between ages 16-24, while they work toward earning a GED. WCC was the only college in Michigan to receive the $899,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor last fall.

“This program gave me a second chance. It feels great to succeed,” Fox said. “They’re there to help you and they never judge you.”

WCC welcomed its first round of participants—21 to be exact—to campus in February.

To be accepted into the 22-week program, Fox had to successfully complete a six-day mental toughness challenge, which consisted of reading, writing and math tests, team-building exercises and the task of building a bird house.

“When I found out I got into the program, I started crying,” Fox said. “Since then, my attitude has changed, my grades have improved and my strong mindset is back. It’s a whole new me.”

After completing the program, Fox plans to further his education by returning to WCC, where he will pursue an associate degree in automotive services. Then, he’s off to become a mechanic.

Recently, Fox began working on a tiny house that WCC will use to train YouthBuild students before they begin working on low-income housing in the community. The 164-square-feet house will include a kitchen, bathroom and loft for sleeping.

While on the path to a better life, Fox says being a positive role model to his two younger brothers and making his parents and grandparents proud are most important.

“When I dropped out, I didn’t care about anything, including my future,” he said. “If it wasn’t for WCC, I don’t know what I’d be doing.”

“Many students enter the program with low self-esteem and they’re not used to having anyone outside of their family or community in their corner,” said Cristy Lindemann, department chair of construction technology at WCC and director of the YouthBuild Grant. “Students who didn’t understand the next phase in their lives suddenly want more from their education and are ready to explore various career paths. It’s exciting to see the transformations that happen.”

After completing the YouthBuild program, Fox will attain a GED, construction certifications and an OSHA certification, but perhaps one of the most important things he will attain is confidence and a sense of purpose.
His advice to others who have walked in his shoes?

“Come to WCC,” Fox said. “What’s offered here cannot be found anywhere else. You can still be successful, but you have to want it. No one else can want it for you.”

This story originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of On the Record.

New WCC dean: ‘It’s an honor to be a part of someone’s success story’

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Liz Orbits, WCC’s new Dean of Student Support Services (Photo by Jessica Bibbee)

Liz Orbits has spent a lifetime serving the underserved. So, when the opportunity to help students and the community on a broader level presented itself, she was all in.

After serving on an interim basis for several months, Orbits was recently appointed to Dean of Student Support Services at Washtenaw Community College.

Previously, Orbits was manager of the Student Resource Center (SRC) at WCC, where she worked with a caseload of students, community groups to solicit funding, developed workshops to support at-risk populations and oversaw the college’s food pantry.

Orbits holds a bachelor’s degree in humanities from the University of Michigan and two master’s degrees from Eastern Michigan University—one in educational psychology and the other in counseling. Liz is a licensed professional counselor and will soon receive her Ed.D. in community college leadership from Ferris State University.

“Community colleges are a big part of my value system,” Orbits said. “They provide second chances for individuals who might not have had an initial opportunity to attend college. It’s rewarding to work with diverse populations of students, especially the underserved and seeing students overcome challenges and reach their academic goals.”

Orbits brings 10 years of knowledge and experience in academic advising, career counseling, case management and mental health services in university and community college settings.

In her new role, Orbits will oversee academic advising, personal counseling services, the SRC, the International Student Center, Learning Support Services, and the Adult Transition (GED preparation) program.

As SRC manager, Orbits worked to bring on a group of “dedicated and ethical” professionals who have made the center what it is today.

“The SRC case managers have been instrumental in showcasing the SRC’s services by partnering with other departments on campus to provide events and workshops, as well as building community networks that the college can be proud of,” Orbits said. “Most importantly, they have and continue to serve our students well.”

Moving forward, there are a multitude of goals Orbits wants to accomplish as dean, including showcasing Student Support Services (Advising and Counseling, Career Services, Transfer Resources, etc.) to ensure that WCC students are connected to these services seamlessly.

Furthermore, she hopes to work directly with faculty to help them understand the significance of Student Support Services as it relates to student success, retention and completion. But, her main mission is to remain student-centered.

“Our students come first. Every decision we make impacts them,” Orbits said. “Because of WCC’s open-door policy, a lot of students find their self-esteem and family here and they find a new meaning in their lives. It’s an honor to be a part of someone’s success story.”

This story originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of On the Record.