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Global campaign to combat discrimination against Afro hair

The academic and social discrimination of predominantly black women, based on the natural state of their hair is not a new issue in our society.

Less than two years ago, student protests broke out at Pretoria Girls High in South Africa. Learners protested the school’s code of conduct which instructed them to chemically straighten their hair or else they would face academic suspension.

In April of this year, Chastity Jones, a woman from Alabama in the United States of America was recently denied employment at a call centre because she refused to cut off her dreadlocks.

These are two cases, where either individuals or groups were denied opportunities or fundamental rights because of the texture of their natural hair, which made headlines around the world. They are merely two instances in a pick of countless others that spurred on Michelle De Leon to launch what is known as World Afro Day (WAD). Globally marked on the calendar as the 15th of September, it is a day that celebrates many different colours, lengths, textures and styles that Afro hair comes in.

Now on its second consecutive year since the launch in 2017, according to De Leon, this event is meant to be a day to change perspectives, highlight and educate about Afro hair. Thousands of people around the world took to social media in this year’s edition to put their natural hair on full display using crafty and unapologetic captions, under the #WorldAfroDay hashtag.

This online drive showcased a community of unrelenting individuals who were defiant of existing negative ideas surrounding the Afro hair narrative. It is something De Leon would have only dreamed of as the outcome of an idea she had many years ago.

“It started out in my heart and in my mind as a crazy dream in which I wanted to see the world come together and celebrate Afro hair.”

Seeing the positive response from last year, she still wanted to take it up a notch for this year’s celebrations. This saw her launch the first World Afro Day Awards in line with this year’s celebrations. The awards recognised individuals and groups in society that seek to normalise or raise awareness about the beauty of owning one’s Afro hair.

She did not just stop there. De Leon went a step further by introducing lessons into the schooling system that looked to correct negative stereotypes with regards to Afro hair. Schools across the United Kingdom (UK) have started signing up and incorporating these lessons into their yearly programmes. Now, De Leon plans to take these lessons internationally, having already received invitations to work in other countries. She hopes this will lessen discrimination of those who choose to wear their natural hair across the world.

This work has already been well received, not just socially, but by organisations as influential as the United Nations (UN). Earlier this year, De Leon was invited to the UN in Geneva, Switzerland to honour her work and endorse World Afro Day as a worthy course. The acknowledgement enabled WAD to receive features on global mainstream media including Reuters, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Essence, Harpers Bazaar and Nowthisher to name a few.

Going forward, De Leon hopes that more people around the world become less desensitized to issues faced by people with Afro hair and work together to break barriers that come with it. To join the movement, email or follow them on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram: @worldafroday

~ Thabisile Ngeleka 

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