by Mellissa Thomas
Upon her return to civilian life, entrepreneur, life coach, natural hair advocate, author, and U.S. Navy veteran Yataye (“Yah-Tay”) Keaton wasted no time becoming a force to be reckoned with for the natural hair movement. A natural herself since 1999, Keaton wore her hair chemical-free for her last two years of service, and is currently working on behalf of the over-twenty percent of the Army’s African-American and ethnic service members in light of its March 2014 Uniform Regulations update, AR 670-1. The naturals who honorably wear the uniform say the update is insensitive to them.
The Update’s Narrowing Natural Scope
The update lists the semi-usual fare: Women’s short hairstyles can be only an inch thick from the scalp; medium-length styles two inches thick; and long styles three inches thick. However, for naturals, things go awry. Cornrows are allowed, but can only be a quarter-inch in diameter and show no more than an eighth-inch of scalp between the braids, leaving no margin for new growth at the roots. The regulation calls new growth “unkempt” or “matted,” which is considered dreadlocks, and therefore unauthorized. Twists are also unauthorized, regardless of style.
That’s a Big Deal Because…
Women who wear their hair naturally face hair maintenance challenges once they deploy. The chemicals required to straighten hair are more difficult to acquire in other countries, especially combat zones like Afghanistan or the Middle East. “It’s about increasing the morale,” Keaton said of the ordeal in an April interview. “Those affected see financial, psychological, and emotional effects. It’s almost like attacking a person for who they are and their humanness.”
Furthermore, the regulation only adds to the hovering speculative cloud intimating the Army’s attempts to shrink its ranks. The New York Times recently reported that Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman, learned it firsthand by speaking with them herself. She found that soldiers, independent of race, felt they were being marginalized and slowly pushed out of the military.
According to NYT, Congresswoman Fudge and the fifteen other women members of the CBC wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on April 10, 2014, which was initially diplomatically blown off. However, former Sergeant Jasmine Jacobs, a natural hair soldier who was prematurely discharged from the Army the day after the CBC’s letter was issued, initiated a petition to rescind the update that has now garnered approximately 16,000 signatures.
However, Keaton, who recently received the Governors’ Veteran Service Award, isn’t only trying to make noise, but instead make change through education, allowing specialized stylists to offer seminars, workshops, and discussions for the branches’ decision-makers as well as natural-haired soldiers. “Ignorance isolates, and often discriminates,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to educate and dig into more cultural competency, being more culturally sensitive,” she said. “It’s about finding a solution for both parties, and it can be done – it’s just going to take work.”
The natural hair advocate and Jacksonville resident plans to facilitate training opportunities for active-duty soldiers in the Army responsible for grooming their fellow soldiers’ hair, so that while deployed, the natural women can maintain compliant styles. She also plans to facilitate training opportunities for civilian stylists on grooming regulations to inform them and help them assist natural soldiers while in port or on leave.
Keaton conducts natural hair care meet-ups, inviting Jacksonville military service members to come and learn more. She stays in the natural hair know by attending local hair conferences and workshops, as well as training sessions at the annual World Natural Hair Show in Atlanta. She keeps herself and the natural hair movement in the media, doing radio and media interviews for magazines and newspapers, and has already been featured in the Florida Courier. She is also a member of an Atlanta natural hair club, and started a Florida natural hair club of her own, Real Rootz Naturals, which ties into her clothing line.
Real Rootz Apparel
Keaton promotes the holistic life, and through her life coaching inspires young girls to completely embrace themselves, hair and all. “It’s about educating our young girls that natural hair is okay, our hair is very versatile – we can plait, twist, color, or shave it, and it’s manageable, it’s simply a matter of learning how to care for it.”
Her Real Rootz Apparel clothing line echoes her drive for self-love and natural hair pride with sassy slogans like, “Black Hair Is Good Hair” (above). In response to the uproar over Army’s AR 670-1, Keaton designed a shirt with the phrase “Go Natural” in block camouflage letters to support the challenge to revisit the regulation.
She revealed the “Real Rootz” name was birthed in 2004, but became an official clothing line in December 2010. She’d written a testimony of the hair care she received while growing up, and envisioned a collection while working on the testimony. Whenever a catch phrase or shirt idea came to her, she wrote it down. Keaton strongly believes in giving back (and she has through home improvement and coaching), so her Real Rootz Apparel proceeds go to supporting the community. Her expansion plans include backpacks or canvas bags, and jewelry; she’s also open to what her clients want.
“As hair grows, you’re getting to know who you are,” she emphasized. “My transition was tough, but it made me look within. It made me ask myself, ‘Am I my hair?’ ”
She uses a powerful classic adage in a recent blog post to demonstrate her passion for community involvement in educating more people about the natural hair movement: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.”
Passion Makes Progress
Within a week of the media’s initial coverage of the AR 670-1 update, progress is already underway. In addition to Keaton’s, the CBC’s, and former Sergeant Jacob’s efforts (and of course many others), an online White House petition had garnered 17,000 signatures by April 18th, and the Washington Post reported that Secretary Hagel declared that all the military branches look into their uniform regulations regarding natural-haired service members.
On April 29th, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral Adam Kirby relayed that the Army’s updated regulation will be revised to remove any offensive language within thirty days thereafter. He added that “each service will review their hairstyle policies as they pertain to African American women to ensure standards are fair and respectful of our diverse force while also meeting our military services’ requirements” within the next three months.
The first branch to respond after Rear Admiral Kirby’s press announcement is the Coast Guard, which released its directive update COMDTINST M1020.6H. While it has indeed reviewed its rules and now permits micro-braids, locks, weaves, and extensions, there is slight contention with its reference to new growth at the hair roots as ragged: “Women’s hair must be clean, well groomed, neat, and not present a ragged or unkempt appearance.” While to some this may seem petty, it only further bolsters Keaton’s point about educating the decision makers to be more culturally aware.
The saga continues, and will until more people come to understand what Keaton already knows to be true: natural hair isn’t just a style, but a lifestyle. She blogs about it at www.talkwithyahtay.com, and Tweets about it @talkwithyahtay.
Which side are you on in this debate? What are your thoughts on natural hair? Let us know in a comment below.
About the Author:
Orlando Fashion Magazine Chief Editor Mellissa Thomas is a Jamaica-born writer. She’s a decorated U.S. Navy veteran with Entertainment Business Masters and Film Bachelors degrees from Full Sail University in Winter Park, FL.
She’s currently available for hire, writing content for websites, blogs, and marketing material. She also writes poetry, screenplays, and ghostwrites books.
She has published four books, all available on Amazon.com. Her most recent release, “Faded Diamonds”, is now available in paperback on all major online book retailers and digitally available on the Kindle, Nook, and iBooks.
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Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness Coming March 2023
WINTER PARK, Fla. (Florida National News) – Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness, inspired by the children’s TV host and icon, comes to Orlando in March 2023. This week-long series of events was announced today at the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation in Winter Park.
“Fred McFeely Rogers devoted his entire life to reminding us of some of the most important ideas of what it means to be human among humans: love, respect and kindness,” explained Buena Vista Events & Management President & CEO Rich Bradley. “Many of us find that nearly 20 years after Fred’s passing, it is important to focus on his teachings once again, perhaps now more than ever. This is a week to re-engage with his massive body of work with some folks, and to introduce his teachings to others.”
Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness begins March 20, 2023, the date which would have been Fred’s 95th birthday, and concludes on Saturday, March 26 with the Red Sweater Soiree, a community dinner to recognize ten ordinary members of the community who inspire and exemplify the affinity that Fred Rogers had for showing kindness to our “Neighbors”.
Activities planned for the week will include early childhood education activities and faculty training, as well as events open to the public.
“The events will be offered free or at low cost,” continued Bradley. “This week-long celebration is not a series of fundraisers, but rather about once again remembering and sharing some of the great work that Fred Rogers created, not only in early childhood education, but in reminding us that we are all part of one big ‘neighborhood’. Fred taught us the importance of accepting our Neighbors just the way they are and engaging in kindness with our interactions. I can’t think of another period in my lifetime where we needed to reflect on those messages again more than today.”
“There are three ways to ultimate success,” Fred Rogers was once quoted as saying. “The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind. Imagine what our neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.”
Many of the activities of Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness will be attended by members of the cast and crew of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, which ran from 1968 – 1975, and again from 1979 – 2001. David Newell, known as “Mr. McFeely,” the “Speedy Delivery” man, appeared at today’s media conference via video, and looks forward to visiting Central Florida next March.
Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness is supported by the McFeely-Rogers Foundation, the Fred Rogers Institute, and Fred Rogers Productions. Details regarding the specific activities and venues will be released over the next few weeks.
For more information on the events, visit https://www.BuenaVistaEvents.com or https://www.MisterRogersWeekofKindness.com.
A Quick Primer on the Team Solving Orange County’s Affordable Housing Crisis
ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN NEWS) – Orange County faces a growing affordable housing crisis, and Mayor Jerry Demings has taken notice–and action. Shortly after his inauguration, he formed Housing For All, an affordable housing task force to face the challenge head-on.
The Housing For All task force doesn’t meet monthly like the County Commission–in fact, their next meeting won’t be until October 4, 2019–but they do work when they’re not meeting. The task force is made up of three subcommittees, Design and Infrastructure Subcommittee, Accessibility and Opportunity Subcommittee and Innovation and Sustainability Subcommittee. These three subcommittees meet twice a month to come up with ideas and plans to fix the affordable housing problem.
Each subcommittee has a specific focus on ways to help solve the problem of affordable housing. The Design and Infrastructure Subcommittee is focused on the design of new affordable housing projects, the renovation of current affordable housing that might need fixing and land development for affordable housing units. The Accessibility and Opportunity Subcommittee is focused on making sure affordable housing is accessible to the major economic zones of the city, develop partnerships with groups and focus on outreach in the county. The Innovation and Sustainability Subcommittee is focused on finding ways to increase the supply of affordable housing and how to preserve affordable housing.
At their next meeting in October these subcommittees will update the county on what they have accomplished and what they plan to do in the future. For information from previous Housing for All Task Force meetings or the meeting schedule, visit the Orange County Government website.
Leyton Blackwell is a photojournalist and Florida National News contributor. | email@example.com
Opening Biopic ‘Te Ata’ Sets High Bar for 2016 Orlando Film Festival
ORLANDO (FNN NEWS) – Orlando Film Festival kicked off at Cobb Theaters in Downtown Orlando Wednesday night. The red carpet came alive with excited filmmakers and actors ready to showcase their projects to the Orlando community and, in some cases, to the world at large, including Nathan Frankowski, director of this year’s opening feature Te Ata.
About Te Ata
Frankowski’s biopic feature chronicles the true story of Chickasaw actress and storyteller Mary Frances Thompson, whose love of stories and the Chickasaw Nation fueled her to share the Chickasaw culture with new audiences in the early 1900s, a time when the United States was still growing as a nation and clashed with Native American peoples in the process.
Viewers are immediately swept into the saga from the film’s opening scene with a voice-over folk tale told by Mary Thompson’s father, T.B. Thompson (played by Gil Birmingham). Ironically, though his storytelling places the seed of inspiration in her, it slowly becomes a source of friction between them as she ages.
What makes the film engrossing is the sprawling backdrop upon which Thompson’s journey takes place. While young Te Ata (which means “The Morning”) flourishes with each solo performance and eventually sets her sights on Broadway, the Chickasaw Nation is fighting to secure the funding due them from the U.S. government in the face of ethnocentrism and religious bigotry–to the point that the government passed a law forbidding the sale of traditional Native American textiles and creations, which caused further financial struggle for the Chickasaw Nation. Viewers even experience the Thompsons’ fish-out-of-water feeling as the Chickasaw people’s territory, Tishomingo, shrinks significantly to become part of the newborn state of Oklahoma.
The political tensions are counterbalanced with Te Ata’s experience. Te Ata does her first performances among family, but chooses to leave home for the first time in her life to attend the Oklahoma College for Women (known today as University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma), despite her father’s wishes for her to find a job at home. Viewers immediately empathize with Te Ata’s awkward experience upon her arrival at the predominantly Caucasian-attended College, but cheer her on when that one connection is made, because all it ever takes is one.
Te Ata’s jumping off point occurs when she meets drama teacher Frances Dinsmore Davis, who encourages her to join her class and to share the Chickasaw stories for her senior presentation instead of the usual Shakespeare recitation. From there, Te Ata’s career blossoms from one serendipitous connection to another, taking her performances across the country. She eventually makes it to New York City, hustling to find her place on Broadway, and finds love in the process while performing privately for Eleanor Roosevelt, whose husband was then Governor of New York. The heroine’s journey continues with well-placed highs and lows, keeping the viewer visually and emotionally engaged.
Te Ata is touchingly channeled through lead actress Q’orianka Kilcher who, like Te Ata, has stage experience, and brought it to bear in the role. Kilcher’s magnetic singing, with the help of the film’s sweeping score and indigenous songs, imprints the true Te Ata’s passion for her people onto the viewer’s heart.
Frankowski, who worked closely with the Chickasaw Nation in creating the film, honors Te Ata’s memory and legacy in a cohesive, sweeping tale that will edify audiences everywhere.
Florida National News Editor Mellissa Thomas is an author and journalist, as well as a decorated U.S. Navy veteran with degrees in Entertainment Business and Film. She also helps business owners, CEOs, executives, and speakers double their income and clinch the credibility they deserve by walking them step by step through the process of developing, completing, marketing, and publishing their first book.
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