In August I attended the annual conference of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) in Las Vegas. The NABJ conference is where I go to participate in professional development workshops, party with a purpose, and to be in the company of hundreds of colleagues who look like me.

NABJ has never failed to rejuvenate the part of me that is a journalist. But this year I saw something that stimulated the ‘nap activist’ in me.

I saw so many journalists wearing natural and African-inspired hairstyles. The conference was crawling with nappy-headed newsmakers! It was more than I had ever seen at any conference in the 32-year history of the organization.

There were rank-and-file journalists flaunting locks, braids, twists and free style ‘fros and significant sightings of high-ranking editors and producers who also had the look.

Many of the kinky ‘coarse-respondents’ represented major daily newspapers and magazines. There were nappies who worked for the Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Philadelphia Inquirer and People Magazine. Some of the nappies were the point people at the conference job fair. Even the AARP Magazine, the well-established monthly publication for retired folk, was nappily represented by a features editor who wore a head full of cute and perky twists!

“It’s nice to know that it’s much more acceptable, not just by them but by the people they work for,” said Patrice Gaines, author, life coach and former Washington Post reporter.

Patrice and I remember well the days when wearing such styles could quickly get us labeled as being “militant” or “radical,” when all we really wanted to do was be ourselves.

“The first time I wore locks, people told me that I might not want to wear the style in the newsroom,” Patrice recalls. “They thought people might not want me to interview them. It turned out not to be an issue at all.”
Donna Britt, a columnist for the Washington Post and a longtime lock wearer, celebrated the abundance of natural hair at the NABJ conference.

“I’m loving it and I love the self-acceptance that it suggests,” she said. “The one ‘drawback,’ which isn't one really, is that my locks no longer feel as special or as unique, as they once did. I rather liked my hair making a statement. But suddenly, I'm one of many! Which of course is a beautiful thing . . .”

I thought so, too.

While my observation did not make the headlines at a conference that featured presidential hopefuls, acclaimed authors and celebrity athletes, I still felt that the nappy sightings among NABJ journalists were noteworthy. Having so many members of the press with hair that was ‘unpressed’ may not have been the ‘mane’ story, but it was definitely good news.