“Reclaiming my time” isn’t just a catchphrase coined by our beloved ‘Auntie’ Maxine Waters. It is an assertion that Black Americans have been striving to obtain for centuries. Pillaged and plucked from our Motherland, stripped of our culture, and robbed of our freedom, Black Americans have fought vigorously to not only reclaim our time but to reclaim our identity for centuries. While the foundation was laid by those that came before us, the world saw an undeniable shift in 2020. George Floyd, like so many others, paid the ultimate price. As a result of his untimely death, the world reached a tipping point. Black squares standing in solidarity filled our timelines, companies plastered their promises on their websites, and DEI, all of a sudden, became a buzzword. The world was now “woke” from its all-too-complacent slumber.
More than ever before, the nation wanted to hear our stories and right its wrongs. Let’s be clear, not everyone shared these sentiments. Go to any corporate Instagram page and read the comments under any Black-centric, supporting, post. The vileness of some keyboard warriors never ceases to amaze me. Nonetheless, historic shifts were made. People like Dr. Opal Lee, the 95-year-old activist who set out to walk from Texas to Washington D.C. in hopes of gaining support from Congress to officially name Juneteenth a national holiday, finally saw her dreams and hard work manifest into reality. For the first time since its inception over 150 years ago, Juneteenth became a recognized Federal holiday in June 2021.
Now, more than ever, people are privy to the date etched in history in which all enslaved Black people were set “free” as deemed by the Emancipation Proclamation. This day, when General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas with his Union soldiers to inform over 250,000 enslaved Black people they were now free, came two and a half years after the actual Emancipation Proclamation, on June 19th, 1865. Despite Black history, Black stories, and Black celebrations like Juneteenth being brought to the forefront, there are still seemingly gaps that need to be bridged between our present and our past. There are stories from our ancestral archives that need to be told and retold, so that our history, all-too-often diminished by high-rise condos, quaint cafés, and overpriced artisanal shops, may never be forgotten.
This was evident when I made my first visit to Houston a year ago and learned about the history and legacy of Freedmen’s Town, a neighborhood built by newly freed Black Americans in the 1800s. This was a community built by hand, brick-by-brick, where Black businesses boomed and Black families flourished. It was a place where Blacks had freedom of choice and could reclaim their identities that had been stripped through years of slavery and oppression. There were dozens of Freedmen’s Town settlements across the United States, but most notably in Texas. Houston’s Freedmen’s Town is the only remaining freed slave community of its kind in the United States.
Not surprising, Texas was the location of the first Juneteenth celebrations. In 1872, Jack Yates and members of his church raised $1,000 to purchase ten acres of land in Houston, known as Emancipation Park. This community cornerstone served as a formal gathering space for Juneteenth celebrations.
While the nation may be just now catching on to Juneteenth celebrations, Juneteenth roots run deep in Texas. To get a better idea of how Texans honor and celebrate Juneteenth in this day and time, their perceived importance of the holiday, and how they define their Blackness, I tapped some locals to get their perspective.
Executive Director of the Houston Freedmen's Town Conservancy (HFTC)
Courtesy of Zion Escobar
I, myself, have older family members who have never heard of Juneteenth, despiteJuneteenth having been around for over 150 years now. Why do you think there are still so many people who don’t know about this celebration?
When I’m kind of pondering that question, I really actually have to reflect on the surface level -- why I think people don’t know about this, and then the deeper level -- why I think they don’t know, right? And, if I start with the idea that context is everything, I truly believe that once the country is introduced to the story of freedom -- which, a.k.a., the story of Freedmen’s Town, the story of the Houston/Gavelston region’s Juneteenth story, and the context that has, to the social justice movement happening throughout the country, to modern-day issues of policing and how all of these things really track back culturally to norms and Jim Crow laws, and post Reconstruction Era, decisions that were made, in regards to redlining in Black communities and culture erasure -- when people have that context, they’ll realize that a lot of the things that they are out in the streets fighting for, that this is so not new. That this problem is 150+ years old. I think that more people will start to understand. The example that I would use as a kind of that beacon of hope is that the 1619 Project has set the context for America, for a conversation that’s been around since 1619.
So, I think the answer is that context is everything. People have a tendency to say, “Oh, Juneteenth is about slavery and nobody wants to talk about slavery” and people actually don’t understand that it’s actually the story of freedom. And, it’s the story of what we did, what Black excellence looks like before all these systems of oppression really took hold and were established as a system.
As the Director of Houston’s Freedmen’s Town Conservancy have you seen an evolution in the way that Juneteenth has been celebrated in Houston? How so?
As the director of the Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy, I have seen a substantial shift in how Juneteenth is being celebrated in Houston. Case in point, we’ve been free for over 150 years now, and for the first time ever, the grassroots, the foundational non-profit organizations’ leadership in Houston have come together to collaborate on a city-wide Juneteenth experience; meaning, we are not just having a parade that the city gets to come to.
As Black organizations, we are working with each other to uplift, co-program, co-fund, co-market and communicate what this is about, and to show unity in a way that I think people need to see around the world -- that we are all on board with this story and we understand that this needs to come into the American consciousness in a very real and solid way and we are showing up to do the work and we understand the assignment.
[In] previous years, I can’t say that there was such a cohesive consciousness of understanding, and the social justice movement has awakened that vigor, that thing, within everyone to say, ”We need to get it together and make sure that the story is clear and that the context is clear”; because people are celebrating Juneteenth in far reaches of the globe and they don’t have the context. Which is how you get Juneteenth ice cream and Juneteenth Vaseline.
"It’s too important to the fabric of Houston’s history, to America’s history, to the history of the slaves that came and laid the foundation for what we know as Houston today that all of America is celebrating -- the wonderful Black culture and music and expressions that have come from Houston. People need to understand the context."
So, we are ready to do that work, because we are not going to see the Cinco de Mayo of Juneteenth, where people say it’s tacos and beer and no one actually knows the true history. It’s too important to the fabric of Houston’s history, to America’s history, to the history of the slaves that came and laid the foundation for what we know as Houston today that all of America is celebrating -- the wonderful Black culture and music and expressions that have come from Houston. People need to understand the context. So, it’s evolved because it is time and we’re ready and I think the consciousness of the collective community is ready. And so, I’m excited to see what we do and I’m excited to continue this inaugural effort in collaboration with everyone.
Finish this sentence: My Black is ________.
Courtesy of Lauren Greer
Black history is American history. As an educator, how are you seeing Juneteenth being taught in school systems, if at all?
So, that’s interesting just because as an educator, just in light of all the things that have happened recently, there’s some conversations about critical race theory and things of that nature, and because I am in an urban school district, there have been lots of initiatives just around all things cultural diversity and things of that nature. I will say though, as far as just teaching Juneteenth in and of itself, I still haven’t seen that in the classrooms. However, I’m also in an elementary school setting as well. So, it looks a little bit different than what it looks like say in middle school or high school or something like that.
This is the first year, though, where they have the actual holiday on the school calendar. So, my kiddos are off on June 20, that Monday. This will be the first time ever that that’s happened. There are lots of schools in our district. We have different calendars that are already on summer break, but my babies are not on summer break yet. So, we will actually experience the national holiday for Juneteenth while we are still in school. So, while there are initiatives for cultural diversity, Juneteenth still is not a primary focus, as of yet.
As a Texan, has Juneteenth always been something that was celebrated by you and your family? Please explain.
Yes. A lot of the things that I learned, like all things Black history and Black culture, things like that I actually learned at church. Because, the neighborhood I grew up in was a predominantly Caucasian neighborhood, but my church was always Black American. So, from Black history plays, to Juneteenth, to picnics in the park, to the parades that come with it, all of that has always been a part of my upbringing. So, it was not uncommon to literally go to the neighborhood park for all of these things -- for picnics, and just, you know, games, and things of that nature.
Learning all the history that comes with all that was just an embedded part of what I learned in church all the time. And, then just my mom, she just wanted to make sure that we knew our history and so literally I grew up hearing about this all the time in my household, on Sundays or Wednesdays, Vacation Bible Schools, all of those things is the space that I really learned all of the things Black history and Black culture.
How do you celebrate and honor Juneteenth now?
All things Blackity Black Black Black to be completely honest. Usually, getting with friends, picnics, hanging out in the backyard, just reminiscing on history. But, we kind of live it every single day. So, now that there’s a national holiday for it, so to speak, that doesn’t change how we’ve always felt about it, it doesn’t change how we always felt about our culture. It’s given us a space to embrace it a little bit more. Just because of all the things that have happened in our nation in the last few years it’s kind of really drawn light to some things. So, it causes us to be more aware of our culture and also more proud of our culture and who we are as well.
And, so, we take those opportunities on a daily basis to kind of reminisce, but on that day we like to get together and kind of hang out and chill together as well. So, that will probably likely happen again this year. We will all probably get together at somebody’s house just to be around each other.
Finish this sentence: My Black is __________.
When I thought about that question, the cliche answer is 'beautiful.' But, then, as I was thinking about it again this morning -- my Black is needed. I really believe that all of us have been given an assignment on the earth. And I really believe that there’s something that I bring to the table that someone else doesn’t bring, and there’s something that someone else brings to the table that I don’t bring. So, I feel like it is so needed. There has been a target out for our culture for so long, and I feel like we cannot allow society to keep subtracting from our culture.
"There are people that need us to stand in the gap. There are lessons that need to be learned from each and every last one of us. And there is wisdom that needs to be poured into the land. And, each one of us has a responsibility to do that."
Whether it be through entertainment, whether it be through politics, whether it be through education we can’t allow that because we are needed. There are people that need us to stand in the gap. There are lessons that need to be learned from each and every last one of us. And there is wisdom that needs to be poured into the land. And, each one of us has a responsibility to do that. Lauren has a responsibility to do that too, in all of Blackness and all of her educated-ness. The world needs that, and so my Black is needed.
Residential Loan Officer
Courtesy of Ebony Parker
What does Juneteenth mean to you?
Juneteenth to me is a representation of perseverance and displays our ability to make lemonade out of lemons at any time. It is us, as a people, continuing to get the leftovers but making them appear as a five-course meal. Juneteenth is the beginning of laying the foundation for our future as the freedom finally granted was the work of our ancestors, but the starting point for us to be able to accomplish the many things we have accomplished. Without the notification of freedom, we would still be sitting on the sidelines, unfortunately. Instead, we are now the trendsetters that everyone is continuously trying to duplicate, unsuccessfully.
As a born and raised Texan, has Juneteenth always been something that was celebrated by you and your family? Please explain.
Unfortunately, Juneteenth wasn’t always celebrated for me. The school system, especially in Texas, has always taught a watered-down and quite often inaccurate version of history, typically leaving out any representation of Black people outside the role of slaves (which unfortunately the textbooks now also consider us as “workers” instead as that narrative makes them appear innocent versus revealing the genocide and cruel things done to my ancestors and even more unfortunate are the things that are still occurring daily). My mother, too, was uneducated on the significance of the day and unable to pass down the knowledge.
"Juneteenth is the beginning of laying the foundation for our future as the freedom finally granted was the work of our ancestors, but the starting point for us to be able to accomplish the many things we have accomplished."
Therefore, I began educating myself on Black culture in college and embraced Juneteenth while finding less of a desire to celebrate July 4 as it along with other “federal holidays” wasn’t an inclusive holiday for those of us that didn’t meet the “standard."
How do you celebrate and honor Juneteenth now?
I like to do all things Black at an exponential level. I ensure that I don’t allow myself to drift towards code-switching. I spend time with my loved ones being unapologetically me. I ensure to be intentional in educating my children and peers. But, more importantly, I celebrate the day by setting a new goal to crush that will further my family, community, and culture.
Finish this sentence: My Black is __________.
My Black is simply Ebony! It is beautiful, intelligent, excellence, confident, sassy, trendsetting, nurturing, loving, and perseverance!
UTHealth Graduate Student
Courtesy of MyKayla Searles-Houston
Why do you think it's important for younger generations to learn about Juneteenth?
I think it is important for the younger generation to learn about Juneteenth because this is our history. This is a part of our culture, especially being Black and from Texas. And, I think it's important to hear from our community and families because oftentimes we are taught history from a narrative or perspective that is not centered in Blackness. So, learning about Juneteenth should be something families talk about with all age groups because one day it'll be the younger people's responsibility to pass down this information.
"I think it is important for the younger generation to learn about Juneteenth because this is our history. This is a part of our culture, especially being Black and from Texas."
How do you celebrate and honor Juneteenth?
I usually celebrate Juneteenth by hanging out with my friends or family! Somebody may barbecue, or we will go to local community festivities which are always nice. There is usually some great food around which is one of the best parts! Honestly, I just love being surrounded by Black people who show love to each other, and being together on Juneteenth is another way for us to express ourselves and have some fun!
Finish this sentence: My Black is __________.
My Black is loving, intentional, and full of care and compassion.
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Featured image courtesy of Ebony Parker
This post is in partnership with SheaMoisture.
When it comes to healthy hair care, there are a few things that will help you achieve healthy strands: a healthy hair care regime, hydration, consistent treatments, and scalp care. While scalp care is one of the most neglected practices, it is also one of the most important. Why? Because it helps promote healthy hair growth, clear hair follicles, and remove build-up.
When it comes to creating a healthy scalp routine, it helps to know exactly what you’re up against so you know how to specifically treat it. Two of the most common concerns are dandruff and dry scalp. It can be tough to decipher which is which, but here’s a quick breakdown: dry scalp is caused by a lack of moisture in the skin, while dandruff is caused by an excess of oil and yeast buildup on the scalp. Knowing that both of these are big concerns, SheaMoisture released two separate product lines to address both issues: the Scalp Moisture collection and the Anti-Dandruff collection.
Needless to say, if you tend to experience dandruff then I’d recommend you try the Anti-Dandruff collection. However, my biggest concern has always been dry scalp. A lack of moisture on the scalp can be caused by several factors like weather, age, and hair products to name a few. I’ve noticed that when I use certain gels or skip out on a deep scalp cleanse, my roots feel itchy and dry nonstop, which is uncomfortable.
The only way to relieve the discomfort is to properly wash and moisturize my roots, so I tried the Scalp Moisture collection and this is what I thought.
Krissy Lewis for xoNecole
First, What’s In The Collection?
The Scalp Moisture collection is a four-product line that includes a pre-wash masque, a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner, and a moisturizing scalp cream. Each product uses moisturizing and strengthening ingredients like aloe butter and vitamin B3 as active ingredients to provide eight times the moisture. Together, aloe butter and vitamin B3 work to restore dry and brittle hair, as well as add relief to the scalp.
Now, let’s break down each product…
Krissy Lewis for xoNecole
Scalp Moisture Pre-Wash Masque
The SheaMoisture Scalp Moisture Pre-Wash Masque may actually be the all-star of the collection. Using this deep conditioning masque is one of the best ways to target your dry scalp, restore hydration, and nourish your strands before shampooing.
I started by completely saturating my hair and scalp with water, then making small sections to apply the masque directly to the root. For my girls who have experience with relaxers and perms, it helps to apply the masque to your roots just like you would do with a relaxer. This way you can make sure you’ve covered as much of your scalp as possible while minimizing any breakage.
Pro tip: you can also use a color application brush to make this step easier.
After I completely covered my scalp, I massaged the product into my roots, used any excess on my strands, then left the masque in for 30 minutes. I was shocked by how moisturizing and clarifying my scalp and hair felt. One of the things that I love about the masque is the slip and how much softer it made my hair. While this is marketed as a scalp care product, it can completely transform your hair from dry and parched to completely hydrated.
In my opinion, the downside of this masque is that the quantity is too small for my liking. Truth be told, naturals go through deep conditioners faster than any other product (especially when it’s this good.) So SheaMoisture, if you’re reading this, we’d love a bigger jar.
Krissy Lewis for xoNecole
Scalp Moisture Shampoo
The SheaMoisture Scalp Moisture Shampoo is a gentle cleanser packed with the same moisture as the masque. The pearl-colored shampoo is lightweight with a serum-like consistency and a light and clean scent. The smell is pleasant, subtle, and not overbearing. When I applied the shampoo, I noticed immediately that it foams and lathers up very quickly, so less is more.
After applying the shampoo, I parted my hair and started at the roots to target as much of my scalp as possible. I recommend really taking the time to work the product and massage your scalp as much as possible.
Pro tip: using a scalp massager makes it easier and it feels amazing.
Once you start to massage your hair you’ll feel the product start to work. There’s a tingling sensation that might catch you off guard if you’re not used to it, but it’s not nearly as strong as other scalp products I’ve tried. I know some may not appreciate the sensation, but I loved it! My scalp felt clean, light, and breathable.
Krissy Lewis for xoNecole
Scalp Moisture Conditioner
Like the shampoo, the SheaMoisture Scalp Moisture Conditioner shares that pearly color and serum-like feel. It applies very easily while softening and moisturizing your hair. When I applied it to my hand, it gave my hands a lotion-like feel, which speaks volumes about its hydration capabilities. I also loved that the conditioner comes with a pump, instead of having to squeeze the product out – to me, it makes application easier.
I typically apply my conditioner to the ends first but because this is a scalp care product I started at the root and worked my way down to my ends. I did leave the conditioner in for ten minutes, although the bottle recommends leaving it in for three. The conditioner also provides that same breathable feel to your scalp. I honestly loved the relief.
Krissy Lewis for xoNecole
Scalp Moisture Cream
The SheaMoisture Scalp Moisture Cream is more of a daily relief product for your roots rather than your overall hair. It’s great for providing moisture and immediate relief to a dry and itchy scalp. Just like most of the collection, it gives a light and breathable feel – without the tingle. The applicator bottle targets specific parts of your scalp and makes applying easier.
Pro tip: I typically just squeeze the bottle to wherever I need the relief and use the tip to massage it into my scalp so it doesn’t mess up the hairstyle.
Overall, SheaMoisture’s scalp care line lives up to its claims – it moisturizes, strengthens, and provides immediate scalp relief. I definitely recommend trying the Scalp Moisture collection for an affordable way to treat itchy and dry scalp.
Featured image by Krissy Lewis for xoNecole
The debut of the 2023 film adaptation of The Little Mermaidwas bigger than me. It was a major moment for my inner child who loved watching the original 1989, as well as the 2000 sequel The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, but didn’t know that she could be a mermaid. Though I was never a fan of swimming - or really any aquatic activity - I saw myself in the character of Ariel because she loved to sing, be with friends, and be magical and mystical all day long.
The problem was I didn’t identify as a white woman with red hair and blue eyes.
The casting announcement of Grammy-nominated singer and actress Halle Bailey in the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid was nothing less than monumental. While we waited a few years to see the official character posters and trailers, I knew that having a Gen-Z Black girl play one of my favorite Disney princesses was going to shake the table for years to come - especially as someone who has always worn her natural hair.
“My relationship with my natural hair started very young. My mother actually locked my sister and I [our hair] when we were around five-ish years old, and so I have not known my life without my locs,” Halle told me during an interview about her and her sister Chlöe Bailey’s loc journey as she noted the spiritual importance of her hair journey. “I'm just grateful to be able to make my version of Ariel have my hair. I was so grateful that Rob Marshall, the director, allowed the essence of Halle to flow through who Ariel is. Especially as a Black woman, it's important for us to be able to see our hair be represented in these different roles.”
Halle Bailey attends the world premiere of Disney's live-action film The Little Mermaid.
Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney
According to Variety’s interview with Oscar-nominated hair department head Camille Friend, one of the biggest challenges of bringing Bailey’s locs to life was embodying the spirit of the original Disney princess while maintaining the health and integrity of the actress’ natural tresses.
“It was a really interesting one because I had never colored my hair before. I was excited about it,” Bailey told xoNecole about the dying and coloring process of her hair for her Disney princess debut. “When I saw myself with red roots for the first time, I was like, Whoa, because my whole life, it’s been dark brown. My natural hair is just dark brown, so it was really cool to see myself like that.”
As the first Black Disney princess to star in a live-action movie, representation was key, and both Friend and Bailey knew they had to use their platform to demonstrate to young girls that staying true to your heritage and cultural identity is first and foremost. Working carefully with her natural 24” locs, the wrapping process took a total of 12 to 14 hours to create the 30” custom-colored locs with three shades of red and Keratin tips.
"I'm not guesstimating, but we probably spent at least $150,000 because we had to redo it and take it out. You couldn't use it, and we'd have to start again. It was a process," Friend told Variety about the process following the hair at a beauty store in Chatsworth, CA. In an effort to put on the finishing touches of their hair to make it "dance" as Bailey moved through the water, Friend added loose body wave-type extensions to give a goddess, beachy-appeal for the final product.
The "ROYL" singer was no stranger to her responsibility as a vessel for change when it comes to the versatility of natural hair. Following the representation of microbraids in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella by Brandy, Bailey is the second Disney princess to wear a natural protective style as royalty.
From her 70s-style fro on the cover of EDITION by Modern Luxury to an auburn-red bob at this year's Met Gala, Bailey has proven that locs are more adaptable than the mainstream beauty industry believes. "I think it was just so important for me because it's the essence of who I am really. It's all I've known my whole life."
"I think it was just so important for me because it's the essence of who I am really. It's all I've known my whole life."
Halle Bailey attends The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty."
Cindy Ord/MG23/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue
Bailey continued, "I think that when Rob Marshall and Disney wanted me, it was a beautiful thing for them to want all of me and to not just pick and choose pieces of me, and allowed me to just be completely myself as a Black woman and show all the layers that come with that. I feel like mermaids would have locs, too. I feel like being under the water and your hair, I feel like it would fuse into locs anyways, like how it does in the movie."
"I think that when Rob Marshall and Disney wanted me, it was a beautiful thing for them to want all of me and to not just pick and choose pieces of me, and allowed me to just be completely myself as a Black woman and show all the layers that come with that."
In addition to being under the sea, Bailey feels on top of the world when she's indulging in activities and surrounding herself with things and people that she loves - both personally and professionally. "I think I feel my most happy and beautiful when I'm doing the things that I love, and I'm warm," Bailey said sweetly with a cherubic smile plastered across her face.
"When I'm warm, number one, when I'm in the sun and just kind of sunbathing, or when I'm quiet, or also when I'm underwater," she added. "Since this movie, I've really discovered a passion for diving and just have this curiosity and wonder for honestly the ocean now. I love scuba diving because it's so quiet down there, and you just kind of go into this meditative space and gratefulness when you get to see how massive this world is above and below us. It's really a cool perspective."
Now, in the midst of being a Disney princess, chugging along weeks of press runs and preparation, and gearing up to star in The Color Purple with Danielle Brooks and Fantasia, how does Halle balance it all? One word: Faith.
"I think I truly just put God at the forefront of my life. I remember that I'm here for a reason, and this is all happening because of God. I think that it's easy for me to stay grounded and humble when I remember that I am just being used as a vessel for good and love and light," Halle said humbly about being rooted in her relationship with her Lord and Savior, who is truly the head of her life. "
"I just hope that whatever is meant to be in my life, God just steers me in the right direction. I think I love being in nature the most because I love when I can feel small and that this is a great big world and that these things, even though this movie feels massive on days like this, and it's a lot of pressure to live up to, it's really nice to just lay back and realize that we're all just small crumbs in this universe. I'm just really grateful to be able to do what I love here and make a living out of what I love and just follow in whatever journey I'm supposed to be in."
The Little Mermaid is now in theaters.
Featured image by Don Arnold/WireImage via Getty Images