Phenomenal Professional Naturalista: Ms. Kareena Elliston

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your name?

Kareena Elliston

Where do you live?

Cherry Hill, New Jersey

What is your occupation?

Senior Manager Finance, Capital Assessment

What is your educational background?

Honours Bachelor of Arts in French, Spanish and Mandarin; Master’s of Business Administration, International MBA

How long have you been natural?

Since 2003.

Why did you decide to “go” natural?

I decided to go natural when I was studying/living in a foreign country and the water was causing huge chunks of my hair to fall out. I figured that my hair was strongest in its natural state and had the best chance of not falling out if I went natural. Also, it would also be easier to take care of my hair by myself in its natural state, given that I was without access to black hair products or chemicals for long periods of time. My commitment to my studies meant going months at a time without access to hairdressers, hair product suppliers, and other black women. My hair would best survive if it was free!

What is your go-to natural hairstyle?

My go-to natural hairstyles are twist extensions and a natural twist out.

Have you ever experienced any challenges in the workplace due to your natural hair?

I was told early on in my career that my natural hair could affect my ability to get hired into certain banking departments or to be promoted. It may well be possible that certain doors closed for those reasons. However, others opened. I decided that if people were narrow-minded enough to have those thoughts about my appearance, then they wouldn’t be able to handle my intellectual contributions; thus, it would be better to look elsewhere for opportunities.

What do you love most about your natural hair?

What do I love the most about my hair? Its strength, versatility, and forgiveness. It can withstand my lifestyle: it’s willing to be manipulated into creative, sometimes arduous styles, and it’s forgiving of my ‘neglect’.

What have you found to be most challenging about being natural?

Honestly, for me, the most challenging part about having natural hair is that I am not as good to my hair as it is to me—I don’t have the time! I don’t explore new, more caring, ways to maintain and highlight its natural beauty. And it does require additional thinking for vacationing or long-term travel.

How do you maintain your “work-hair-life” balance?

The vast majority of my time, my hair is in twist extensions. I don’t wrap my hair at night and I don’t do it in the morning. Every few months, I replace the protective hairstyle with another set of twists. It’s easy to travel; to work late; to attend a wedding that I had forgotten about; and to care for a newborn!

What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who is considering going natural, but may have reservations due to their profession?

A few things come to mind in terms of advice for others: expand your mind on what is ‘beauty’, what is ‘acceptable’, what is ‘time-consuming’, and what compromises you are willing to make. Don’t underestimate your hair’s ability to grow! Finally, there are some really amazing new products out there that make natural hair so much easier to manage and celebrate. This is one of the best times to go natural—our hair is everywhere right now!

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Phenomenal Professional Naturalista: Ms. Kimberley Tull

What is your name?

Kimberley Tull

Where do you live?

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

What is your occupation?

Manager, Community Development & Engagement; Project Manager, Access Programs, in the Post-Secondary Education Sector

What is your educational background?

BA (Hons.), Specialist Political Science, Minor Economics, University of Toronto Scarborough; Post-Graduate Diploma, Arts Administration & Cultural Management, Humber College; Event Management Certification, George Brown College; and Master of Education, Adult Education & Community Development, University of Toronto

How long have you been natural?

23 years (give or take a two or three years in there when I decided to switch it up, so probably 20 years in total).

Why did you decide to “go” natural?

Well, I didn’t “go” natural, I went back to being natural. I was a student-athlete, who was trying to rock a relaxed short cut, but with all of the sweating, the back and sides of my hair would revert to natural. I was rocking a half-fro and that was not cute! I was also putting super, extra-strength relaxer on my hair every couple of weeks. One day, I said, “This is enough”… So, I cut it all off, and rocked a TWA; and that’s when I felt like me. I fell in love.

What is your go-to natural hairstyle?

Two-strand twist/twist-out, usually in a pin-up, updo (warmer weather); here, in Toronto, my hair is against the cold temperatures, so it hibernates in the winter under crochet braids, twists or faux locs.

Have you ever experienced any challenges in the workplace due to your natural hair?

I have; but it has never been an issue at my place of business. I can say, no one close to me has ever told me that my hair is unprofessional (whether family, friends, or colleagues). Those that do, my response is: “How can something that grows directly out of my scalp be considered ‘unprofessional’? Whose standard of ‘professional’ are we talking about?” That being said, I’ve been fetishized; treated like I was the entertainment; petted; asked the infamous “Is that your hair?” question; othered. It took me a while to learn to find the words and ways to call people out. As a Black woman, I had to set and stick to my boundaries.

What do you love most about your natural hair?

I get to do whatever I want with it; it’s flexible, and my kinks and curls have their own personality. It’s freeing and it’s unapologetically me!

What have you found to be most challenging about being natural?

Finding ways to keep it moisturized during the different Canadian seasons. My hair responds differently to the different seasons; as a result, I have to change up my products to suit, from shampoos to moisturizers. And, of course, wash day, potentially a full day off the grid (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing!)

How do you maintain your “work-hair-life” balance?

My hair forces me to take time out of the day just for me, so whether I’m twisting it up for the night, detangling, two-strand twisting, crochet braiding it, I’m forced to sit and be (somewhat) still. I look at that as a bonus, it’s me time and I get to reflect or binge watch a show.

What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who is considering going natural, but may have reservations due to their profession?

1. The natural hair journey can be a long and daunting one – manage your expectations – it will take some time to figure this thing out

2. Let go of the control and follow your curls, they’ll let you know what they feel like doing

3. Accept your curl pattern. We tend to longingly look at other people’s hair wishing and wanting their curl pattern, their thickness, their length but that’s their hair, not yours. You’ll never be truly content with your hair unless you own and accept your hair.

4. Let other people own their issues with natural hair, that shouldn’t be your concern or business. Oh, you have an issue with natural hair… oh, well that’s your issue, you can keep it.

5. Don’t suffer in silence. Find your circle of care and ask for support, opinions, recommendations.

6. Have fun! Play with it, braid it, twist it, wash ‘n’ go it, colour it, cut it, grow it … but most importantly, love it!

***

Follow Kimberley on Instagram: @kaeniktee

or Twitter: @kimzies

or visit torontoaka.ca or misseducation.ca

Phenomenal Professional Naturalista: Ms. Abigail Browne

What is your name?

Abigail Browne

Where do you live?

Toronto, Canada

What is your occupation?

Government Lawyer and Trademark Agent

What is your educational background?

Bachelor of Science degree (B.Sc.), McMaster University; Bachelor of Laws degree (LL.B), University of Windsor; Master of Laws degree (LL.M.), Queen Mary- University of London

How long have you been natural?

Roughly 5 years.

Why did you decide to “go” natural?

It was time…and YouTube videos let me know it was possible!

What is your go-to natural hairstyle?

2 French braids, a twisted-out bantu-knot undo, or a braid-out and end twist-around.

Have you ever experienced any challenges in the workplace due to your natural hair?

I don’t think so.

What do you love most about your natural hair?

The versatility and its health.

What have you found to be most challenging about being natural?

The fact that I can’t just wash and go! Also, trying to maintain moisture.

How do you maintain your “work-hair-life” balance?

I go to my “go to” styles!

What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who is considering going natural, but may have reservations due to their profession?

Put the health of your hair first and find a style that makes you feel beautiful and confident!

Phenomenal Professional Naturalista: Ms. Fana Gibson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your name?

Fana Gibson

Where do you live? 

London, UK

What is your occupation?

Strategy Consultant, Financial Services

What is your educational background?

Howard University, BS Physics, BA French; University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School, MBA, MA International Studies

How long have you been natural?

For most of my life. My hair was permed for three or four years as a teenager but I got tired of the maintenance and grew it out. Two other times I’ve gone back for a ‘change’ but those periods have always been short-lived (a year or less) before I revert to being natural.

Why did you decide to “go” natural?

I don’t know if it was ever a decision to “go” natural as much as coming to the realization that putting a chemical in my hair for it to look a certain way doesn’t sit well with me. I’ve spent a lot of time in extensions, either braids or crochet styles. Now I’m challenging myself to leave even those behind and to learn to style my hair as is. This, of course, is a process, and I feel like I’m still on that journey of loving my hair for what it is.

What is your go-to natural hairstyle?

Twist-out or a braided two-strand flat-twist.

Have you ever experienced any challenges in the workplace due to your natural hair?

No. I’ve worked in a corporate role for my entire career and have never been made to feel singled out because of my natural hair.

What do you love most about your natural hair?

The versatility. We can do so many great things to how we look by simply changing our hairstyle, whether it’s a two-strand twist, braids, a blow-out, or picking it out into a beautiful Afro!

What have you found to be most challenging about being natural?

Figuring out how to take care of my hair in the right way has definitely been a challenge. Black hair is so diverse that the same hair care routine or product range won’t work for everyone. In the beginning, I’d get frustrated because I just wanted someone to give me a handbook of all the right things to do, but unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way. So it’s been a journey of discovery learning about my hair – from porosity, to the LOC method, to how weather and seasons affect it. You just have to keep trying and tweaking your routine- which sometimes can feel like a hassle but the end result is beautiful, healthy hair, which is worth it.

How do you maintain your “work-hair-life” balance?

On weekends I usually spend several hours washing, conditioning and moisturizing my hair. During the week I have a very busy schedule so I try to minimize time spent on my hair to 5 minutes on mornings. I have two or three go-to styles that fit into that timeframe: either a braided flat-twist or a twist-out which I can quickly unravel if done from the night before (usually takes 20 minutes while watching TV).

What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who is considering going natural, but may have reservations due to their profession?

You should be able to bring your full self to your job and part of that is deciding what hairstyle is right for you. The key is to own that decision and to have confidence while doing it – then it won’t matter what anyone says. In terms of maintenance, it’s definitely a journey – one that can sometimes be frustrating, but, more often than not, rewarding. Throw yourself into it, learn as much as you can, and create a routine that works for you and your lifestyle.

Phenomenal Professional Naturalista: Dr. Shelby Wilson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your name?

Shelby Wilson

Where do you live?

Atlanta, Georgia, USA

What is your occupation?

Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Morehouse College

What is your educational background?

B.S. Mathematics and Computer Science, Spelman College 2006; Ph. D. Applied Mathematics, University of Maryland, 2012

How long have you been natural?

I’ve been natural since I graduated from Spelman in May 2006.

Why did you decide to “go” natural?

My original motivation was simple: Perms burn my scalp. I tried every technique possible, and couldn’t keep my scalp from burning. At some point, I just asked myself “Why?”, and decided to stop getting touch-ups. I still straightened my hair on/off for the next 6 years. In 2012, I moved to France and committed to not putting heat on my hair. It was in my time overseas that I took the time to learn how to work with my hair.

What is your go-to natural hairstyle?

When my hair is long, I typically wear it in a twist-out. When it’s short, I sport a wash-n-go.

Have you ever experienced any challenges in the workplace due to your natural hair?

I’m fortunate in that I work in a mostly black city (Atlanta) in a mostly black environment (an HBCU). So there’s very little pressure in my daily life to conform to certain hairstyles. But on multiple occasions, at professional conferences, I’ve been told that my appearance or hair was “unprofessional” or made people uncomfortable. Early in my career, these types of reactions really discouraged me. But I let these negative experiences spur my outreach activities aimed at changing the perception of what a mathematician “looks” like.

What do you love most about your natural hair?

I love how BIG it is!

What have you found to be most challenging about being natural?

Learning to accept what my hair “wants” to do. This can be related to the weather, the health of my hair, the time I have, or a slew of other things. My hair doesn’t always do what I want/plan for it to do. I had to learn to accept that and work with what I’ve got!

How do you maintain your “work-hair-life” balance?

This is something I really struggle with. Before I had kids, I had all the time in the world, and my natural hair was long, healthy and beautiful. Since having kids, I have trouble finding the time to put together professional styles for long natural hair. Now, I mostly opt to keep my hair short. This gives me a professional look without too much time spent on my hair each morning.

What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who is considering going natural, but may have reservations due to their profession?

Go for it!! Don’t let your colleagues send you the message “We can accept you as long as you’re striving for unattainable standards of beauty.” Also, find a good natural hairstylist. A good stylist will definitely have you looking super-polished and professional with your natural hair.

***

Follow Dr. Shelby Wilson on Facebook: Shelby Wilson Chembo, Handle: ScrabbitNicole

or visit: www.shelby-wilson.com and www.mathematicallygiftedandblack.com

Phenomenal Professional Naturalista: Mrs. Racquel Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your name?

Racquel Brown

Where do you live?

Brampton, Ontario, Canada

What is your occupation? 

Instructional Coach, Peel District School Board; Founder of Empower & Equip, an organization that provides resources to support parents in their journey to raise passionate, empowered children

What is your educational background? 

Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education, Redeemer University College.

How long have you been natural?

14 years

Why did you decide to “go” natural?

When my husband and I decided that we wanted to have a family, I started to think about the impact that chemical relaxers could have on a baby. I had no scientific research to back anything up – it was just a decision that I felt was right for me and more safe for my baby.

What is your go-to natural hairstyle?

TWIST OUT, 110%!!

Have you ever experienced any challenges in the workplace due to your natural hair?

Well, when I went natural, I just jumped right in with a big chop! No transitioning, I just ripped the band-aid off and went for it. I Kept it short for a long time – my barber was my bestie! As is began to grow, I felt that I needed to flat iron regularly to feel comfortable around my colleagues. Now, to be clear, no one ever said “straight is great, and fro is no”; it was something that I just felt and never questioned. Over time I began to realize that I was the one who needed to be comfortable with my Blackness and stand in the truth that my hair is a huge part of who I am, and I need to own my right to wear it 100% natural—with confidence. Sooooo, enter big chop #2! I started fresh, and as it grew, I embraced it, and I have not straightened it in 7 years.

What do you love most about your natural hair?

EVERYTHANG!! The shape, the versatility, the sheen, the curls… LISTEN!! There is nothing like a fresh twist-out that is 100% behaving itself!

What have you found to be most challenging about being natural?

Sometimes Wash Day can be tiresome (maybe that’s why it is Wash DAY). I also have two daughters so Wash Day x3 can be a bit much. But I have a system, and I am slowly teaching my girls how to wash their own hair.

How do you maintain your “work-hair-life” balance?

Well, contrary to what some think, I do not spend hours twisting my hair every night. My routine is manageable and I don’t feel like my hair is “in the way”. I do have to strategically plan when I wash, twist, rock a puff…but all of these things are probably the story of every natural out there.

What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who is considering going natural, but may have reservations due to their profession?

IF you are wearing your hair straight because of external pressures or perceptions, whether real or imagined), that is a form of colonization that you deserve to be free from. Black women are crushing the European standard of beauty, and we will continue to do so. If we want the world to accept us for who we are, we first need to accept our beauty and wear our skin and hair with confidence. IF, however, you choose to rock your relaxer, weave, wig, locs, braids, twist-out, fro because it is what YOU choose, I say to you, “Go, on girl! Do your thing!” Once YOU have made that choice, walk with the beauty and grace of a beautiful Black queen.

***

Follow Mrs. Racquel Brown on

Instagram: @mrsracquelbrown / @empowerandequip

Facebook: @Racquel Brown / @Empower & Equip

Women’s Month 2018: Phenomenal Professional Naturalistas

During the month of March, Women’s Month, we take time to acknowledge and celebrate the phenomenal contributions of women to society at large!

In honour of this Women’s Month, The Natural Hair Advocate will be showcasing a roster of Phenomenal Professional Naturalistas: women who are doing AMAZING things in their respective sectors—from law to education, medicine to business—while also shining in all of their natural glory! Each of these women has proven that you can slay—both as a professional and a naturalista—and so we asked them the secrets to their success! Join us this month, as we recognize, applaud, and hear from these natural brains and beauties!

 

…Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need for my care.

‘Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me. 

~ “Phenomenal Woman” by Dr. Maya Angelou