Why WOC Need Cultural Festivals Like CurlFest

by Nia Decaille
Mark Clennon

Cultural festivals are the new women's conferences. Attending CurlFest in Brooklyn, NY this past weekend has made this absolutely crystal. Celebrating its fourth annual event, CurlFest creates a space for women to celebrate their hair, get the inside scoop on the latest products for curls, kinks, and coils, and connect with other women. This year was the biggest year to date, with hundreds of black women snapping photos, dancing to live music, and connecting with the large field at Prospect Park as their stomping grounds.

As a regular festival go-er, attending a cultural festival like AfroPunk, Roots Picnic, or CurlFest is just different. And you'll know what I mean if you've ever attended. It's walking into a space and feeling empowered by seeing you're part of something bigger, and that each person has their own interpretation of why you/we/us are beautiful.

Better yet, it's an affirming space with the option of taking your own path to feeling good about yourself; maybe it's making organic connections with someone, maybe it's receiving a simple compliment, or maybe it's finally finding services and businesses acknowledging that you are important to them. All of these things and more interrupt our ideas about where to draw inspiration, how to celebrate ourselves and how to get empowered:

1. It proves you are never alone.

There's something special about meeting another like-minded woman. I felt this at CurlFest. Sometimes being the only one in a room full of unfamiliar faces can make you feel like an anomaly, and not in a good way. There is strength in numbers, and experiencing that is sometimes all you need to keep going.

2. You're making connections without the intimidating networking environment.

If you simply despise networking or see it as a necessary evil, cultural festivals are the perfect way to take some of the pressure off. You can easily fall into conversations that started with a compliment and find yourself connecting with influencers, go-getters, and friendly folks who are into your thing too.

3. You can opt out of tradition.

Usually women's empowerment sessions come with a price tag to an exclusive event or services offered. However, sometimes you don't learn quite as much as you planned at that conference or panel. Festivals grant the freedom to attend that chat with people of interest or strike up conversation elsewhere that are more personal, without the burden of the cost.

4. You are empowered by example.

We all know what a confident women looks like, and there is plenty to take notes on at an event like CurlFest. Not only are you not alone, but operating in a space where that is appreciated is inspiring. Maybe you will try that hairstyle you saw another woman flawlessly pull off, or even ask that woman for the name of her hair braiding lady. The thought process here is like a positive osmosis; "If she can do it, why can't I?"

5. Positive reinforcement shows you what's possible.

You never know who you will meet at an event. So while this can sometimes feel as intimidating as a networking event, remembering that everyone is there to celebrate each other is key. At CurlFest, I saw how people's expressions of identity could affirm and challenge me to think about culture in ways that aren't cookie cutter. When you are used to images of yourself that are limiting, rubbing shoulders with people who think outside the box is just as empowering.

As a woman of color, attending cultural festivals has not only expanded my network, but given me even more reasons why I should be proud of where I come from. If you don't take anything else from your cultural festival of choice, you should note that any time you decide to attend and support an event thrown by people of color for people of color, it is an act of resistance. And celebrating ourselves is resistance as women of color!