The History of the Afro


[Detangling Our Roots] Stop the co-opt. In this series exploring Black hair origins, we trace the Afro to the 1960s Black Power movement.  

A little over a year ago, Beyoncé declared to the world: “I like my baby hair with baby hair and Afros.”

As far as hairstyles go, it doesn’t get much blacker than the Afro.

“Nappy,” “woolly” and “unruly” are only some of the unflattering adjectives that have been used to describe Black hair during and post slavery.

In the 1960s, Black folks finally said, “To hell with that!” After decades of subjecting ourselves to European beauty standards, we decided to take back our hair. This newfound self-acceptance was widely known as the Black Is Beautiful movement, which sprang from the Black Power movement.

With political activists such as Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton and Jesse Jackson proudly rocking Afros while fighting oppression, the hairstyle quickly emerged as a symbol for Black beauty, liberation and pride.

“Black activists were agitated with White supremacy and Jim Crow laws, and they wanted to show an outward sign of their frustration toward Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent philosophy,” explains Chad Dion Lassiter, president of the Black Men at Penn School of Social Work, Inc. at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice. “The Afro was Black beauty personified without White validation, and it did not care about critics. For many Black men, it was about cool pose and hyper-masculinity in the face of police brutality and constant oppression.”

That’s why Allure’s tutorial in its August 2015 issue titled, “You (Yes, You) Can Have an Afro, Even If You Have Straight Hair” was particularly irksome and insulting on many levels. Strike one? The model featured was White actress Marissa Neitling.

It certainly didn’t help that the hairstyle shown was more of a twist out than an Afro and the publication failed to explore the Afro’s origins.

Allure issued a response to BuzzFeed amid the controversy: “The Afro has a rich cultural and aesthetic history. In this story, we show women using different hairstyles as an individual expressions [sic] of style. Using beauty and hair as a form of self-expression is a mirror of what’s happening in our country today. The creativity is limitless—and pretty wonderful.”

If Allure’s editors had pointed out some of the Afro’s “rich cultural and aesthetic history” with its readers, then maybe we wouldn’t still be here talking about the tutorial two years later. Just sayin’.

What’s interesting about the Afro is its cultural trajectory. In the early 1970s, the ’fro was perceived as a major political statement that would’ve never appeared in the pages of a mainstream publication, especially as a hair tutorial. It didn’t take long for the hairstyle to become associated with Black ass-kicking thanks to the rise of Blaxploitation films, including ShaftFoxy Brown and Coffy. It was seen as less militant as The Jackson 5, Sly & the Family Stone, Billy Preston and other acts appeared on television shows, such as Soul Train to promote their music, while showing off their bountiful Afros as they worked the stage.

Read more of my latest piece for Ebony [here].

This Mobile Museum Keeps Black History Month Going All Year Long


Khalid el-Hakim poses with artifacts from the Black History 101 Mobile Museum.

Khalid el-Hakim makes sure learning about Black History doesn’t just happen in February

Khalid el-Hakim started frequenting antique shops, garage sales and flea markets and collecting rare artifacts pertaining to Black history in the early 1990s.

Among his prized possessions: a document signed by Malcom X, slave shackles, and an old drinking fountain sign that differentiates between “White” and “Colored.”

What inspired the collection?

“Dr. David Pilgrim at Ferris State University had a very powerful and engaging way of teaching his diverse group of students about the history of racism in America,” el-Hakim recalls. “He would bring in Jim Crow-era artifacts and use those objects to provide context to different themes and concepts discussed in his lectures.”

For the Detroit native, seeing those “real” historical examples of America’s ugly past brought history to life, and more importantly, it sparked some much-needed conversations regarding race among his peers.

After returning from the historic 1995 Million Man March in Washington, D.C., el-Hakim became inspired to take his private collection of then 500 artifacts on the road. He started displaying the items around Detroit at various community meetings. His goal? Bring folks up to speed on the history that’s often omitted from textbooks.

Read more of my latest piece for Ebony [here].

Dreams really do come true!


Jurnee Smollettt-Bell slays EBONY’s March cover.

After years of grinding (and plenty of daydreaming), I can finally say that I landed my very first byline in EBONY Magazine and I must say there’s nothing like seeing your name and words in a magazine as legendary as EBONY.


On page 43, I dive into the rich yet unknown history of headwraps and why we wear them today. I still remember the summer of 2012 when all I did was study the magazine from front to back, dreaming of the day when I would see my words grace its pages. Shout out to Marielle Bobo, who asked me to take on this piece after noticing some of my online work with the “Detangling Our Roots” series.


The March issue with the gorgeous Jurnee Smollett-Bell slaying the cover is on newsstands now (and yep, that’s me there on the Contributors page). PS I’ve already got pieces slated for EBONY‘s April/May and June issues, so stay tuned!

The History of Cornrows

Regina King

[Detangling Our Roots] Stop the co-opt. In this series exploring Black hair origins, we trace this intricate form of braiding to Ancient Africa

“Boxer braids,” “KKW braids,” and “Birthday braids” are the cutesy terms used to describe cornrows whenever they’re worn by Kim Kardashian or Kylie Jenner as opposed to simply calling them cornrows or plaits.

Braids are nothing new, but it depends on what mainstream media outlet you ask. Last April, Cosmopolitan posted a tutorial titled, “Double Cuff Mohawk Braid,” but the hairstyle being showcased was clearly cornrows. To make matters worse, Cosmo promoted the video using the subhead, “You’ve NEVER seen a braid like this before.”

Come again?

Sure, we’ll pretend that Alicia Keys didn’t stun in beautifully adorned cornrows during her first couple of years in the spotlight. We’ll also pretend that Beyoncé never rocked cornrows during her Destiny’s Child days. And we’ll act like Cicely Tyson didn’t show off her cornrows in a national TV appearance years before White actress Bo Derek mainstreamed them in the 1979 film 10.

In 2014, Marie Claire tweeted that Kendall Jenner had taken braids to a “new epic level.” Months later, the LA Times credited Cara Delevingne, Rita Ora and Kristen Stewart for cornrows “moving away from urban, hip-hop to chic and edgy.” So, in other words, cornrows are only chic and edgy when the person wearing them is White?

For many, even the moniker “French/Dutch braids” is seen as yet another attempt to strip cornrows and other braided styles of their African roots. In all fairness, plenty of White celebrities outside the Kardashian-Jenner clan have worn cornrows, including Fergie, Justin Timberlake, Gwen Stefani, David Beckham and Jared Leto.

Within the Black community, cornrows tend to be worn more so for convenience, as well as a protective style when transitioning from relaxed to natural hair or growing the hair out until the desired length is achieved. They can also serve as a foundation for sew-ins, but cornrows had another purpose back when our ancestors were rocking them.

Read more of my latest piece for [here].

The History of the Fade


[Detangling Our Roots] Stop the co-opt. In this series exploring Black hair origins, we trace the fade haircut and other innovative barbering styles to the military, as well as Black barbershops

If there was ever a haircut that exemplified coolness, it has to be none other than the fade.

The hairstyle originated in the U.S. military around the ‘40s and ‘50s. Since the military is known for having strict grooming standards, it’s no surprise to learn that the fade haircut was and still is popular among military men, as the harsh lines and angles signaled you meant business.

Naturally, new times usher in new trends. Over the decades, Black folks experimented with different hairstyles, whether it was the afro or the infamous Jheri curl. By the time the mid-80s rolled around, a reworked, edgier version of the fade was emerging thanks to Black barbers. It would soon become a standard in hip-hop culture during its golden era.

We’re talking about the hi-top fade a.k.a. the flattop. Before Cameo, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B & Rakim and others made it their signature look, Grace Jones rocked one on her 1980 Warm Leatherette album cover. Because Queen Nefertiti’s crown closely resembles the hi-top, many believe it derived from Ancient Egypt.

“Hip-hop impacted the way we dressed and how we wore our hair especially,” says Greg Cooper Spencer a.k.a. GregTheBarber, a New York-based master barber and hairstylist with 20-plus years of experience. “Before this period, we relied heavily on Black leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali who sported afros, to influence how we engaged in society in addition to our look.”

“Just as hip-hop emerged, so did the artists who made sure their hair and wardrobe stood out, along with their music,” Spencer continues.

Helping to push the flattop into further notoriety was the popularity of rappers, including Kid ‘n Play and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, along with the box-office success of Do The Right Thing and Lean On Me. Though most common among men, a few women took the hi-top out for a spin, including Queen Latifah as seen in her “Ladies First” video.

Trends come and go with the hi-top fading out in the early ‘90s. With the exception of Black celebrities, including Nas, Kanye West, Usher, will. i. am., and Kendrick Lamar, modernizing it in the 2010s, the hi-top has gradually evolved back into a more tapered look much like how it started.

Read more of my latest piece for [here].

The History of Bantu Knots


[Detangling Our Roots] Stop the co-opt. In this series exploring Black hair origins, we trace Bantu knots to the Zulu tribes of Southern Africa

If there was ever a contest for the family who has crossed the line between cultural appreciation and appropriation one too many times, the Kardashian-Jenner clan would likely finish in first place.

The cultural appropriation of Black hair, features, music, fashion, etc. has become so common that most of us are no longer fazed when the latest white celebrity misses the memo and suddenly finds themselves at the center of scrutiny.

Khloe Kardashian was schooled by Black Twitter a few months ago when she shared a photo of herself wearing Bantu knots with a caption that read: “Bantu babe.” After getting dragged online, Khloe deleted the photo, uploaded a slightly different one, and re-captioned it with, “I like this one better.” But, needless to say, the Internet never forgets. More recently, Black Twitter was reminded how much they disliked Khloe’s Bantu knots when they appeared in a recent episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

Need another example of cultural appropriation gone wrong?

Back in January, Valentino was criticized when predominately white models were spotted wearing Bantu knots in the designer’s pre-fall 2016 lookbook. Marc Jacobs is still trying to live down spring of 2015 when he sent his models down the runway wearing Bantu knots. To make the situation worse, the folks at Mane Addicts apparently had never heard of Bantu knots because they published (and later deleted) a tutorial titled, “How-To: Twisted Mini Buns Inspired by Marc Jacobs SS15 Show.”

The popular beauty blog attributed the hairstyle to Jacobs’ SS15 show hairstylist, Guido Palau—who also styled the models’ hair for Valentino’s pre-fall 2016 lookbook. They took it one step further when they referred to Bantu knots as “twisted mini buns.” This was problematic because the name of the hairstyle is Bantu knots, and they’ve been worn by Black women for centuries. In other words, they’re nothing new, but by now we all get how columbusing works.

“Cultural appropriation by definition means norms that are valued by one culture being absorbed and claimed by the dominant culture,” says Banke Awopetu-McCullough, professor of developmental reading and writing at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY, who also holds a bachelor’s degree in African-American studies from the University of Virginia.

“In regards to hair, cultural appropriation is particularly offensive because Black women have to fight for our natural beauty to be featured and valued,” Awopetu-McCullough continues. “When white women rock our styles without at least giving credit, it’s another example of the ways Black women are marginalized.”

Bantu knots made a comeback in recent years with celebrities such as Mel B. a.k.a. Scary Spice, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Rihanna, Blac Chyna, and Teyana Taylor stunning the masses. These women and plenty of others slayed Bantu knots, helping to bring them to the forefront. However, the hairstyle can be traced as far back to at least 1898.

Read more of my latest piece for [here]. 


Sesi Winter Cover.jpg

Have ya heard? Marcus Scribner from Blackish is Sesi magazine’s winter cover star. Thrilled to have not one but two stories in this issue! This time around, I penned an in-depth feature on breaking the circle of period stigma and I compiled a really, ahem, interesting holiday gift guide with present picks that’ll help you score major props with everyone on your list. Shipping starts mid-December, but you can set aside your copy today at

Leaving a green footprint

Joe Chapman September 2016

Student Joe Chapman (right) and Barry Wilkins, WCC manager of recycling operations, sort through paper and plastic at the college’s Recycling Center. (Photo by Jessica Bibbee)

Washtenaw Community College student Joe Chapman transfers to Wayne State University in January, but in his final months here he’s working to reduce everyone’s carbon footprint, including his own, as much as he possibly can.

On a mission to make WCC a “greener” campus, Chapman and his friend, Austin McIntosh, recently started the Students for Sustainability Club, where they serve as co-leaders.

The new club has already established several initiatives, including banning bottled water across campus and adding separate containers in various buildings for recycling solid food waste.

“A lot can be done with just a small group of dedicated people,” Chapman said.

Part of the long-term plan to make WCC a bottle-free campus includes introducing more water bottle refill stations and establishing an incentive program. Participants would receive a reusable water bottle marked with a sticker that they scan each time they use a refill station. Over time, they accumulate points and receive rewards.

“Climate change is the single most important issue of our generation and by using sustainable energy and increasing sustainability on college campuses, businesses and homes across the world, we can make a difference,” Chapman said.

While he seems to have made a home for himself at WCC, Chapman’s educational journey actually started a couple miles away at Eastern Michigan University.

After spending one semester studying biology, he realized he wasn’t passionate about the subject, so he took the following semester off to do some soul-searching.

“I started working at the nonprofit Clean Water Action when I became inspired to dedicate my studies and life to preserving the environment and reversing climate change through pushing new environmental and green energy policies at the state and federate level,” he said.

Chapman plans to double major in political science and public policy next year at WSU. Afterward, Chapman plans to study environmental policy at the graduate level.

“I’d like to start off my career as a sustainability or recycling manager for a college campus because they have so much potential to lower their carbon footprint and increase their waste diversion,” he said.

As vice president of the Political Science Club, Chapman is confident his experiences will help him prepare for his dream job of becoming mayor of Detroit someday.

One thing he’d do as mayor?

“I’d create jobs by clearing out the 20,000-plus abandoned homes in the city and replacing them with urban farms, parks and self-sustaining grocery stores because food access is a major problem in the city,” he said.

Until then, he’s enjoying making his mark at WCC.

“Lots of students want the college experience and great professors—you get both here [at WCC] without the debt. There are so many ways to get involved,” Chapman said. “WCC is not an ordinary community college. Everyone here really cares about the students.”

The Students for Sustainability Club meets on Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. in LA 150. The Political Science Club meets on Mondays from 4-6 p.m. in LA 138.

This story originally appeared in the October/November 2016 issue of On The Record.

Student Welcome Day: Color it GREEN


WCC student Chloe Kirkpatrick enjoys getting an airbrush tattoo at the college’s 14th annual Welcome Day. (Photo by Anne Savage)

This year marked the first time the WCC Student Activities Office collaborated with the Zero Waste Washtenaw Initiative, the Students for Sustainability Club, and the WCC Facilities Department in efforts to make Welcome Day a zero-waste event.

In an attempt to be green, paper tablecloths were used as opposed to vinyl, compostable cups were handed out instead of water bottles, and all freebies were absent of plastic wrap.

The group’s efforts achieved an impressive 94 percent diversion rate exceeding its 80 percent goal.

Also new this year was a display that featured the Ann Arbor Charter Township Fire Department showing students how to put out a fire. It was a popular display judging by the large number of students who lined up to learn how to operate a fire extinguisher.

Fun and smiles were on full display all afternoon as hundreds of students, faculty and staff learned about the various WCC clubs, organizations, departments and community partners. As in the past, guests also enjoyed creating wax hand molds and getting airbrush tattoos.

“Our favorite part of the day is seeing all contingents of the WCC community come together in one place for a high-energy, welcome-to-campus event,” said Rachel Barsch, supervisor of Student Activities at WCC.

Winter Welcome Day is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017 from 11:00am to 2:00pm.

For more information or to host a free table during Winter Welcome Day, contact Rachel Barsch at or 734-973-3691.

This story originally appeared in the October/November 2016 issue of On The Record.

Giving back to the place where it all started

wilson_alumniprofile-2-682x1024Jack Wilson runs a tight ship at his company, Wiltec Technologies, a successful electronics firm in Ann Arbor. But he’s not too busy to remember where it all began: Washtenaw Community College.

In the late ‘70s, Wilson, an Ann Arbor native, attended WCC, where he became educated in the skilled trades and graduated with an associate degree in architectonics and digital electronics.

“I learned about lighting systems and electronics, and I actually got to touch some of the same tools and equipment I would use in the real world,” he said. “My professors gave me the confidence and the skills to further my career in the electrical industry. There’s a lot of value in community colleges.”

After working as an electrician for five years, Wilson decided to take his career to the next level and opened two companies in electrical and fiber optics in 1988. Soon after, the companies were merged into Wiltec Technologies.

Wiltec offers design, implementation and service for access control, surveillance, fire alarm, and audiovisual, as well as electrical solutions. The company has offices in Detroit and Ann Arbor and focuses on the education industry.

“Just a few years after starting the business, St. Joseph Hospital [in Ann Arbor] called. We were hired to complete a large-scale cabling project of the whole campus, which really helped to solidify our company,” Wilson said. “We’ve been going strong ever since.”

What’s the key to running a successful business?

“I hire smarter people than me,” Wilson said with a laugh. “Finding the right people can be a challenge, but I have an amazing staff.”

Wilson also holds a bachelor’s degree in business from Cleary University and an MBA from Colorado State University. He is currently working on developing a program that addresses the needs for technical skilled trades. But he would like to fulfill a lifelong dream of passing down some of his wisdom and knowledge in a classroom setting, so he’s mapping out a plan to start pursuing teaching and mentoring in the near future.

“I have a passion for education,” he said.

Wilson also has a passion for giving.

A longtime supporter of the college, Wilson is very much involved in raising scholarship money for WCC students. He served on the WCC Foundation’s scholarship committee during 2008-10 and the Mardi Gras fundraiser committee during 2009-15. His company, Wiltec, has been one of the sponsors for the WCC Foundation’s annual Golf Outing fundraiser for the past nine years.

“Over the years, Jack has expressed how grateful he is to WCC for opening his eyes to what he could do and giving him the confidence to do it,” said Rose Bailey, interim director of college advancement for the WCC Foundation. “Thankfully for the WCC Foundation, Jack’s gratitude did not stop with words.

“Jack has served on numerous WCC Foundation committees and continues to provide monetary support through event sponsorships and donations,” she continued. “The WCC Foundation is now truly the grateful one! Being able to share this partnership with Jack, as both a WCC alumnus and community business member, is a gift.”

This story originally appeared in the October/November 2016 issue of On The Record.