George Floyd Fellowship: Showcasing the Beauty of Black Hair
Last fall the St. Olaf College Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion announced the inaugural recipients of the George Floyd Fellowship for Social Change. Throughout this academic year, each of these four students — Isaac Coutier ’22, Tashonna Douglas ’21, Dezzy Newell ’22, and Joshua Wyatt ’21 — developed a project focused on advancing racial justice, social justice, and equity. As their fellowship wraps up, they are each sharing in their own words what inspired their project and the impact they hope it has had.
By Tashonna Douglas ’21
The horrors that Black people experienced throughout the pandemic has left a lasting impression on America. We saw Black women being recognized globally, we experienced seeing the Black body being continuously brutalized, and we became witnesses to the historical racism that has always festered in America. For many of us, it was a wake-up call for change. As a response, St. Olaf College developed the George Floyd Fellowship for Social Change under the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion. As a recipient of this award, I decided to create a show specifically for Black women, in a space that fosters community through our hair. I myself was deeply affected by the killing of Breonna Taylor, so it was important for me to create space for this group specifically. The Black woman’s hair journey and the beautifully complex history we have with maintaining it is a story I believe has not been told enough.
Over a six-week period my exhibition, Hairitage, took form. Through the fellowship, I was provided a mentor for monthly check-ins and monitoring of my project. I chose to work with Professor Sharon Lane-Getaz from the St. Olaf Mathematics Department because I admire her hard work, dedication, and sharp eye. I felt she was the best person to ask for advice and guidance as I planned this project. However, much of my project was done independently. From choosing my six models, to booking a venue and even designing the programs, I was in charge of my vision and the way that I carried it out.
In knowing this, I only partnered with Black women for the duration of my project. My lettering decal, my desserts, and my decorations were all purchased from Black women. The only exception was the order for my custom cookies — but even then, I partnered with an ally. It was important to me that the funds I was given were put back into the community I identified with, and in this way I continued to form bonds with Black women who share my interests.
I chose to showcase seven hair types and their unique history. Of all the hairstyles, patterns, and types I chose: 3C/4A, Silk Press, 4B/C, Protective Styles, New Growth, Extensions, and Locs. For me, these were styles that have always been a part of my life and the styles I felt most comfortable educating my audience about. The world still knows so little about Black hair, yet so much discrimination occurs because of this ignorance. My goal was to provide live models and accurate context and history so that whoever attended my exhibition would leave with some knowledge about Black hair. However, the most essential audience I want to reach is Black women.
Too often Black women are told that they don’t belong in spaces because of who they are, and too often society perpetuates stereotypes associated with Black hair. By creating a space that was free of discrimination, judgment, and negative depictions, I was able to present Black women in the most authentic light. I wanted other Black women to feel safe, seen, and validated. I wanted our story to be heard.
Too often Black women are told that they don’t belong in spaces because of who they are, and too often society perpetuates stereotypes associated with Black hair. By creating a space that was free of discrimination, judgment, and negative depictions, I was able to present Black women in the most authentic light. I wanted other Black women to feel safe, seen, and validated. I wanted our story to be heard.Tashonna Douglas ’21
Through my project and exhibition, I did just that. I held my exhibition on Saturday, April 3, in a community center that I transformed into a live hair show. Trying to keep with COVID-19 guidelines, I kept every model 6 feet apart and welcomed guests in sections. I created the space to be one for education so that guests felt free to visually see different hair patterns and ask questions about what they didn’t know. I provided the guests with programs as both a guide and an opportunity to give feedback. On the back of each program I provided a QR code linked to a feedback form. Out of the 50 guests, I received 23 forms which allowed me to look back at my work from the perspective of the observers. My most consistent piece of feedback was “I learned so much today!” which really validated my reasoning behind this project. My goal was that every guest left with more knowledge than they came in with.
In addition, the exhibition is partnered with a documentary both featuring Black hair and the same models. I’ve created the documentary over a three-month period, with all directing and editing done by me. The title of the documentary is Split. End. because I feel that Black women have always been isolated from society, and hair has been one of the most prominent ways to achieve separation. I also enjoy the play on words that the title provides. Anyone with hair most likely has split ends, so the title supports the overall message that the documentary will be about Black hair. The exhibition functions as a creative element to display a variety of hair types and styles, but the documentary will tell the history about Black hair. Black hair is far too grand and has too long of a history to just exist as a live hair exhibition. Through the George Floyd Fellowship for Social Change, I was able to tell a story I believe is worth telling. Everyone can learn a little bit more about Black hair and the history Black women have carried alone.
Through the George Floyd Fellowship for Social Change, I was able to tell a story I believe is worth telling. Everyone can learn a little bit more about Black hair and the history Black women have carried alone.Tashonna Douglas ’21