The toll it took on me.

If you know me, you know that I love to travel.  Flying to new places away from home and immersing myself in new cultures has been a wonderfully enriching experience, one that has given me perspective, growth and inspired not just creativity, but understanding, patience and flexibility as I engage with people across geographic boundaries.   For the last year, I found myself not home, but ELSEWHERE almost 2 weeks out of every month.  Looking back, that was a lot of time, but  I was blessed with the opportunity to return to Europe for the first time since studying abroad seven years ago, take my first trip to Africa, make extended stays at home in Minneapolis with my family.  I also sprinkled in visits to New Orleans(thrice), Chicago (twice), Los Angeles (thrice), Florida, New York (twice), Las Vegas, DC, the Virgin Islands and Honolulu in there as well.

However, after I returned home from Dakar last December, I was just tired.  Tired of security lines, red eyes, hotel rooms, delays, airport food and schlepping 75-pounds of luggage for two weeks at a time.  And more than tired, I felt unrooted, disconnected and out of balance.  Turns out when I made my home an airplane, my REAL home–the one in San Francisco where I sleep in my big pink bed, host my beloved dinner parties, eat with roommates and shoot the shit with neighbors on my stoop–had become as foreign as the places to which I was jetting.  Coming home to hibernate away from the world only to leave six days later is no way to maintain a home, friendships or personal sense of equilibrium.

I haven’t been on a plane since December 4th, 2012 and that’s the longest span of time I’ve been on the ground in the past two years!  Don’t get me wrong, I know that I am very fortunate to be able to travel so much.  But now that I’ve been home, I’ve realized the the toll it took on the things I truly value that make me a whole person. In a way, it became easier to be away than home; now that I’ve nestled back into my routines, committed to community (hell-O Team In Training!) and re-established focus on my work, I very much appreciate the stability that a non-flying routine affords.  In a word, I just feel mentally and spiritually healthier and it shows: my skin is clear and I’ve lost 20 pounds!  

Aside from a trip to Chicago in early March, I’m going to be keeping my wheels on the ground for the next few months and I’m looking forward to rebalancing, refocusing and recharging.  What it means in terms of NaturalSelectionBlog is that I HAVE A LOT OF EXCITING STUFF ON THE HORIZON!!!!  All of the travel time (read: no WiFi and just a journal) have left me with a lot of ideas that are starting to sprout and come to life!  So trust, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

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Now that said, you can take the girl off the plane, but you can’t take the plane off the girl.  No really, you can’t because I’ve got one tattooed on my arm.
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I definitely still have my eyes set on those distant far off horizons.  But for now, I’m going to zip my desires to experience the rhythms of Brasil, flavors of India and  vibrant metropolises of Morocco safely into my suitcase and pack them away until later.

 

Oui Oui! We’re headed back to Paris!

Ah the City of Lights, there’s nothing like it. Especially now that the natural hair movement has hit it in full force! The Paris Natural Hair Academy is back for it’s second year coming up in March! It was such an awesome and informative event last year when we did it and this next event is taking it to the next level. I heard a rumor that there were only a handful of tickets left, so if you’re reading in France (or anywhere in Europe really), check out the ticket deets on the flyer below and make sure you get your natural (or soon-to-be-natural) self to this event!

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Here’s a few select snaps from last year’s Paris event! Can’t wait for the next one!

Bourdain’ing My Way through Hawai’i

[dropcap style="font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;"] R [/dropcap] ight before Thanksgiving, I slipped over to Honolulu for a few days to visit a friend from college. While many people hit up the islands for the beaches and sunshine, I found myself enjoying a very different attraction: THE FOOD! Being that this friend of mine and I share a strong affinity for all things delicious, our time was spent shuttling from eatery to snack to restaurant to refrigerator to market and back again. I didn’t get much of a suntan, but I surrrrrre got my fill of some the best seafood I’ve ever had my entire life. This US State was filled with the flavors of Korea, Japan and China alongside it’s indigenous food traditions. Hope you’re ready for some food porn ’cause here’s rundown of my Hawaiian Eat-cation!

 

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Nobu : Bluefin Tuna Tartare

IMG_5969 Our first stop for a special birthday dinner on Wakiki’s main drag. I loved this preparation of Tartare: reconstituted and served up in a flat puck shape in a delicious sauce and topped with caviar. We also enjoyed the Butterfish Misoyaki, Onaga Sashimi, Ahi Tataki Salad. Eat your heart out…cause I certainly did. [/tab]
 
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Seoul Garden : Spicy Steamed Butterfish with Daikon

IMG_1996 This was one of the best fish dishes I’ve had in my life. This flavorfully steamed fish was served up with with an army of traditional kimchi flanking its massive dish–enough to share for 2 or 3! The restaurant is 24-hours and we stopped thru at about 10am. Talk about a breakfast of champions! [/tab]
 
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Marukai : DIY Sushi

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When you have access to some of the freshest and highest quality fish, you might as well take a chance at making your own Sashimi! At Marukai, an awesome Japanese grocery, Kawika picked up a couple cuts of fish including FARMED salmon and Hamachi . He sliced it up and served it with white rice, seaweed squares and one of the best things I’ve ever tasted in my LIFE: Spicy Takuwan (Preserved Daikon). Mmm! Mmm! Mmm! [/tab]
 
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Ono Seafood : Ahi Tuna Poke

IMG_1988 How gorgeous is this ruby red morsel of tuna? It was one of the most photogenic subjects I’ve shot. This one-stop-shop was another winner in the fresh fish department! Like sashimi, Poke is raw fish, but in this preparation it’s mixed with seaweed, ginger, soy, roe and other ingredients. We grabbed a couple pints of the Shoyu Poke and the Spicy Ahi Poke with flying fish roe and set out for a picnic, packing chopstics, that delish Spicy Takuwan I was talking about, and rice to complete the meal. [/tab]
 
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Home Bar & Grill : Tater Tot Nachos

IMG_6081 I’d like to interrupt all the seafood with a little insertion of good ol’ bar food. I mean, really there is nothing like it. I’ve never had Tater Tot Nachos before and really it’s just a different way of serving up crispy potatoes with a grip of saucy toppings! What’s not to love? This place also has garlic edamame served up in all it’s buttery goodness and an awesome cocktail list. [/tab]
 
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Giovanni’s Food Truck : Food Carts!

IMG_2008 Hop in your car and head over to the North Shore of O’ahu. After enjoying gorgeous beach and mountain vistas as you wind your way around the island, you’ll hit an oasis of food trucks serving up Hawaiian treats. I’m used to corn being in season in the summer, but Hawaiian corn is at it’s peak in November. We tried our cobs roasted with parmesean and garlic. But the goodness didn’t stop there, I also got a fresh coconut, banana lumpia, and Chocolate Haupia Cream Pie from Ted’s Bakery. [/tab]
 
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Yunchan : Cold Noodle

IMG_6080Okay this dish was amazing. Your server brings over a bowl of what is best described as a Beef Stock Slushie (yes, like the kind you get at a 7-11…but beef! yes, it’s delicious). Then you add noodles and other pickled vegetables and eat it all with chopsticks. It was absolutely divine and such an interesting preparation! [/tab]
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Fort Ruger Market : Traditional Hawaiian Eats!

IMG_6132 I saved traditional Hawaiian food for last and enjoyed this delectable lunch of Pork Laulau, Kalua pig, Lomi Salmon (tomato/onion salad with salmon), Haupia (coconut jello) and Pipikaula. The flavors are rich and the textures are unique! [/tab]
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Honorable Mentions

North Shore Grinds: A local favorite for “Plate Lunch”.  Try the Hamburger Steak, Chicken Long Rice, Lau Lau or the Chicken Katsu

BLT Steak: If you’re over on Waikiki and looking for some good  stick-to-your-bones American cooking, try the Chicken pate appetizer and make sure you try the Guyere Cheese Popovers.  Actually those popovers are unavoidable, but try to eat just one so you don’t fill up!

Rainbow Drive-in: Another great stop for Plate Lunch. Here we tried Boneless Fried Chicken Cutlet with Brown Gravy and Shoyu Chicken.

Sunrise Restaurant: For authentic Okinawan food, try this intimate family-owned restaurant. We tried the Oxtail Soup, Salmon and Mushroom Dynamite, Pork Kakuni (fatty pork cubes in teriyaki) and Hamachi Kama (yellowtail gill plate). Bonus: the owner comes out and plays his instrument. Extra bonus: your friend might dance for everybody. Extra extra bonus: this place is BYOB and even if you don’t bring your own drinkables, they usually have some extra in the back if you want to enjoy!

Kawika’s Dad’s House: So you might not get the invite to this one, but Kawika’s dad served us up an amazing meal on their Sunday Night Family Dinner. We dined on Marinated Korean Short ribs, Spicy cold leaf tripe appetizer, cold mushrooms with sesame oil and peppers, cold Miso Gobo (burdock root), Taegu (dried kimchi codfish), zuchinni jun (fritters), spicy tuna poke, spicy tako poke (octopus). My favorite was the Raw Kimchi white crab, which were just little raw crabs that you popped in your mouth (shell and all!) to suck the meat out. A little intimidating, but worth the effort!

[dropcap style="font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;"] A [/dropcap]side from the food, the rumors are true: Hawaii stunningly beautiful! I want to send a huge THANK YOU to Kawika for being a supremely excellent host and for sharing his home city with me in such an amazing way. Make sure you try out these eats as they’re not only local recommended, but also Cassidy approved!

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[dropcap style="font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;"] Y[/dropcap]es, beyond the food Hawaii is a stunningly beautiful place. Here’s a few more pictures of the trip to share with you!
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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

2. THINGS FIT!

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.

Well NO SUCH THING WAS HAPPENING IN DAKAR MY DEARIES!

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!

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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???

Um…today.

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!!

Xoxoxo

Brunch with EDEN Los Angeles: Wrap Up Post + Gallery

Yesterday I had the absolute pleasure of being a featured panelist at the final Brunch with EDEN series. Hosted in Los Angeles, the event brought out a couple hundred fabulous West Coast naturalistas from Southern California to enjoy delectable brunch and hear a panel of natural hair experts including myself, Afrobella, Felicia Leatherwood and Dr. Kari Williams. It was one of the most informative—not to mention fun to be on—panels I’ve ever been on! We talked about everything from our first memories of being linked to our hair (mine was a story about when a stylist refused to let me sit in my hair when I was 8 years old because I had “too much hair”, which has since become family lore). We laughed, shared information and personal stories all linked to our hair and hair journeys. Sitting on stage alongside all of these powerful women I was inspired by the fact that all our unique and individual journeys had brought us all to this stage to share a common cause. We were also joined by the OWN Network’s Paul C. Brunson who shared his perspective on the natural hair movement— always cool to get the guy’s perspective on things! (Basically, ladies– go for a guy that wants the YOU not just the HAIR)

Special thanks and hats off to EDEN Bodyworks for putting together and facilitating such an amazing and inspirational event. It was such a treat to meet EDEN founder Jasmine Lawrence, who founded the company when she was just 13 years old and now (only 10 years later) she is also pursuing an engineering degree (!!!!!!!!!!)— #colormeimpressed.

The ladies of Los Angeles were wonderful guests and I loved connecting with them as well as seeing some familiar faces in the crowd.
Check out my full gallery of snaps here (and huge thanks to my Blog Assistant Hessie for making a lot of these shots and social media happen during the event! You rocked it! And her rod set was on point ;D)

Faces of the Virgin Islands – (gallery post)

While down on St. Thomas and St. Croix, I had the pleasure of meeting lots of locals who were gracious enough to let me snap their pictures.  From the volunteer who helped out at the St. Thomas event to men selling coconuts on the side of the road to a little naturalista enjoying the event with her mom to a school teacher, the images and stories I collected have the true spirit of the Caribbean and I put some of my favorite pictures in a gallery to share with you all.

 

Some of these people I was able to interview and will be sharing their videos here and on my YouTube page soon!

BE THERE: Los Angeles #naturalhair Brunch! 11.11.12

The West Coast is the Best Coast, but when it comes to natural hair, it’s often times the case that there’s more action almost everywhere else!  So when the idea for this next event came around, I jumped at the opportunity to make it happen!

On November 11th, EDEN Bodyworks will be hosting its final Brunch With Eden in Los Angeles from 12-3pm at the Westin Bonaventure.  I’ll be joined by some of my favorite naturalistas including Felicia Leatherwood, Dr. Kari Williams and Afrobella!  Brunch With Eden LA will feature a panel discussion about all things natural hair, delicious brunch and delectable cocktails.  The event is $FREE.99— but you have to RSVP here for entry.  I can’t wait to soak up the stylish and sophisticated SoCal naturalista goodness! See you there!

 

Natural From Within: getting right after a 30 pound gain

As y’all know, I live out of a suitcase almost as much as my bedroom.  Last year, when I started traveling a lot, I didn’t pay much attention to taking care of my body when I was away from home.  I became so wrapped up in the parties and dinners and happy hours and events that the thought of going to the gym didn’t even cross my mind.  I saw travel as a time to time to take a vacation from my personal habits and routines, prioritizing fries and martinis over treadmills and sit ups.

I was living it up on the road and enjoying every last calorie of it!!

That is, until the January 1st 2012 rolled around and I realized that I had gained 30 pounds.  Yes, that’s right THIRTY pounds.  It’s a bad sign when even your stretchy pants are feeling a bit snug and mine were giving me a nice little muffin top.  Things have to change, I thought to myself.

See that sweater barely making it over my belly?  Mmhm. 

At home, I started running (lemme tell you: I AM NOT A RUNNER!) and taking cardio pilates at this amazing studio called BURN.  Eventually a few pounds started slipping off, but when my trip to France for two weeks rolled around, I dived into that stinky cheese and foie gras with reckless abandon and gained it all back.

Over the summer, I came to realize that I wasn’t getting anywhere on my healthy journey because for about two weeks out of every month, I was letting that all go as I jetted around, soaking up beers, brunches and burgers without batting a lash.

The past couple months have been a literal exercise in practicing good habits as on the road.  A lot of it I’ve learned myself, but I’ve also sought out the advice of knowledgeable individuals (ranging from nutritionists to flight attendants to dear ones and friends) to help me not just get right’n'tight, but KEEP it that way. I’ll be sharing a lot of these gems  with you, because they’re not just helpful for travel on the road, but easy ways to impart a bit of healthy living in our day to day lives.  You can look forward to fitness regimens/routines, recipes, inspirations and more all geared towards making sure our bodies are as healthy and naturally thriving as the natural hair we’re always talking about.  This concept I’ve brought up before and I like to call: NATURAL FROM WITHIN.

My goal isn’t about getting skinny or fitting into a size 2, I’ve realized that my body type isn’t meant to do either of those things, but just because I’ve been blessed with curves doesn’t mean I have an excuse to not keep them in shape. For me, it’s about feeling confident, healthy, and happy and I have found that keeping a balanced lifestyle is an essential part of achieving that!  When I take good care of my WHOLE self, not just Lola, my skin is brighter, my mind is sharper and my smile is bigger; I am from curl to toe a better Cassidy.

I’ve honestly been meaning to share a lot of these thoughts and themes with you all for quite some time, but have been a bit shy in talking about my body, weight and wellness.  Recently I’ve been encouraged by many people, including other bloggers to share my stories and ideas and I’m really looking forward to sharing and experience this Natural From Within lifestyle journey with you!

US Virgin Islands — St. Croix I AM BEAUTIFUL: event wrap + gallery

On the heels of the St. Thomas event, we all got up early in the morning and boarded a seaplane to hop over to St. Croix, which is another island just 20 minutes away.  We were welcomed by a delicious home-cooked island meal (and yes, I’ll be doing a post just of the island sights, flights and flavors!) before heading to the hotel to get ready.

If you follow me on Instagram (@cassiroll), then you know I was particularly excited about the dress I picked out for this event.  I cannot recall a time when I have ever worn just BLACK for a natural hair event, usually opting for something bright, colorful and loud.  But when I saw this dress in New Orleans, I had to have it.  The sheer lace was just too haute to pass up!  I paired it with my funky wooden earrings, winged liner and bold red lip to create the picture perfect ensemble.

Anywho, enough about me, I wanna talk about the Cruzan naturalistas!  They came out in full force to enjoy the presentations and shop around the vendors at the event.  I truly enjoyed getting to speak with them, especially one teenage attendee with a long relaxer named Kari.

 

The conversation went something like this:

Kari: “I don’t want this anymore!” [pointing to her long ponytail]

Cassidy: “Soooooo….you want to transition?”

Kari: “No, I just want to cut it all off. And I want to know how”

Cassidy: “Um.  Like you want just chop it????”

Kari: “YEP!”

Cassidy: “Heck yes.  Go to a barber and do it!”

I absolutely LOVED that this young girl had zero attachment to her long hair (which was about bra strap length) and was just ready to cut it short and go for the natural!  If only I had been so courageous…

All in all, the St. Thomas and St. Croix I AM BEAUTIFUL events did a wonderful job of exposing Caribbean women (and their families!) to natural hair education and empowerment.  A virtual round of applause for the organizer and the Miss Naturalista Team (y’all know who you are buuuuut: DENISE, EMMET, BEN, ZAHRA, KIM, and WAYNE to name a few) for making this all happen.

As always, I took lot’n'lots of pix so here’s some of my favorites from the St. Croix event!

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