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.