In observation of Black History Month, Loyalist Collegiate and Vocational Institute (LCVI) has taken the initiative to host Limestone District School Board’s (LDSB) first-ever day-long workshop for Black-identifying students. The event, happening on Thurs. Feb. 24, 2022, will be filled with “engaging in-person workshops, speakers, demonstrations, and resources specifically designed for Black-identifying students in grades 7-12 to explore race, culture, and belonging through learning and discussing everyday skin and textured hair care with industry experts and other adult panelists from the community,” according to the local high school.
The idea for the workshop was championed by Urban Student Trustee Tanesha Duncan-Zulu, student Sekai Chikodzi, Academy of Hair teacher, Brooke DeLong, and creative arts teacher, Lauren McEwen. In a phone interview, LCVI Vice-Principal Suchetan James said, “[DeLong, McEwen, and the students] were talking about wanting to integrate some more of these conversations within [their] programs. And so, this is how we got onto the idea of maybe having these conversations for Black students, creating a space for students to talk about race, culture, and belonging, how they feel at school and [in] Kingston — by using something very unique to them, which is their hair and skin.”
Creating space for conversation and connection
According to the 2016 Census, 11,596 Kingston residents identify as a visible minority, with 1,775 of those people identifying as Black. Furthermore, according to the LDSB 2020 student census, roughly four per cent of Limestone students identify as Black, compared to 86 per cent who identify as white. “Within our board, even just within our own school, we have maybe more Black students than anywhere else in [the region],” said James. “Even within these spaces, [Black-identifying students] don’t necessarily connect with each other and talk about these things, even though they have these questions rolling in their brain about how they experience school… and challenges that are unique to Black students.”
“Hair can be very much a sore subject,” said DeLong. “People seem to always want to have textured hair or people are always wanting to touch it. Obviously, it’s not okay to just touch anyone’s hair [without consent].” DeLong said she hopes the conversation of the workshops will center around “not only… the respect piece, but to help members of the student population feel included, and have those conversations about ‘what does their hair mean to them?’”
Living in Kingston poses a unique problem for those with textured hair, explained DeLong. “In this city, there are two licensed hairstylists that are trained in being able to offer textured hair services. There are only two places you can buy products in our city, and that market is completely untouched. It’s saturated in Toronto and Ottawa, and some people are having to go get hotel rooms or days off work once a month to get their hair done because it just isn’t offered here. And we’re trying to change that.”
The event, which is open to all grade 7 to 12 Black-identifying students within the LDSB, will feature two 90-minute-long workshops. The first is on hair care, which will include a guest appearance by licensed hair stylist Rosanna Guanzon. The second session will focus on skin care and features a presentation by makeup artist MK (@mk.antoinette on Instagram), as well as a gift of skin care products for students from Chèr Mère owner Aba Mortley. All participants will enjoy a lunch catered by Sally’s Roti Shop, and the Queen’s University Black Graduate Caucus is also involved with the event in various ways behind the scenes.
‘Celebrating all things beauty’
Both James and DeLong expressed hope that this day will be one where students can feel comfortable and celebrated in their own skin, in their school, and beyond. It is not only about hair and skin care, but about nourishing students’ full identity as Black individuals and building a stronger sense of community by bridging gaps between students and between schools.
“The whole goal is for post-secondary mentors and role models, community members, businesses, and educators… to create a space for Black students and Black bodies to be centered [and] celebrated… to discuss issues unique to people across the Black community, and to learn lifelong skills and tips with respect to healthy skin and healthy hair care,” said DeLong.
The presentations will not be a ‘do this and don’t do that’ approach, but rather will offer a platform of open discussions for students to air their concerns, or to share tips and tricks. DeLong explained that hair stylist Guanzon’s approach will be asking students what struggles they have with their hair and what questions they have about styling, maintenance, etc. “We’re not doing it really in the terms of ‘this is the style you should do,’ but just having that open conversation,” she said, noting she is also excited about MK’s skin care presentation, which will discuss what it means to be in your skin and how to find the appropriate shade for your skin tone. “In terms of makeup, how do we go about enhancing our beauty that we already currently have — that sort of thing,” DeLong said.
‘I see myself here; I’m included’
DeLong said that if students walk away from the event saying “I see myself here” or “I’m able to feel included,” or that they were able to answer or ask questions they may not have felt comfortable discussing before, the day will have been a success. “I think [this event is] a really great way to start a discussion, and that discussion is one that we’ll continue having… I think it’s important, because there’s all kinds of great stuff going on in this building, [and] we want it to be inclusive.”