“Okay, but are you mixed?”

Here in the states I’ve never once been asked that question. I believe this is because the answer upon taking a casual glance at me is rather, well, black and white.

I’ve got brown skin and natural hair. I mean, hell, even my last name starts with Black. I have never not checked the African American box when filling out demographic data.

However, while visiting Lagos people frequently asked about the coily texture of my hair. When I explained to them that this is simply it’s natural texture, not a coiling technique or starting of locs their response would be, wide eyed with an air of suspicion:

“Your hair just grows like that!!?? Okay, but are you mixed?”

My response was at first always a solid “no.” I mean, I’ve got two black parents, black grandparents, black great-grandparents; I am definitely 100% black. Always have been, no question about it how I’ve identified.

Me and the great-grandparents (top)  & the grandparents on the bottom.

Me and the great-grandparents (top) & the grandparents (bottom)

However, after being asked by several people, I started to wonder where this was all coming from, if there was something to that question. This was truly a first for me and I took some time to reflect.

I would never say that I’m mixed, but the truth is that in my family we’re not quite sure where exactly we come from. There’s rumblings of Irish ancestry somewhere back in the day. Rumors of Native American heritage somewhere in there. We see a looser curl pattern here and a touch of light skinnededededness there. But in general, when it comes to skin color, the main link between we the Blackwells is that we loooooooove to be tan. The deeper, the browner the darker the better. With all those winters in Minnesota that suck the color right out of us, once summer hits, we are out there setting our tan lines to show our hard work. My mom calls it “searing” and even my grandfather finishes the summer looking like Golden Teddy Graham. But again, the last name – Blackwell – there has never been any question of who we are and how we identify.

Back to Lagos.
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Nigerian Natural Hair Show: Recap + Gallery

After months and months of preparation, last Saturday the Nigerian Natural Hair Show went DOWN and it was so much fun!!! The Kinky Apothecary team knocked it out of the park, putting together a fabulous 8 hours of educational programming and an fantastic expo. The event took place at The Federal Palace Hotel here in Lagos, Nigeria and over 200 naturalistas came from Lagos, greater Nigeria and even other African countries to learn, shop and snap selfies–lots of selfies– in their fantastic natural styles.

The day started off with a panel discussion facilitated by Nibi Lawson, Founder + CEO of Kinky Apothecary. I was honored to sit on-stage alongside an inspirational (not to mention GLOBAL!) group of women including Felicia Leatherwood (Celebrity Stylist), Obia Ewah (Obia’s Naturals), Ijeoma Eboh (KlassyKinkys), Ngozi Opara (Heat Free Hair) and Wunmi Akinlagun (Woman in the Jungle).

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I hopped on stage to present my workshop “The Top 10 Natural Hair Mistakes I’ve Made (and how to avoid them yourself)”. See, as a blogger, you’re often only posting the finished, polished and sometimes even photoshopped final photos of the natural hair journey. The truth is that going natural is HARD and even we bloggers still make mistakes, especially when starting off. I wanted to open up and give an authentic perspective on the struggle that is so real, but stand up as an example that with a bit of patience and perseverance—in the end it all turns out a-okay.

Towards the end of my talk, I also explained that one of my main goals with my blog is to meet and get the stories of naturals around the world, so I encouraged everyone to come find me and we could snap a shot with my selfie-stick. And BOY did these Nigerian Naturals sure love taking those selfies! I think I’ll write some sort of new African proverb that starts “If you give a woman a selfie stick, she’ll look as fire as the African sun.” Something like that… I’ll work out the copy soon, but for realz, people love the ‘Stick. It brought out a lot of smiles and laughs.

The rest of the day, all the other speakers hit the stage and I chatted with the local naturals, asking questions, helping them shop for products, and doing a little shopping myself (hey-o!)–I can’t leave these Ankara fabrics alone while I’m here….

Huge shout out to Nibi and team for pulling off such a fantastic event. Education is the MOST important part of the natural hair movement and she is such an inspirational example of drive and passion for providing that education to the women of Africa.

Now, without further ado, my full gallery of images:

1st Day Hair: Not My Thing (even in Nigeria)

Tomorrow! Yes, FINALLY tomorrow is the big day—the Nigerian Natural Hair Show is finally here. As a featured presenter, I started prepping my hair for said big day, well….last week.

I’ve come to realize, that I really, truly, honestly dislike my first day hair. As a Wash’n’Go advocate, I find that my freshly washed style is just never my favorite. Sure, my ringlets are fully popped, I’ve got tons of shine, my hair hangs long, but I don’t know…I just feel that I look like some sort of wet cat.


See the displeasure in that face? Yea, that’s me.

Okay, maybe I’m not THAT upset, but I feel like my hair never hits its stride until day three or four. A few reasons:

1. It’s a little TOO perfect. I find that the beauty of natural hair is in its “imperfections”. I like a little frizz, a little gesture–it shows personality.
2. It’s too flat. It shows off all the angles of the cut, there’s no smooth, rounded out flow. I want my hair reaching for the sky.
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Lagos: The Arrival

At the end of the jetway, a man calls my name. Cassidy?


Welcome to Lagos.

He grabs my wheeled suitcase from my hand and we take off—and I mean take off in a 0-to-60, just beneath a full run sort of way. As we zip past the people who deplaned before me, he makes conversation, politely telling me that it’s time to hustle. “I hope your flight was good. I don’t want to cause you any stress, but this is where we move fast,” he says. I secure my backpack even tighter and take my speed up a notch. We are bobbing and weaving and zigging and zagging through the labyrinth of the arrivals gates. Windows are open everywhere. It’s hot, humid and I am glad that I do lots of cardio.

We pause at our first queue. “Do you have your Ebola screening?” he asks. I do. I produce a paper on which I have made several checkmarks confirming that I have not been with a person who has died of a hemorrhagic fever in the last three weeks. Either way the agent shoots a white temperature-taking gun at my forehead. Twice. The second time asking me to move my travel-weary curls out of the way so she can get a better read. My passport is now a constant reminder of this Lagosian precaution.


The sprint continues onto the immigrations officials. I produce the blue arrival form Delta gave to me on the plane. A man in a tan uniform tells us that this is not the form they are using anymore, but luckily for us he has the right one. I look at the crisp blue Delta form and the wrinkled white slip this officer had jammed in is pocket. I have my doubts, but my handler nods me on to take it. So I do. I have a suspicion that without my speedy little friend this form could have cost me a pretty penny. At the immigration desk, the man takes one look at my visa, stamps my passport and we are through. I feel slightly jilted that my Nigerian visa, which took days of errands, hours of organizing and hundreds of dollars received less than 15 seconds of attention. Whatever. We are through. I am officially in Lagos.

Outside the airport, a beret wearing officer casually dangles an assault rifle from his pinkie. I’m hustled into a car with my driver and we drive into the hot afternoon sun.


There are people everywhere. Cars everywhere. Yellow buses filled with people everywhere. People and cars jammed together in what could be a four lane highway, except there are no lanes and cars seem to drive wherever they need; diagonal if they must. People are on medians, shoulders of the road, shoulders of other people and in between the cars. Men and women walk against the flow of traffic selling peanuts, icy sodas, children’s pajamas and… is that a 4 foot poster of a Lamborgini on top of the Manhattan skyline? It sure is.


Our driver locks the door as we enter the 4:30pm grid lock. Other cars, however, are indeed buying. One car rolls does roll down their window for a beer, the vendor strolling alongside the car while making change. A commercial comes on the radio. It’s the state traffic and roadway safety commission encouraging people not to cross the expressway and to use the pedestrian bridge. Still, outside our windows the steady stream of people flows around bumper to bumper traffic as it inches forward. Another man stops our car. He is selling chargers, I consider this a more pragmatic offering than the flannel pajamas hanging on another man’s hangers. We politely decline and he walks away. Traffic breaks and it’s onward into Lagos.

Back to Africa: The Nigerian Natural Hair Show

Early on in my days of blogging, I developed an eye and an ear for the goings on in the global natural hair community. It started with stumbling across a photograph of a super dope natural hair cut taken in Swaziland and over time has allowed to travel to several international cities in the name of natural hair.

My very first international natural hair interviews was with a Nigerian naturalista named Nibi Lawson, owner of The Kinky Apothecary. I did the interview over gChat. Me waking up early in the morning to catch Nibi, right before she went to bed. I recently dug the interview back up (you can read the full transcript here), and one of the things that has always stuck with me is Nibi’s claim that in Africa, natural hair is often seen as too afrocentric:

People tend to conform to more ‘western’ ideals. I’ve had people say I’m really ‘afrocentric’ in a negative way, which is weird as well, what’s more afrocentric than actually being african, which all of us here are. But yeah, I hope I am able to change people’s misconceptions.

To me, this concept hits at the root of everything the natural hair movement is aiming for.

Nibi and I have stayed connected through the years and I’m honored to have been invited as a guest speaker at the Nigerian Natural Hair Show!!!!!


It’s been three years since I took my first trip to Africa during which I visited Dakar in Senegal, an experience that made quite a lasting impression on me. I start my voyage to Lagos in just a few short hours (!!!!!). but couldn’t be more excited for what’s to come!

Some highlights I’m looking forward to:

  • The hair show of course! It’s going down this Saturday. I’ll be speaking on a panel (love panels) and can’t wait to check out all the exhibitors and meet the guests
  • Eating Suya, Moi moi, Catfish Pepper Soup and Pounded Yam. Naturally, I’m right on top of my culinary research game
  • Scoping the view from the top of the Intercontinental. Lagos is one of the largest cities in the world. The view is supposed to be bomb. I will be brining my selfie stick for suuuuuure
  • Visiting the barbershops of Lagos! I’m taking a couple days to visit the men’s grooming world and document the Lagos scene for BevelCode
  • FELA KUTI DANCE CLASS!!!!! Need I say more!?!?!?
  • The markets. I always love checking out the local markets
  • Sharing the experience with YOU! Stay tuned for stories and photos from the road!

TAKE ACTION: sign this petition against Afro discrimination!

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a good dose of unsavory marketing tactics used against black hair, but my friends it is BACK and with a vengeance!

Anya of IHeartMyHair sent me a link to a video from a hair show in Brazil in which a company, Cadiveu, selling Brazilian Keratin Treatments had attendees put on an Afro wig and hold a sign that says “Eu Preciso Cadiveu”.

Translation: “I need Cadiveu”  Translation: “I’ve got this big head of kinky hair on my head and I need me some Cadiveu to help make it glossy and beautiful!”

Say whaaaaa?


Luckily, people weren’t willing to really stay quiet on the matter and started slamming the Cadiveu Facebook page regarding the issue.  Eventually the page was taken down, which is good.


Cadiveu has yet to issue a formal apology, so dearest Anya has set up a petition and is hoping to get 5000 signatures to help make our voices heard and get an apology.  Interested in helping out?  Of course you are.  Sign the petition here!

***NOTE! The page is in Portuguese, but don’t let that scare you away- we gotta help our sisters out around the world! Scroll down the petition for the english translation and where you can sign in using FB or Twitter. If you want to type in your name, etc. Here’s the translation for that (I’m only translating the “required” fields)”:

NOME- name
SOBRENOME – last name
EMAIL – email address
ESCOLHA UMA SENHA – pick a password

And check out the below video explaining the sitch.


What are your thoughts? Was Cadiveu in the wrong or just doing an engaging marketing tactic?

Lessons from Africa

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] I [/dropcap] came home from Africa and capital C, Crashed. Well that’s not entirely true, I got the flu and wrote my stories about the trip for Black Is Global and then the holidays came around, so I never really got to share my experiences with you on the ol blog! Which may be all for the best because by now, my memories have had 4 weeks to marinate and you’re getting the stuff that really stuck with me. Here are my lessons and thoughts I gleaned from my trip with the Black Is Global team to Senegal!

1. We need a new narrative.

Years of reading National Geographic, heck even Google News, had given me the life in Africa was filled with immense suffering, poverty, violence, unrest and the idea that AIDS is so rampant that you can catch it by simply walking down the street.

Well, my trip to Dakar couldn’t have been further from this experience. Of course this heartbreaking side of humanity DOES exist, but there is also a whole other culture that is less talked about. There are posh lounges, sunny resorts, shopping malls, French cafes, comfortable homes and stretches of sandy beaches. Beyond material comforts, there is a well-educated populace, individuals concerned with environmental and social causes, and a network of globally invested citizens. In other words, life in Dakar is remarkably similar to our lives heres.

As much as it’s important to be aware of the world’s struggles, it’s equally important to celebrate and be aware of it’s successes and triumphs.

With the students of the Senegalese – American Bilingual School


So you know how you’ll walk into a store here and try on a pair of jeans in “your size”, but they’re too tight in the rear, too narrow in the thigh and somehow way too large in the waist? Even after trying on dozens of pairs you walk out empty handed and frustrated. Le sigh.


I walked into one shop in the local mall, pulled an [awesome] one-piece pantsuit off the rack, tried it on and it FIT PERFECTLY. My fellow traveler Miss Felicia Leatherwood did the same with a couple dresses and other pieces. Never would this happen in the states, we thought and realized that these clothes were made and designed by people with bodies more similar to our own! Pretty cool.

Even cooler was that so my piece happened to be a little big in the chest area and the on-site tailor took it in within a matter of minutes for free . Very very cool.

And while we’re here, I might as well mention the abundance of beautifully patterned fabrics Dakar is known for. Sold in stores and markets, you can take a fabric of your choosing and have the outfit of your dreams created. It took me awhile to figure out that this was REALLY how a majority of the amazing outfits were created that I saw and I missed my boat. But you heard it hear first: custom tailored African garb—- I will be back for you.


3. H-U-S-T-L-E

There’s hustle and then there is HUSTLE and as far as I’m concerned, Dakar wrote the book on it. The tenacity of the sales people I encountered was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life before. “NO” is not taken quickly or easily as an answer. People are selling anything and everything–EVERYWHERE and at all times. It was truly impressive.

4. Natural has a long way to go

Weaves and relaxers are beyond dominant in Dakar. I knew this would be the case based on what I had heard, but I was truly surprised to see how few naturalistas we encountered. Felicia attributed this not just to lack of access to products, but also a lack of education about what to do with one’s hair once natural. As a result, out of the handful of natural styles we saw, a majority were loose naturals or simply braided. There were no two-strand twists, coil outs, or flat twist updo’s we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. That said, there were a few naturals to be found and thankfully Felicia was there to give advice to those who were looking!


5. We are all connected

It all comes back to Africa. Everything.

From the theories of human evolution that place the birthplace of mankind in Subsaharan Africa to slavery the subsequent diaspora of black people around the world, Africa is the origin of human life and all civilization. As such, all humans on this planet are related to one and other, regardless of color, religion or ethnic heritage. I touched on this earlier, but we are truly more alike than we are different.

Dakar is a former French colony with a 94% Muslim population, even with these differences I still saw similarities in culture and lifestyle, values and traditions.

I interviewed a very prominent Senegalese doctor who had some very important words of advice for the children of the African diaspora about our need to come together and guide the rest of the world back to a place of balance and shared understanding. Idealistic indeed, but still something for which to hope and aspire!


All in all, my experience in Dakar was fabulous. The people and their unparalleled Teranga (hospitality in English) made me feel oh-so welcome. It was not only a beautiful country, rich with cultural history and heritage, but also a beautiful people. I’ve written several articles exploring Dakar in greater depth over on Black Is Global, so please go check out the site and like the Facebook page to support the movement!

Now without further ado, I’d like to share some of my photographs from my trip with you! Enjoy!

No need to freak out… it’s just my FIRST TRIP TO AFRICA

Yes, that’s right peeps— I’m making my maiden voyage to the continent!!! When, you ask???


When this opportunity first came across my plate, everyone was extremely surprised by my reaction: complete and utter silence. “Cass, why aren’t you excited!?,” they asked. “Oh, I’m excited alright. In fact I’m a little too excited I can’t even react.” So I stuffed this amazing trip to the back of my mind, an easy thing to do when you can pile a 5 week jaunt to Chicago, NOLA, Virgin Islands, Los Angeles, Hawaii and Thanksgiving in San Francisco on top of it.

But then last Saturday it hit me when I saw this shirt:

Of all places, I was with friends at a Dead Prez concert. Upon seeing this shirt, I realized the magnitude of this experience of traveling to Africa for the first time. The colonization and subsequent enslavement of millions of African people is a gruesome and painful history we share, but most of us live pretty far removed from it. However, it came smacking me in the face that I would be traveling to one of the main ports of where people were captured, shipped, and sold into generations of forced and brutal labor. It was a powerful and necessary realization to have.

So I did what any girl would do: I ran out of the concert and onto the street and called my mom sobbing at 2am. After she calmed me down, then I called Felicia, also joining me on this trip, who also calmed me down. She explained “Cassidy, my gift is to teach people about natural hair. Yours is to write about your experiences and share them with the world.” With that I dried my tears and put my “Holy-F-This-Is-Going-To-Be-An-Amazing-Trip-And-I-Can’t-Wait-To-Write-About-It Hat back on! And then I went back into the concert and enjoyed the rest of the show. Dead Prez and crying. Go figure.

So let me tell you a bit about this trip. I’m going with an amazing new multi-media project called Black Is Global (B.I.G). The purpose of Black Is Global is to create an online platform to share stories and experience of black people all around the world. Black culture in the United States is very different than the black culture in Brasil, which is different than the black culture in Ghana, which is different than the black culture in France. So as you see, blackness IS global and through the diaspora we have created a multitude of international black identities. Very cool, right? Make sure to check out the site because this is going to be BIG (pun intended).

The inaugural trip will be to Dakar, Senegal, located on a beach lined peninsula on the Western Coast of Africa. I can’t give away the details yet, but we’re going to be seeing, visiting, tasting and exploring some very exciting and noteworthy places and experience.

Besides myself, the B.I.G. team is made up of Felicia Leatherwood, who will be speaking at the Natural Hair Expo we’re headed to; Elton Anderson, a phenomenal photographer whose work I’ve been following for years (featured once here on NSB!); and the two Black Is Global owners, Chimole Williams and Amber Patton.

We’ll be documenting our entire journey and sharing on BlackisGlobal.com, but for quick updates be sure to follow the Black Is Global Facebook Page and Twitter (@blackisglobal).

I’m amazingly excited for this trip and I know it’s going to be the experience of a lifetime! I’m really floored by the fact that I’m not just going to a new country, but one that is perhaps the homeland and birthplace of my ancestors. It’s truly a powerful thought. Stay tuned for more FROM THE CONTINENT!!


Adventures in Finding Natural Hair Products in Paris

France is considered by many to be the center of the fashion and beauty world, so it was a particularly difficult pill to swallow on my trip to Monoprix in Toulouse to see the space so far behind in curl care.  Another two bloggers, Fly and Tiga, took me under their wings for a field trip around Paris to show me exactly where it was that they did their hair shopping.  It was an awesome adventure, filled with some shocking surprises, that took us to three very different stops:

  • a natural ingredient boutique
  • “Black Paris” and the beauty supply stores and salons
  • India!

Fly and Tiga

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Parisian Style Hunting with French Blogger Fatou

One of the best parts about the London and Paris events was that it allowed me to connect and make friends with the local naturalistas. The girls were all SUPER nice and a few of them even offered to take me around the city and show me some of their local favorite spots for shopping, hair, and beauty. Fatou of BlackBeautyBag.com offered up a day of vintage shopping and lunch to which is said an immediate OUI! MERCI!

I met her at the Etienne Marcel metro stop in the 1eme arrondissment – a very chic quartier right in the middle of Paris filled with cafes and boutiques. After greeting each other in the with the typical French two-cheek bisous, we wound our way through the streets, Fatou in her stilettos impressive not just for their height, but also because we were walking on century old cobblestones-a skill Parisian women have artfully mastered. We reached our destination, a fabulous store filled with funky chic vintage tops, skirts, dresses, and pants. I scoured the racks taking it all in, while Fatou lost herself in the skirt section pulling out some really awesome multi-colored print options for herself. We both ended up settling on a couple skirts, mine a pleated version reminiscent of the 1980’s track suits with gold chains all over them (can’t believe that print is coming back!)

Afterwards, we checked out another vintage store, this one a little pricier. I set out to find something in the sherbert orange hue that’s popping up all over the place this spring, which Pantone has labeled Tangerine Tango and also happens to be the color of the year. I’m all for it–looks great on chocolate skin!

Finally we found ourselves a tad hungry and settled on a cafe situated on an idyllic street filled with pedestrians and bikers and perched ourselves in a prime outdoor location for sunning and people watching. Over a lunch of pizza and rose wine, we chatted about life as a beauty blogger in Paris. Fatou’s blog, BlackBeautyBag, is one of the first French blogs dedicated to black beauty and has a ton of great content geared to fashion, make up, and of course hair. Her gorgeous thick fro is definitely noteworthy and she rocks it with such elegant grace in a wide variety of styles from twist outs to a blow-out fro-out.

After filling our bellies, we headed back towards the metro to a make up shop called Black Up that I had seen upon arriving. Black Up, is as you can probably guessed, make up geared towards black skin (get it!? get it?!). The chic and shiny interior is filled with brown skinned models (with a noticeable lack of natural hair) and a full range of products from foundations to lip glosses to parfum (which I LOVED). I was immediately whisked into the make up chair and received a full Black Up make over! I loved how they used a turquoise eye pencil to subtly match my I’Me earrings and while I walked out of there wearing more make up than I normally would, it looked effing HAUTE! The foundation was light and didn’t break me out, while the colors were bold enough to stand out on my skin. I’m a fan and hope to see more of this line in the states (but again, with more #naturalhair representation).



If you’re in Paris, stay tuned to Fatou’s blog for info on the event she’s having at Black Up this week.
All in all, a great day of beauty blogging with one of Paris’ best!

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