For the fourth ever World Afro Day, founder Michelle De Leon has big plans. Here, she talks to Stylist about what she hopes to achieve this year and what she wishes every woman with afro hair knew.
In 2017, the first ever World Afro Day took place on 15 September. Since then, this special day has taken place to help little girls – and even women – feel positive about their natural hair.
The exact date isn’t a coincidence. Alongside striving for positive change, founder Michelle De Leon was infuriated when the state of Alabama in the United States passed a law allowing companies to deny jobs to people with dreadlocks. The law was passed on 15 September 2016 and one year later on the exact same date, De Leon’s hard work saw the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights endorse the first ever World Afro Day.
Since then, it’s gone from strength to strength. From achieving the a world record for the world’s largest hair education lesson in 2017 to the first live-streamed Big Hair Assembly, which reached 11,500 pupils from 100 schools across eight countries; World Afro Hair Day has smashed some groundbreaking milestones. This year is no different.
But what exactly is it and what does De Leon hope to achieve in 2020? We spoke to the inspirational founder about this special day and what she hopes it will bring for the future.
What made you decide to launch World Afro Day?
“I was hearing conversations around the world that involved struggling with afro hair and feeling bad about hair texture. I thought ‘why not turn all of that struggle and negativity into positive change?’ Instead, we can focus on a future where we love, celebrate and value our hair and change what’s happened to us in the past.
“The first time I thought about starting World Afro Day was when my daughter – she was around seven/eight years old at the time – was singing about her hair and how much she loved it. She was so positive about her hair and I thought ‘wow, I never felt that good about my hair when I was little’. But then, I immediately thought about the millions of little girls who don’t feel good about their hair. I just wanted every child to feel great about their hair.
What were your main aims when starting World Afro Day?
“My main aim is a day of celebration. A day of change. That the negativity around afro hair would be turned around into a positive day.
“We have to educate the world that afro hair deserves as much freedom and quality as any other hair type. That our hair shouldn’t be this struggle, this battle, this area of discrimination. I want that to change. And I think that is possible. Change is happening. So I’m glad that I started it.”
Do you think anything has changed in the years since you launched the first World Afro Day in 2017?
“Positive awareness has been raised. There is definitely a shift in the mainstream, along with a shift in understanding that our hair has been mistreated for centuries. There’s also more awareness around barriers in schools and the workplace that are a burden to our equality. This is something that we want to be set free from but there are some real problem areas.
“One big problem area is the school system. In some ways, it’s getting better – there are more schools that allow you to be free – but in others, there’s a growing number of school policies that are written in the UK that are specifically against the freedom of afro hair and Afro hairstyles. They are treated as a problem in our education system. I can’t think of any other area in society where you can say there’s been a 66% rise of negative policies against them but there has been for wearing afro hair. How can that be normal? How can that be acceptable?”
What is your main focus of World Afro Day 2020?
“Global unity. An understanding that this is a global problem that we have to solve globally. It’s not just a pocket in certain countries – every country is interconnected. We’re making a special announcement on World Afro Day that will really impact schools and the education systems and it’s a real call to action for everybody.”
What do you think it will take for afro hair to reach a state of equality?
“It will take a wake up. It’s sad that it took George Floyd to make us wake up to Black Lives Matter. I don’t know what the tipping point is for afro hair. We’re planning to do something that we think is provocative, that we think is direct and that we think is needed. So let’s see if that call that we’re making will make a difference.”
What’s the one thing you wish all girls/women with afro hair knew?
“It sounds like a cliché but it is your crown and it was created just for you. There is no other hair type that will make you reach your full potential. There’s no other hair type that is better for you than afro hair.
“I want girls and women who have experienced feeling like they have for the worst hair type in the world to know that they have wonderful hair. They need to know that their hair does things no other hair type can do. Their hair is so creative, so versatile, exceptional and it is a mark of beauty. That is wonderful.
“I think it’s also important to recognise that beauty brands are starting to realise the value of afro hair. This year, World Afro Day is sponsored by Cantu and it’s important for brands to be part of the change and say that afro hair is something to value and support. That’s also part of the change.”
To learn more about World Afro Day and to find out how you can get involved, visit worldafroday.com.
Main image: Getty