Happily Natural Day was founded in 2003 by Duron Chavis at the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia. While employed as museum coordinator, Chavis proposed the idea of doing a community event in the back parking lot of the museum. Because of lack of funding, (which is unfortunately the case for many black institutions whose specific focus is black history or African culture) the museum was unable to financially support its annual jazz concert.
The idea for Happily Natural Day was simple. The festival would focus on natural hair, holistic health, and black awareness. It would feature lectures and workshops on those themes, have a vendor marketplace and performances from spoken word & hip hop artists. The mission would be to raise consciousness in the African American community, while breaking down inferiority complexes by promoting natural hair.
The first Happily Natural Day was promoted via flyers and posters throughout the Richmond and surrounding areas. Natural hair salons were contacted via phone, email, and snail mail to get the word out about the event. The event would be well attended because natural haircare was popular and having Iocs or natural hair was becoming very fashionable. The issues surrounding why “nappy” hair was taboo would be addressed at the festival, making it even more important for people to attend. If not out of sheer curiosity, then patrons came out of the desire to know more about natural haircare and holistic health.
The first year (2003) the festival featured Dr. Llaila Afrika, author of Afrikan Holistic Health, Queen Quet, spokesperson for the Gullah Geechie Nation, Ifa Robinson owner of Indigo Hair Salon, Pam Muhammad of Ancient Techniques Natural Haircare Center, and Samuel Taylor, author of Why do African Americans Call Themselves the N-Word. The lectures and natural hair workshops were held with standing room capacity only in the multi-purpose room of the museum, while in the back parking lot of the museum artists such as Jhunnipuz Elite Poetry Organization, 13 of Nazereth, Jamillah Bullock and violinist Ma’at Free shared their culturally relevant forms of self- expression in a vendor marketplace featuring artisans, craftsmen, progressive organizations and more. It was truly a beautiful event, reaching over 250 people in its first year alone.
Many powerful relationships were formed in 2003. One of the very first people to reach out in support of Happily Natural Day was Angela Patton, founder of Camp Diva a female rites of passage program focusing on teenagers from urban communities. Her insight and guidance in that initial year was instrumental in linking with key people in the city who would support the event and nurture its growth. Another strong supporter of Happily Natural Day in its first year was the Prosser Truth Division #456 of the UNIA-ACL (founded by Marcus Garvey). Chavis would later become a member of this organization and continues as a member to this day.
By 2004, Chavis had left the museum, primarily due to the birth of his first son and the need of a better paying job. The success of the event had left a definitive impact on the community of Richmond, and people constantly inquired about the possibility of the event being done again. Having joined the UNIA-ACL, it was decided to promote solidarity in the black community through the festival itself. Nubian Village Academy was contacted as a venue with the idea of having vendors out on the block in front of the school, with performances outside and again having lectures and workshops indoors. Neely Fuller Jr, author of the United Compensatory Code for Victims of White Supremacy spoke, as did Senghor Baye, District 3 Commissioner of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, spoken word performances were given by artists such as Queen Sheba, Hern, Melame Ganges and Olu Butterfly. During 2004 a very powerful relationship was solidified with Kindu and Sayeed Shabazz of Du For Self Records who contributed time, and resources to making sure the edutainment ran smoothly and secure.
In 2004, it was also realized that a powerful concept had been stumbled upon thru Happily Natural Day. As Nubian Village filled to capacity indoors as a result of the rain outside, people from all over Virginia, DC and North Carolina it was realized that by fusing hip hop & spoken word, with culturally relevant lectures and workshops, one could educate people and have a good time all under the banner of raising consciousness and still have a successful and well attended event. Over 400 people were able to experience the positive vibrations of the festival, with African drumming and organic fresh produce one room, natural hair being done in another room, holistic meals being prepared in the kitchen, vendors selling products in another and through the halls, lectures and performances and even a film screening from Ras Jahaziel producer of Lamentations of Mother Earth provided cultural enrichment for children, young adults, teenagers and elders throughout the day. In addition to just that Saturday, on Sunday an additional day of lectures was offered featuring esoteric scholar and metaphysical researcher Bobby Hemmit.
Happily Natural Day has grown every year. One of its major obstacles has been one of space. Both 2003 & 2004 had resulted in crowds well exceeding the space available. Realizing this, and also keeping in mind the importance of supporting businesses and institutions in the African American community, Happily Natural Day launched its 3rd Annual celebration at Muhammad’s Mosque #24. Vendors were placed upstairs and downstairs and what emerged were two floors of edutainment and networking.
In the basement of Muhammad’s Mosque, musical performances from community Iman Shabazz, live vocalism from Afi (pronounced Ah-FEE), and many more raised the energy level to a high threshold. One could not compare the sight of a huge Red, Black & Green flag being waved on stage by United Black Colonies as they performed cuts from their album Rebel Music. On the first floor, lectures from the late Del Jones; the War Correspondent, Baba Kwabena Fremprong, Malaika Tamu Cooper, owner of Dreadz & Headz and founder of the Baltimore Natural Hair Care Expo and film screening of Yvette Smalls “Hair Stories: featuring Erykah Badu, soon gave way to a high energy African drum & dance circle by Farafina Kan and Ezibu Muntu. Vendors from as far away as Connecticut attended in support of the program.
The Friday night prior to the festival, a libation ceremony had been done at Nubian Village Academy, and on Saturday that energy of African filled the Mosque. One would only have to close their eyes to feel as if they had traveled back in time to a West African Village prior to slavery as the djembe drums spoke, and the songs were sung in celebration of Afrika. As a result of great promotion and a front page article in the Richmond Times Dispatch, the event was packed to capacity on both floors. The article received alot of controversy as a result of what many deemed insensitive language used by the writer in describing the issues surround African Americans and the subject of natural hair. The article however did raise the awareness of the event throughout Virginia and it was reflected in the attendance of the programs held that weekend.
That Saturday night, the festival energy was capped off by an intimate celebration at Tropical Soul restaurant, which was also packed to capacity. On Sunday the consciousness raising continued a standing room only lecture series at the Black History Museum & Cultural Center featuring lectures from Garveyite school psychologist Umar Abdullah Johnson from Philadelphia, PA, Rev. Phil Valentine, sister Qaarandin spoke heartily on the importance of holistic health from an African perspective. This was the official birth of Black Freedom Weekend; three days of programming dedicated to raising consciousness in the African community.
In 2006, Happily Natural Day received its first major sponsors in the forms of Camp Diva, Ancient Techniques, and Organic Root Simulator. Returning to Muhammad’s Mosque the festival was set to draw an astounding amount of people by featuring dead prez as a part of the Black Freedom Weekend Celebration. The Fourth Annual Happily Natural Day was special for a number of reasons, first because this was the first time a major act would be affiliated with the program. Second, because this would be the first time we would actually have the opportunity to work with Camp Diva officially, as the idea for a hair show/fashion show was actually developed during the first Happily Natural Day, however was not implemented until 2006.
Guest speakers at the 4th Annual Happily Natural included Dalani Aamon of Harambee Radio, M’bwebe Ashanji of Da Ghetto Tymz, Takeyah Young, Ayo Handy Kendi founder of Black Love Day and the African American Holiday Association. Special musical guests included Sol Griots of Florida, Bomani Armah of Washington DC, Solvivas of Baltimore MD, United Front of Brooklyn NY, Shadow Kat – the award winning spoken word poet of NJ, internationally known hip hop group and RBG Family/Peoples Army affiliates the A-Alikes and Umi of Prisoners of War joined the celebration with ease and tenacity.
Most notable was the theatrical presentation of the young women of Camp Diva who concisely surmised the issues around which Happily Natural was bom through drama, while exploring the myriad ways in which the media attacks the psyche of young African American women and their will and determination to cultivate high selves esteem in themselves despite the negative images promoted in Western media around African womanhood.The
Happily Natural Hair Show and dead prez concert was a very successful event. Sponsored in part by Camp Diva, Ancient Techniques and co promoted by local indy magazine RVA; the concert was presented to a sold out crowd with lines encircling the Hyperlink Cafe in Richmond’s Grace Street corridor. The venue tingled with excitement as the natural hair show educated patrons on the importance of African people loving themselves, and not compromising their definition of beauty to conform to an imposed aesthetic.
Hosted by Taj Anwar, founder of Mothers of Black and Brown Babies a support and resource organization founded to assist mothers of indigenous descent based in Atlanta GA, the event kicked off with performances by Mike Flo, representative of Black Sox Entertainment and affiliate of RBG Family/Dead Prez. Chicago based spoken word/hip hop group Spq-her graced the stage after driving from Chicago to Richmond to participate in the event. By the time dead prez took the stage, the venue had already been thoroughly saturated with the identity affirming messages of Black Anger Movement, Jarad Anthony, RBG family and more.
Happily Natural Day was able to establish a relationship with dead prez by working with Stic.man in promotion of his book “The Art of Emceeing” In 2006, Happily Natural Day organizers launched the Open Your Third Eye Project that featured stic.man, Sierra Leone revolutionary Chernoh Bah, Chairman of Allah’s School Urn Allah of the Nation of Gods & Earths and many more. This development was an extension of the festival and by virtue of the positive community work our track record allotted us the opportunity to link with people from throughout the country in our outreach. This exemplified how Happily Natural Day is more than an event.
2006 also further embedded Happily Natural as a predominant social force in not only the city of Richmond, but the state of Virginia as a whole. Friday’s program aptly named Soul Power featured an artist showcase featuring acts from Baltimore MD, Petersburg VA, Norfolk VA, Washington DC and received patrons from as far away as Atlanta GA. Spoken word powerhouse Naima Jahmaal and vocalist Afrykah premiered under the moniker Queendom Come; generating a unique blend of lyricism hip hop and soul that blew the breath out of the audience. Sunday’s program was entitled Black Freedom University featuring representatives from the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, workshops from the International Locks Conference founders Sakinah and Akousa Ali-Sabree of Philadelphia PA, noted scholar Hakim Bey who lectured in depth on the pre-American Afrikan presence in the Western Hemisphere, and there were informal natural haircare workshops held by world renown loc stylist Thando Kafele who had featured in the hair show the night before. Vendors represented from all over the eastern shore board, including vendors from Florida, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Baltimore and Washington DC.
Happily Natural Day has received international recognition as founder Duron Chavis featured at London based African art & beauty expo Adornment in April of 2007 Also featuring internationally known artist Erykah Badu, the portion of the event featuring Happily Natural was entitled Beyond Image: Emancipation through Self Discovery. The panel also featured Janine Bell of Elegba Folklore Society. Happily Natural also launched the Tell the Truth about Jamestown Campaign and was responsible for the statements made by Questlove of the Roots at the 400 year Anniversary of Jamestown Concert.
Receiving wide publicity in the state of Virginia and throughout the country, the Tell the Truth about Jamestown Campaign’s focus is to ensure an accurate history is presented in relation to the exploitation, genocide and enslavement of African and Indigenous people in the Americas specifically in relation to Jamestown Virginia.
In 2007, Happily Natural Day featured Runoko Rashidi and Queen Afua in an effort to spread the message on the international effort to bring back black is beautiful. This effort was birth from the experience of traveling to London in April. Even further a partnership with Eiegba Folklore Society was established and the campaign of Reconnecting African People Globally was launched. To exemplify this partnership Happily Natural Day partnered with Elegba and the AFRAM Studies Department of VCU to present a panel featuring Africans from throughout the Diaspora. Representatives from Liberia (West Africa), Jamaica (the Caribbean), London (the UK) and the US shared views regarding their experiences of being of African descent from these areas. Happily Natural Day hosted an artist in residence from Birmingham, England by the name of Pauline Bailey and hosted a weeklong art exhibit featuring Atlanta artist Goldi Gold, with an installation by Pauline Bailey entitled Dark Matters.
The partnership with Queen Afua was of extreme importance due to the focus on holistic health and the inspiration that Queen Afua has given. Our promotional campaign promoted Queen Afua’s new book City of Wellness, and brought together families under the banner of holistic health and being afrikan centered. Another important partnership was that of Can a Sister Rock a Mic and the Black Luv Festival which both exemplified fusion marketing campaigns whereas we took one side of a flyer each and split the cost of printing and distributed flyers throughout our respective communities. Our relationship with Black Luv Fest has been greatly influenced by the commonality of mission in promoting love, and the comrade Papi Kymone Freeman.
In addition to all of this, in 2007 Happily Natural Day launched its first Hip Hop Summit which featured Jorge “Popmaster Fabel” Pabon, member of the Universal Zulu Nation & Rocksteady Crew as the moderator & Muhammad aka Cosmic Pop of Rocksteady Crew. The Hip Hop Summit was held in conjunction with VCU’s NAACP which further buttressed the relationship of the festival with the University. The event featured poet/activist Walidah Imarisha, hip hop artist Hasan Salaam, and ATL emcee Issues.