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Celebrating Their Roots at Curlfest

On a hot and humid Saturday in New York, attendees did their best to keep cool for Curlfest, an outdoor event on Randall’s Island celebrating Black hair. Local vendors in a grassy field awaited a sea of festivalgoers showing off their most elaborate and personal box braids, cornrows, Afros and twists. From his station on the stage, a D.J. played the 2004 Jill Scott song “Golden.”

After a three-year hiatus, Curlfest was back, with dozens of Black-owned small businesses, as well as performers and guest speakers championing the beauty of natural hair.

“We wanted to come back with the same vigor if not more than we had in the past,” said Melody Henderson, the event’s creative director, adding, “‘Bounce Back’ is the theme because it really speaks to the resilience of us as a people.”

Ms. Henderson founded Curlfest with Gia Lowe, Simone Mair, Tracey Coleman and Charisse Higgins. Together the five women make up Curly Girl Collective, a friend group that began as an email thread in 2010, with conversations that offered guidance and support on caring for natural Black hair. The group’s first festival took place in 2014, in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. The event has grown over the years, including a trip to Atlanta in 2019.

Curls and braids were adorned with accessories — clips, gold wires, rings and beads — all showcasing a variety of looks that were ready to serve on a hot summer day. But beyond vanity, the many styles signified a communal space where all could see and be seen. At Curlfest, all hair is welcome.

“I come to Curlfest to impress, appreciate, get inspired and offer iterations,” said Lea King, a hairstylist. “I wanted to do something trendy that people can take away from.”
Ashanti Smith was all smiles in her beaded seashells as well.

Nadeige Descardes holding her daughter.

Marley Garner wearing her amber braids in a warm summer look.
Safra Mair fashioned her braids with a top hat as she walked around the festival grounds.
Attendees scouted local businesses and products for information on the ultimate natural hair care.
Shaila Mentore showed off her curls with a freshly lined up side profile.
Oneka Kelly and Amber Kelly decided to accessorize their locks with a more colorful approach.
Sean Mayers and Crystal Smith took a simple yet stylish approach to their dreadlocks.
Curlfest is a place to show how multifaceted natural hair can be, even in its most simplest forms.
Live performers at Curlfest included D.J.s and a drum line.
Nicole Newsum held her curls in place with gold wires that match her hoop earrings.
An attendee took the stage in a dance contest.
Standing in the center of a grass field, plotting a next move.
A mother posed with her daughters in matching neon green dresses.
“I love the versatility of my hair,” said Melody Henderson, a Curlfest co-founder. “I’m an artist, and it’s an extension of my creativity.”
An attendee kept cool in the shade of an oversize hat.
It took about six hours for Aya Raimie’s sister to do her hair. “I got the beads from a supply store by my home,” she said.
Des Moore in a crown of beaded braids.
“I love my hair and it defies gravity,” said Simone Mair, another Curlfest co-founder. “I feel like it’s always changing.”
Curlfest offers a full day of community and culture for children as well.
Ashley Wright (left, with her friend Thalia Mangan) initially considered ditching her curlers. “But I said to myself, ‘I know this will get some looks!’” she recalled.

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