On a hot, humid Saturday in New York, attendees did their best to keep cool at Curlfest, an outdoor event on Randall’s Island celebrating black hair. Local vendors in a grassy field awaited a sea of festival-goers showing off the most elaborate and personal box braids, cornrows, updos, and twists. From his stop on the stage, the DJ played Jill Scott’s 2004 hit “golden.“
After a three-year hiatus, Curlfest is back, with dozens of small black-owned businesses, plus performers and guest speakers championing the beauty of natural hair.
“We wanted to come back just as vigorous if not more vigorous than we were in the past,” said Melody Henderson, creative director of the event, adding, “Bounce Back is the theme because it really speaks to the resilience of us as a people.”
Ms. Henderson co-founded Curlfest with Gia Lowe, Simone Mair, Tracey Coleman and Charisse Higgins. Together they make up the five women Collective curly girl, a friend group that started as an email thread in 2010, started with conversations that provided guidance and support on caring for natural black hair. The group’s first festival took place in 2014, at Prospect Park in Brooklyn. The event has grown over the years, including a trip to Atlanta in 2019.
Braids and braids were adorned with accessories—barrettes, gold wire, rings, and beads—all displaying a variety of looks that were ready to serve on a hot summer day. But beyond the vanities, the many styles point to a shared space where everyone can see and be seen. At Curlfest, all hair is welcome.