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EVENT RECAP: Curls, Coils & Cocktails 2014 (+ Where Do We Go Next?)

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I’ve said it a bunch of times before, but planning an event in the tail end of my pregnancy and into the first month of mommyhood was MADNESS. However, all the hard work paid off on July 26th when my homegirl AMC and I put on the 2nd annual Curls, Coils & Cocktails event!

Last year’s event fell into our laps somewhat by fluke, but the response was so overwhelming that we wanted to bring it back this year. Held at the beautiful Uptown Loft in Toronto, we had a lovely turn out of ladies and gentlemen who came to celebrate the diversity of natural hair!

We mixed and mingled. We admired the wares of some awesome vendors. We got mini-consultations from the ladies of Curl Bar Beauty Salon. We took in a panel discussion on natural hair diversity, featuring women with varied perceptions and expressions of natural hair. We had an AMAZING performance from funk/rock/soul powerhouse Saidah Baba Talibah, and got down to the nitty-gritty of her hair journey. We ate yummy treats and had some delicious mini-cupcakes courtesy of Mellycakes. We had laughter & hugs – I got to meet some wonderful women, and the positivity was infectious – a special moment was when prize winner Carcia (from the blog It’s MusicFashionLife) shared her personal story of beauty and self-acceptance after a diagnosis of alopecia. With chunes from DJ Sean Sax, gift bags from Clore Beauty, and tons of incredible giveaways, I think we coordinated a pretty good event – and the feedback has largely shared that sentiment!

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Special thanks to our major sponsors: Curl Bar Beauty Salon, NaturalButterfly, and Clore Beauty!

Major thank yous to our gift sponsors: Shakara Natural, Luv N Locs, Ola Finesse, Toni Daley, Caheez, and the Toronto Natural Hair & Beauty Show!

Shout out to our spectacular vendors: Diana Tracy Collection and Eli’s Body Shop!

Big up our two awesome photographers who took some DOPE pics: Ngadi Smart and Sarita Louis!

Big thanks to our social media team: Anya, Nikki, and Kayla (p.s. – keep up with CC&C on Twitter and Facebook)!

And we could NOT have done this event without the assistance of Juliana, Vee, Lincoln, Alison, and Debbie!

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 See more Curls, Coils & Cocktails photos here!

Now that the event has passed, I’ve gotten past the part where I critique myself harshly about what I could have done better, and I’m settled in the phase where I set my neuroses aside and assess things with a clear(er) head. The question I pose to myself now is: “What next? Where does the natural hair conversation in Toronto go now?” It feels like Toronto has just started to get into the natural hair event game, but there’s always room to be innovative and to give the people what they want. I, like other natural hair advocates and event planners, just want to figure out the perfect equation to acquire both.

Being cognizant of those who are at polar ends of the spectrum – longtime naturals and natural newbies – is one thing. Taking into consideration financial trends of event attendees and ensuring they get their money’s worth is another. Finding supportive partners and sponsors who get it is entirely another. Once those factors are settled, the matter of figuring out how to add flair, creativity, fun, education, and all the other unique components that make an event great begins. It’s not easy, but when you get great feedback from event attendees, it gives you the best kind of challenge to do an even better job next time.

But back to my question – where does the conversation go now? Are we over talking about natural hair in the workplace/media/relationships, or is there still room for those discussions? Who are the new voices and faces on the scene, and how do we get them engaged? What do attendees want to do, see, and hear these days? Finding the answers to these questions and more will make life much more hectic, but much more interesting in the days to come.

If you have any feedback on what you’d like to see at natural hair-centric events, hit me up and let me know! And again – big, BIG thank yous to everyone who came out to Curls, Coils & Cocktails 2014!

31 FLAVOURS: Discussing The Diversity Of Natural Hair [+ Event Info]

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Dolls by Karen Byrd of Natural Girls United

Next month marks 6 years since I big chopped and started wearing my hair naturally. From my days of scouring Fotki for natural hair inspiration to being an admitted product junkie to salon (mis)adventures and more, the past 6 years have brought me eye-opening lessons in hair care, self esteem, and redefining my personal beauty paradigm. Just when I think I know all I need to know and have seen all I need to see, something comes along and shakes everything up.

This year, the running theme has circled around representation in the natural hair sphere. I hosted a panel discussion of women who choose to rock TWAs, which presented the perspective of women who eschewed the more common length aspirations within the natural hair community. Salon chats highlighted a continued problem with poor representation and acceptance of shorter lengths and tighter textures – noticed most in clients who won’t rest until they find the product that eliminates shrinkage and transforms kinks into loose curls. Twitter conversations with writer and mental health advocate Bassey Ikpi brought up the thought of loc wearers being left out of natural hair dialogue – this became an even greater conversation when Essence Magazine featured Ledisi on one of their May 2014 covers for the Beauty Issue.

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These kinds of discussions motivated me to look at my own thoughts on natural hair beauty and diversity. Admittedly, it was easy for me to see the parallels between previously chasing one beauty “ideal” (long, straight, relaxed hair), then embracing my chemical-free texture but still chasing another “ideal” (big, soft curly hair). Early on, the natural hair blogs, YouTube videos, and Facebook forums I frequented all shared the same goal of embracing your natural hair, but there was always an undercurrent of knowing that there was a hierarchy of expressions within it. Short hair, kinky and coily hair, and locs were on the fringe and seen as somewhat of an afterthought – almost giving off a vibe of  “Oh – I guess we should include one of those, shouldn’t we…” Back 6 years ago, my short hair was just a stepping stone to luxurious growth. My kinky and coily sections were interesting, but were obstacles to hurdle in efforts to blend in with my looser sections. I considered locs briefly, but decided I loved the versatility of my loose natural hair too much to part with it. However, I quickly understood the negative way locs were viewed when family members would ask “Are you going to loc your hair?” with a look that clearly meant “You better not!”

Especially over the past year, a number of women have approached me and shared that they’ve felt excluded from the natural hair world, due to not having the “right” texture, length, or style. Where were the spaces for women who had diverse hair goals, journeys, and needs? Many of them expressed being unable to find them, and some identified feeling as lost in the game as I did 6 years ago when I went natural. In my own way with the opportunities I have available to me, I featured (current and previously) loc’d women on ’83 To Infinity, interviewed a Jamaican beauty queen with an interesting natural hair journey, and hosted a Black History Month event focusing on the big chop and rocking TWAs. When plans started flowing this year’s Curls, Coils & Cocktails event, the same theme of diversity and representation came to mind, and I knew that was the angle we would have to take this year.

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Because the natural hair community is bigger than we give credit for, it was a conscious decision to use the 2nd annual Curls, Coils & Cocktails event to broaden our horizons. Our panel features 4 women – one loc’d, one rocking a TWA, one newly big chopped natural, and one stylist who has worked with all manner of natural hair. Our vendors/partners (Diana Tracy Collection, Eli’s Body Shop, & Curl Bar Beauty Salon) are a diverse bunch – female-owned businesses designed to ensure that you look and feel good from head to toe. We’ll have a new musical portion this year, with a performance and Q & A session with Canada’s funk/rock/soul queen – and dope loc wearer – Saidah Baba Talibah. DJ Sean Sax will be on the 1s and 2s, mix and mingling will abound, sweet treats and eats from Mellycakes will be available, and gift bags (thanks to Clore Beauty Supply) and door prizes will be on hand for attendees! We’ve kept up the practice of highlighting Canadian talent and businesses, and the theme of ‘Dos & Diversity will hopefully achieve the goal of inclusivity that we’re aiming for.

Do we still hang on to colonial ideals of beauty, even within the empowered natural hair world? What are the roots of some of the biases we have against certain style choices? How do we combat the irrational need to chase after styles or textures that our hair is not capable of maintaining? How do we truly begin to embrace and own our natural hair without apology? The answers to these questions and more will surely be discussed on July 26th at Curls, Coils & Cocktails – and hopefully we’ll be able to carve out the kind of space that celebrates us all, whether curly, coily, or otherwise.

Get your tickets to Curls, Coils & Cocktails here! 

AND THE WINNER IS…: 2014 Black Canadian Awards Recap

The best way for me to start off this post is by saying “thank you” – quite literally, if it weren’t for you all this past Saturday would have never played out for me the way it did.

Last summer, I was contacted by the Black Canadian Awards (run via the Diversity Advancement Network). I was going to be honoured as a Role Model in the Black Canadian community, and had also been nominated in the Best Blogger Award category for their 2014 awards ceremony. To say I was floored was an understatement. The majority of my readership and recognition in the blogging world has come from south of the border, so being recognized for my work here at home was an awesome feeling.

We were urged to solicit votes from friends, family, readers, social media followers, anyandeverydamnbody, and I’ll be honest – I kind of balked at that. I’m not the biggest fan of “Who can get the most votes?” methods of award winning, and prefer to be judged on merit and a standard of work. When other nominees have larger social media followings and connections to networks you lack, it can seem very daunting – and the competition in my category seemed fairly stiff. A later email did state that votes plus review from a nomination committee would contribute to winning the award, so I sought votes from you all, but made sure my content and work was the best it could be along the way.

Finally, Saturday June 7th rolled around, and it was time for the Black Canadian Awards! After being rescheduled from the original date of March 1st, I just prayed that Little Magician and I still fit into my hot pink Henkaa dress (doing a version of this style), but luckily we did!

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HomieLuva was my dapper date for the evening, so we headed on down to Toronto’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre and got ready to soak up the night.

Y’all know I keep it 100, so let me get this piece out of the way. There was some level of disorganization that hampered some of my enjoyment of the festivities. Having food available would have been PRIME. Having event organizers easily identifiable would have been WONDERFUL. Maximizing the media that was present and really making use of some of the perks like the nominee limo procession, red carpet walk, and Role Model recognition ceremony would have been AWESOME. The potential for prestige and the necessity of an event such as the BCAs makes these points even more crucial in my eyes, so I hope 2015 is even better.

Anyways – tons of government officials and political figures were in attendance (RCMP, Olivia Chow, John Tory and others), and they took part in the Role Model recognition ceremony. I snagged my certificate of recognition, then hurried to meet the rest of the award nominees for the limo procession, which picked us up and brought us to the awaiting red carpet at the front of the theatre.

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After a bit of schmoozing and a quick munch of some poutine that someone smuggled in provided for me, it was time for the show to start!

Hosted by Sean “Subliminal” Mauricette and Dorothy Rhau, the essence of the awards was to showcase excellence in the Black Canadian community, and I appreciated the diversity of the performers and nominees. “Canadian” events in Toronto can be awfully Toronto-centric, but it was great to see the representation from different parts of the country as well. There was a wide range of variety in the performances and the cultures represented therein, with my fave performances being a dope Azonto dance number by Esie Mensah and the Black Stars, and a wicked vocal performance from Shi Wisdom. Though at times it felt a bit too much like a concert sprinkled with awards as opposed to an actual awards show, it was very entertaining.

So. Let’s get down to the most exciting moment, for me, anyways! Near the end of the night, the Best Blogger Award finally rolled around. I was joined in the category by Nikki Johnson, Tatiana King aka Miss Go 2 GirlTeknique, Brenda Chuinkam, and Darling Nicky. As I mentioned before, I felt I was up against some stiff competition, so while I hoped for the best, I was more than prepared to hear one of the other 5 names called instead. Lo and behold, my name was called as the award winner, and I sat there for a moment still waiting for them to say someone else’s name – it wasn’t until HomieLuva smacked me on the leg and told me to get my ass up and get my award that it actually sunk in!

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I had to hit a jig in the parking lot while singing “***Flawless” at this point. Lol!

Was I even prepared to make a speech? Not at all – but I got through it without rambling on too much. That was the first time I ever accepted an award on stage, but needless to say, I’ve got the taste for it now (cue up the Freddie McGregor one time)! The best part of it was knowing that the support I received from y’all was so strong, and also feeling like my hard work is paying off in new and awesome ways. Maintaining a blog like mine – not celebrity-focused, not fashion-focused, not in one particular niche – and being a Black Canadian blogger who often gets more interaction from people in countries outside of mine, it’s so easy to feel lost in the sauce of this digital world. At least on some scale, winning this award made me see just how much people support and enjoy my digital comfy couch. As one friend said when I issued my Facebook thank you status:

You can thank us by just keeping on doing what you’ve been doing.

So that’s what I plan to do! Here’s to fresh motivation (especially coming off of my best stats day EVER over the weekend thanks to my Race In Canada post) and a continued sense of pride in creating authentic and engaging content. I hope y’all enjoy, and I hope you feel through this blog how much I appreciate the love, support, and constructive feedback.

Thank you again to the Black Canadian Awards – here’s to an even bigger and better show in 2015!

FASHION MOJO: Vintage Shopping at Vintage Vibes Boutique

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While writing a new piece for UPTOWN Magazine on getting my fashion mojo back (inspired by Kerry Washington’s quote in October’s issue of Glamour“I’m missing a really important tool. If I am the CEO of the Kerry Washington Corporation, my marketing department is really lax.”), I decided to take a work break and put my plans into action. Vintage shopping is something I always wanted to dabble in, and thanks to my homegirl Glenna, my sister and I took a trip down to Toronto’s Leslieville area and visited Vintage Vibes Boutique.

I have a confession to make. In my proud Jamaican family, it was somewhat of a taboo to wear second-hand clothing. There was a lot of pride behind the ability to afford brand new clothes and shoes, and thrift shopping was met with nothing more than a kiss of the teeth. Needless to say, I never invested much interest in the practice. Fast forward a few years later to my current stay in Toronto: I decided to stick my toe in the waters of vintage shopping, and was immediately turned off. I was either referred to places with great finds but exorbitant prices, or spots that redefined the word “cheap.” Lately, I’d been hearing a lot of great things about Vintage Vibes Boutique, so I figured I’d give vintage/thrift shopping one more go.

Located at 717 Queen Street East, Vintage Vibes Boutique is owned and curated by Debbie Parks – the self-proclaimed ‘Chief Treasure Hunter’. Parks was raised by a British mother who trained her up in the ways of vintage shopping, and she leaned on those lessons when she moved to NYC years later. Surviving in style with great vintage finds, Parks eventually settled in Toronto and decided to recreate the same experience here.

Almost immediately after stepping foot inside, I felt at ease. Debbie greeted my sister and I and gave us a quick tour around the store, which houses vintage furniture, clothing, jewelry, and accessories. The jewelry tables immediately caught my eye – big baubles, sparkly earrings, gorgeous detailed necklaces – and I was in heaven. Once I saw the price points (nothing over $15 in the jewelry section), I felt like I had found what I was looking for – a vintage shop with unique, quality items that wouldn’t drain my bank account.

The clothing section, however, would be the real test. There, I found awesome secretary dresses, sequined sweaters, jumpsuits, fly heels, and much more – the majority of which were under $35. “Nothing in the shop is over $100,” stated Debbie. Creating a store where people could find affordable, good quality, and one-of-a-kind pieces was her ambition – and from my eyes, she succeeded. The next 2 hours were spent wading through the racks, trying on clothes, having a mini-fashion show in the middle of the store, chatting with Debbie and the other customers, and generally having fun.

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Debbie Parks (owner of Vintage Vibes Boutique) and I

I ended up leaving with 4 pieces – the yellow & blue silk top and sequined sweatshirt in the photos above, plus a dope black patterned dress and high-waisted midi skirt. The most expensive piece was the dress at $35, so I walked away with a happy (and only slightly less full) wallet. Debbie advised that she finds new pieces on a nearly daily basis, so I’m excited to head back soon and see what else I can snag! Thanks to Vintage Vibes Boutique, I feel like my fashion sense got a much-needed shot in the arm. Being fly and frugal is possible, and I’m glad that I’ve seen the light! If you’re in Toronto, visit Debbie at Vintage Vibes Boutique and tell her Bee sent you! VVB will also be featured at the Toronto Natural Hair & Beauty Show on September 22nd, providing fashions for Hair By Glenna’s hair show – I’m also speaking at the show, so make sure you grab your tickets asaptually!

Follow Vintage Vibes Boutique on Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook – and be sure to stop by the store at 717 Queen Street East from Thursday-Sunday, 12pm-6pm! 

ARTSY FARTSY: Caribbean Film Screening With Gems of the Caribbean

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Frances Anne Solomon w/ representatives from Islands of the Caribbean

Last summer, I heard about a Caribbean film festival that was going to be taking place in Toronto. My love of the arts and my unyielding Caribbean pride pushed me to send an email to the media contact, asking if there was any way I – a small, local blogger – could get involved. I wasn’t expecting much of a response, but lo and behold, I received one. From that moment, I started volunteering with the Caribbean Tales Film Festival, and I’m back for another run this year!

A little background: Caribbean Tales Worldwide Distribution is a company founded by filmmaker Frances Anne Solomon, which seeks to celebrate Caribbean film, support Caribbean filmmakers, and build up the Caribbean as a viable and valuable artistic market. A Toronto-based film festival has been part of Caribbean Tales’ offering to the world, and this year marks the 8th annual Caribbean Tales Film Festival.

This weekend marks the kick-off of a new partnership between Caribbean Tales, Islands of the Caribbean (a tourism board conglomerate representing Jamaica, Grenada, Antigua & Barbuda, St . Lucia, and St. Vincent), and the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition). August 17th, 18th, and 30th will be the Gems of the Caribbean Screening Series at the CNE, and it is going to be DOPE. Details were revealed at last month’s Caribbean Tales Media Launch.

“We are delighted to be partnering with the tourism boards as there is a natural fit – they are promoting the Caribbean while we are marketing the brand by telling authentic stories of who we are,” stated Frances Anne Solomon, founder and CEO of CaribbeanTales.

“The Caribbean is more than just sun, sea and sand – it’s about our people, our spirit, our soul, it’s about our story. That’s why visitors are entranced by our islands – that’s why they are in love with our islands and ultimately return to our islands,” says Erica Henry-Jackman, Director of Tourism for the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. “This experience will come alive on film during the Gems of the Caribbean preview nights at the CNE.”

Saturday, August 17th = Jamaica night, featuring various short films and a screening of Marley (which I saw last year and ADORED)

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Sunday, August 18th = Grenada/Antigua & Barbuda night, a.k.a. “Carnival Revelry”, featuring shorts and a screening of Mas Man

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Friday, August 30th = St. Lucia/St. Vincent night, featuring shorts and a screening of Home Again (another film I had the pleasure of seeing)

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All events start at 6:30pm. 

Gems of the Caribbean will also feature details and information about various Caribbean islands, and includes a rum sampling of the best rums in the region! Entrance to the Gems of the Caribbean screening is included with your ticket to the CNE – order online here!

For an Advance Ticket Discount, visit www.theex.com: Click on ‘guest info’, ‘tickets’ and then ‘group or promo code’ to use the unique online access code CT897794. Purchases can be made using a credit or debit card. Don’t forget to print your tickets at home for entry!

The Caribbean Tales Film Festival officially starts with a gala event and screening at the Harbourfront Centre on September 4th, and runs until the 14th. There will be free community screenings, parties, panel discussions, and amazing Caribbean film – and I’ll keep you all posted on the details!

You can find more information on the Caribbean Tales website, Facebook, and Twitter – the Gems of the Caribbean Screening Series will be held at the International Pavilion, Hall B, Presentation Theatre in the Direct Energy Centre, and more information can be found at booth #3237! See you there! 

GIRLS’ NIGHT OUT: Mrs. Carter Show & Hailo Cab Weekend Recap

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In keeping with my 2013 practice of doing things I’ve never done before, this past weekend I scratched another “must-do” off my list – I saw the one and only Beyonce in concert on Sunday!

Now, I’m an unapologetic Bey fan – I’m not going to stab anyone or cuss anyone out on Twitter over her, but I love me some Bey! I had never gotten the opportunity to see her in concert, but once the Mrs. Carter World Tour was announced, I knew this was going to be my shot. Tickets were copped way back in February, and July 21st had been circled on my calendar ever since that blessed credit card payment went through. It was going to be the ultimate girls’ night out – my sister and two of my good homegirls were down for the cause, so we made a night of it and had TOO much fun.

We met up at Hot House in downtown Toronto for dinner, finishing up this year’s Summerlicious series. Summerlicious is one half of an annual food festival in Toronto – for a few weeks out of the season (and again in the winter for its chilly counterpart, Winterlicious), a ton of Toronto restaurants offer prix-fixe menus allowing you to try new eats at an affordable cost. We munched on delicious Caesar salads, surf & turf, swordfish, and cheesecake while we shared jokes and laughs, and left with our bellies full – and wallets only slightly tapped out.

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Finally it was time to head to the Air Canada Centre for the show. The air in the ACC was literally electric – you could tell that everyone was excited to be in the house. Luke James opened the show, and he was great! He definitely had me interested in looking up more of his music – vocals were on point, and he had good stage presence. After his set, the lights came back up and we chilled out to a musical mix. Little did I realize, we about to be entertained by a dude in the audience who couldn’t wait for Bey to come out before he started twerkin’:

Shortly after, the lights dimmed and it was show time! For the next 2 hours, Beyonce strutted, popped it, and dutty wined for her life while serving us flawless live vocals. Kudos to Papa Knowles for making Destiny’s Child practice singing while jogging, because Bey hit all her notes while head-banging and bouncing around on that damn stage. I don’t have that kind of vocal control while standing up to sing Happy Birthday, so hats off to Mrs. Carter.

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Did I mention that her dancers and all-woman band were ON POINT? I have girl crushes on her redheaded dancer Ashley and on her guitarist Bibi – but all the ladies (and Les Twins – the only gentlemen in the troupe) were dope. I adored the skill, artistry, passion, and detail that went into the show, and if there was any kernel of doubt about how much I loved Beyonce before, it was obliterated after. She was all that and a bag of chips.

Now, after the concert ended, the fun wasn’t over! The good people at Hailo Cab - the smartphone app that makes catching a cab easy as pie – provided me with some free credits to get home in style!

I was super impressed with the app. After setting up my profile and inputting my credit card info on its secure system, I was able to hail a taxi in 5 minutes simply by hitting a button. The cab number and driver’s name were provided, along with a minute-by-minute timer that showed me how long I’d be waiting. Next thing we knew, our driver Said showed up and it was time to roll. After a clean and comfortable ride, we reached our respective destinations. I had no clue what I was supposed to do next, but Said assured me that not only would payment simply go through directly onto my card from his system, but that my credits would be applied automatically and a receipt would be emailed within minutes.

It felt SO strange to simply stop and hop out of a taxi without a tangible exchange of payment, but Said was right! Not even 2 minutes later, I received an email receipt showing me my fare and the application of my credits. That was it!

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All in all, it was a fabulous girls’ night out. If you’re in Toronto, make sure to check out Summer/Winterlicious when hit hits town, and give Hailo a spin if it’s available in your city! And of course – if you can get your hands on Mrs. Carter World Tour tickets, do the right thing and GO!

What was your best girls’ night out? Let me know! 

EVENT RECAP: Herbert Carnegie Future Aces Foundation Gala

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Names are interesting. One of the most important signifiers of our identity, they hold an immense weight as we move through life.

The funny thing is – if we forget who the person is behind the name, that signifier becomes somewhat of an empty placeholder in history. It starts to roll off your tongue just as easily as your order from Tim Hortons or Dunkin Donuts, and we slowly start to forget what and who that name actually represents. I was reminded of this last Thursday at the Herbert Carnegie Future Aces Foundation’s Amazing Aces Awards.

In honour of Herbert H. Carnegie – one of Canada’s first Black professional hockey players – the Herbert Carnegie Future Aces Foundation was created in 1987 as a means to support and empower youth. Through partnerships with schools and community figures, the foundation has provided youth in the GTA with scholarships, self-esteem workshops, and mentorship. While the annual gala is used to highlight exceptional youth and people in the community who embody the Future Aces creed, this year’s gala was a bit different. The current Executive Director of the foundation, Ms. Bernice Carnegie, stepped down after 17 years at the helm. The gorgeous night was largely in her honour, and highlighted her passions and achievements within the foundation. I was happy to attend the event as the gala’s official blogger and social media maven, and was ready to soak in the entire night.

Held at the lovely Grand Bacchus Banquet Hall in Scarborough, the gala was beautifully arranged. A silent auction and string quarter graced the front hall where people mixed, mingled, and posed for photos before heading into the banquet hall.

Dinner was a delicious spread of hot stations featuring fish, samosas, sushi, salads, cheeses, and more, so I had to make sure to fill up my plate and enjoy! Live music filled the room and attendees mingled with people like gala hosts Marci Ien (of CTV’s Canada AM) and Kerry Lee Crawford (of G 98.7FM’s Steps After Dark), the Hon. Lt. Gov. David Onley, and Marcia Brown of Trust 15. I saw a lot of familiar faces, and enjoyed getting caught up with everyone before the main event began.

Bernice Carnegie and the Honourable Lieutenant Governor David Onley

Bernice Carnegie and the Honourable Lieutenant Governor David Onley

After the dinner portion of the evening, guests took their seats and got ready for the show. Opening with a cute father/son performance from Errol and Shay Lee, the inspirational theme was well-established for the night. After a few official welcomes from the Hon. Lt. Gov, MPP Michael Coteau, and others, Marci and Kerry Lee took us right into the Amazing Aces award. Recipients like Nicole Coco LaRain (motivational speaker and artist), Rudolph Clarke (writer, lawyer, founder of the Black Law Student’s Association of Canada), and Clive Hylton (former President of the Markham African Caribbean Association) were honoured, and it was amazing to learn about some of the incredible people who have done great work in our city.

Now, I mentioned names and the importance of them because of what I learned about Herbert Carnegie, and in turn his daughter Bernice. While many people took their turn at the podium to share the wisdom and inspiration they received from Ms. Carnegie in her tenure as Executive Director (including a heartfelt speech from her daughter that had me ready to tear up), it was hearing from her in her own words that showed me just how much of a force she is. Her passion for youth and her mission to continue her father’s legacy were not at all lost on me. She was a dynamic speaker, and captured everyone’s attention – not merely because it was the polite thing to do since the evening was in her honour, but because you couldn’t help but stay fixated to her as she spoke and moved about the stage (and dropped it like it was hot to James Brown’s I Feel Good).

Bernice receiving a standing ovation and hug from Marci Ien

Bernice receiving a standing ovation and hug from Marci Ien

With the wonders of technology, I was able to hear from Herbert Carnegie himself – even though he passed away last year at the age of 92. Video and audio captured the man whose name I had known, but whose legacy I did not, shamefully. One of Canada’s first Black professional hockey players (and scouted as one of the best of any skin colour, though racism blocked him from playing in the NHL). An honourary York Region police chief. Investors Group’s first Black employee. Member of the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada. A man with both a public school and a community centre named after him. These are just a few of his accolades that I learned about at the gala, and witnessing the power behind Herbert Carnegie’s soft voice and kind face motivated me to learn more about him and his foundation.

With Bernice Carnegie stepping down from her role, the Herbert Carnegie Future Aces Foundation will now be in the capable hands of Tka Pinnock, the incoming Executive Director. The proverbial torch was passed on at the end of the gala, with Herbert Carnegie’s words “Be my eyes, be my heart, be my voice” lighting the way. The foundation has had a successful and important history, and will undoubtedly have a bright and exciting future ahead. My “official blogger” duties may have ended that night, but I look forward to supporting the Herbert Carnegie Future Aces Foundation in the days and weeks to come.

Incoming Executive Director Tka Pinnock

Incoming Executive Director Tka Pinnock

Check out the Foundation’s official website, their Facebook, and Twitter – and search the #futureaces hashtag to see tweets from the night!

Are you familiar with Herbert H. Carnegie? Were you at the gala? Have you been involved with the foundation? What prominent figure are you aware of, but would like to learn more about?

EVENT RECAP: Curls, Coils & Cocktails in Toronto

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I am STILL on a high. This past Saturday, in partnership with my homegirl Ann Marie from Soulafrodisiac, I held my first event called Curls, Coils & Cocktails – and it was AWESOME.

Since I started this blog, one of the most common questions I’ve received has been “When are you going to start organizing some events and meetups?” We’ve all been witness to the incredible events that bloggers like Curly Nikki, Afrobella, and others have thrown in the States, but here in Canada (and specifically Toronto), we’ve seen much less action. Thankfully, this is starting to change – and Curls, Coils & Cocktails was my addition to the offerings of natural hair and beauty events in the city.

photo credit: Toni

photo credit: Toni

Held at the lovely and unique Saviari Tea & Cocktail Lounge, the event kicked off with time for mixing and mingling. If you haven’t hit up Saviari yet (on King West), you’re missing out. Amazing tea-infused foods and drinks in an intimate atmosphere – I’ll guarantee you’ve never had an experience quite like the one Saviari offers. The Trendsetter martini was our signature drink, and we saw everyone partaking of the yummy appetizer platters circulating the room. We had two amazing photographers on deck – Tanya Petraglia and Ashton Chambers – and they expertly captured all of the beautiful women (and a few fellas!) who came decked out in all of their gorgeousness.

About an hour into the event, the only emotion I felt was overwhelmed – in a good way. We had received a great response for our advance ticket sales, but the amount of women who still came through and paid at the door had us at standing room only. The sheer number of attendees who were in the house was one thing, but the vibe itself was incredible. I saw women laughing, smiling, talking, hugging, shaking hands, air kissing, complimenting, and just genuinely showing love. Many reflected on how nice it was to be in an environment filled with women without the shadiness, side eyes, and screwfaces, and I had to agree. I make an effort to surround myself with positive people, so I wasn’t at all surprised that a room full of lovely women were getting along – but it just felt nice. A big shout out to Juliana and Vee who held down the door for us like champs! Working the door at an event is rarely as simple as it seems, but these ladies kept things moving smoothly.

Thea Mitchell from Cocoa Bloom Cosmetics and Trudie, Karlene, and Dixie from Curl Bar Beauty Salon were on hand to offer free mini hair and makeup consultations, and the women in attendance didn’t waste any time taking advantage of their knowledge! I recently coloured my hair for my birthday, so any compliments I got on my hair colour and style were directed to Curl Bar’s way – Karlene did my amazing summer colour, and Trudie and Dixie both tag-teamed me the morning of the event to hook me up with a gorgeous twist-out.

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It was soon time for our panel discussion on natural hair and diversity in beauty – moderated by myself and featuring panelists Yemi of the awesome blog Shakara Natural Tips, Thea from Cocoa Bloom Cosmetics, Trudie from Curl Bar Beauty Salon, and Deb from the En’tyce Your Beauty product line. I have never in my life moderated a panel, but I think it went well! We discussed topics around the new views of Black beauty in the media, natural hair and the corporate work environment, how to deal with the frustrations of accepting our natural textures, the importance of healthy hair (regardless of style), natural hair and relationships, and much, much more. With the panel, I wanted to illicit more of a discussion than a straight Q&A feel – I often feel that we too easily want someone to give us an answer or solution to an issue, but I wanted to encourage more thought, debate, and new perspectives. The panelists loved the segment, and we got great feedback from attendees, so I was happy!

photo credit: Jaeda

photo credit: Jaeda

photo credit: Monique

photo credit: Monique

photo credit: Christine

photo credit: Christine

We also did a product swap, where attendees came up to the mic to discuss the gently-used products they had purchased that just didn’t work for them. We got a great response and had some awesome products that were then up for grabs for anyone else who wanted to try them, free of charge. We also made sure to highlight the various stylists (Hair by Glenna, Curl Bar, independant stylists) that were in attendance so that women would know what resources were available to them for their hair care needs. Finding a trusted stylist can be so difficult, but more and more options are becoming available to us in Toronto.

Ann Marie and I also wanted to make sure we highlighted a very special woman – Christine Tonkin. Christine is the creator of the Curls, Coils & Cocktails Meetup.com group that inspired the entire event. Months ago, she had reserved the date of May 18th for a special event, in order to mark International Natural Hair Meetup Day here in Toronto. However, due to some family health crises that needed her time and attention, Christine was unable to continue with plans. She asked if I would be able to take over the reins for the event – Ann Marie jumped in right away to partner with me, and we ran with it. Christine is an amazingly strong and faithful woman, and Ann Marie and I wanted to make sure that the event was true to her vision. Christine told us that we had created exactly what she had envisioned, so we were so happy to make her proud.

Toni and Christine (top) Toni and Ann Marie (bottom) photo credit: Toni

Toni and Christine (top)
Toni and Ann Marie (bottom)
photo credit: Toni

Oh – have I mentioned the FABULOUS giveaways we had on deck? We’re so thankful to all of our generous sponsors who went above and beyond to contribute to the event:

A big shout out to the bloggers/media coverage that were in the house! We did interviews with Caribbean Vibrations TV and Toni Daley, and had Noni and Winnie from Three Naturals (we missed Juli-Anne, but she has a beautiful new baby keeping her busy), Jacqueline from Anancy Magazine, and Carcia & Telly from It’s MusicFashionLife out as well! I saw a ton of other folks conducting mini photo shoots and interviews with attendees, so we can’t wait to see all the photos and event recaps!

photo credit (top): Christine (bottom): Toni

photo credit (top): Christine
(bottom): Toni

When I started organizing sponsors for the event, I was reaching out across the border to American brands – but didn’t get much response back. No one seemed to value the consumers here in Toronto, and it brought to mind my discussions with brands at a conference last year in Philly. The shock and surprise that so many displayed when they asked “There’s BLACK PEOPLE up in Canada?” was telling. While we’re a much smaller number than the Black population in the States, we’re still a relatively unknown consumer group in their eyes. Thankfully, the Universe started opening my eyes and led me to find the amazing resources and talent we have right here in the city. Our mission was not necessarily to host an event filled with vendors expecting attendees to buy. We wanted to create an environment of interaction, engagement, and awareness – getting to know who’s here, what they’re doing, and how you can find them was paramount.

If you’ve made it this far in the recap, I thank you. I knew it would be a long one, but there’s so much to say! All in all, Curls, Coils & Cocktails was a success, and I’m so proud of what we were able to accomplish. In my typical perfectionist way, I’ve spent mo’ time than a lil bit critiquing myself on what I could have done better, where I flubbed certain things, and chiding myself on areas where I can vastly improve. However, I take those self-critiques as learning lessons to make the next time (yes – there will be a next time!) even better. Curls, Coils & Cocktails exceeded all of my expectations, and I’m so thankful to everyone who supported in any way. Like I said at the top of the post, I’m still riding the high – thank you, Toronto!

Were you in attendance at Curls, Coils & Cocktails? Let me know what you thought! If you’ve got any photos you’d like to share, please feel free to email me copies to bee(at)83toinfinity(dot)com! Professional photos will be coming soon! 

GLAMOUR & INSPIRATION: 31st Annual Harry Jerome Awards Recap

Whew! I feel like I’m just NOW starting to get back to normal after my crazy hectic weekend! One of the events I’d been looking forward to for a while was the 31st Annual Harry Jerome Awards, and it went down this past Saturday at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. I was a first-time attendee AND the official blogger for the night, so I was excited to get dolled up and hit the scene!

Ready for an insider’s view? Here we go!

First things first, I had to get my hair situation handled. I headed down to my friends at Curl Bar Beauty Salon and tried out a new sleek, ponytailed look:

CurlBarHJA

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I pulled out an old dress from my closet, touched up my red toenail polish in the car like a real G would, and I was ready to go!

The Harry Jerome Awards (organized by the Black Business and Professional Association) is a feature event in Toronto every year, honouring excellence in the Black Canadian community. I was looking forward to meeting some of the award winners who I interviewed last week, watching performances from awesome Canadian talent like Ray Robinson and Belinda Brady, and networking with the other attendees in the house.

Prior to the main event, I got to peruse the silent auction (that had items like autographed Mike Tyson gloves, art, and Bulova watches), I was interviewed for BBPA’s YouTube channel, and got to catch up with some friends who were both in attendance and volunteering. And let me tell you – people showed OUT at the Harry Jerome Awards! Suits, gowns, the works – everyone that I saw came correct, and I loved the eye candy of all kinds!

Silent auction art

Silent auction art

Tyson gloves and photo

Tyson gloves and photo

After a bit of confusion, I finally got to my seat to enjoy dinner and the show. Political bigwigs like Premiere Kathleen Wynne and Tory leader Tim Hudak were in attendance, and I was impressed at the large-scale production around the awards. Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper attended a year or two ago, so I knew this wouldn’t be a small affair – but it was still impressive to experience in person.

After a series of opening speeches and performances, we got into the awards ceremony, and I really liked the way it was done. Representatives from either the specific field or from the corporate body sponsoring the award would introduce the recipient – instead of having to endure a nervous, long-winded speech, we watched a pre-recorded speech from each winner that showcased them at their best and most relaxed. Then, the winner came out on stage to receive their award and smile for all the cameras. I thought that was a very smart way to go about it – there’s nothing worse than a painfully nervous speaker, or one who “didn’t prepare a speech” and subjects the audience to an excruciatingly long acceptance. The awards ceremony moved along well, and save for a few low points, was full of energy that made you want to pay attention.

HarryJerome-Bee

As full-length as I could get.

HarryJerome-book

One of my pieces was published in the Harry Jerome Awards program book!

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Art piece by Mark Stoddart – Dr. Carlos on the left, Harry Jerome on the right.

HomieLoverFriend and I

HomieLoverFriend and I

A live auction was also worked into the awards, and given that I’ve never been to an auction before, I found it very interesting. You best believe I stayed still as a statue when the bidding was going on – I’ve seen one too many sitcoms where someone sneezes or stretches, and all of a sudden they’ve bid on a $5000 painting. At that point in the night, I was dying for a bathroom break – but there was no way I was going to move while those big ticket items were up for grabs!

Dr. John Carlos (who I interviewed last year) was the keynote speaker, and was the highlight of my night. He spoke about knowing Harry Jerome back in their Olympic track days, and also about the type of man Harry Jerome was. After doing my own research on Mr. Jerome, it was refreshing to hear a first-hand account of this incredible man. Plus, I just love Dr. Carlos, so I was happy all around.

Dr. Carlos and I!

Dr. Carlos and I!

As if listening to his keynote wasn’t enough – imagine my glee when my friend Mark Stoddart introduced me to Dr. Carlos himself? THAT became the highlight of the night, and I’m still basking in the compliments he gave me about enjoying our interview and being impressed with how thorough I was. He said “I thought to myself, ‘Damn! This girl did her homework!’” and that just fueled me even further to keep doing good work.

All in all, it was quite the night. It would have been perfect if there was more of an opportunity to interact and network with the special guests and attendees, but it was inspirational to be around so many people who are doing so much good work in our community. I left motivated to do amazing work – and hey, who knows. I might just snag a Harry Jerome Award of my own one day!

Did you attend the Harry Jerome Awards? If so, what did you think of the night?

 

ANALOG GIRL IN A DIGITAL WORLD: The She’s Connected Conference Recap

I was addicted to playing with the Furbies at the Hasbro booth at SCCTO…the kid in me came out full force!

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, but I’m back! How have y’all been? Good? Great? Good!

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the She’s Connected Conference here in Toronto, and I knew I had to recap it for y’all. The She’s Connected Conference (hereby referred to as SCCTO) seeks to connect “digital women” (bloggers and other social media mavens) with Canadian brands, creating connections and opportunities for growth and partnership. I previously wrote about the conference within the larger context of discussing digital diversity, so I was very interested to see how the 2-day conference would play out.

First thing I noticed: sponsorship was on ten. Ford Canada, Telus, and McDonalds (just to name a few) were major sponsors of the conference, and there’s no way you could miss it. From the Ford vehicle activities to the free McCafe lattes and smoothies to the Telus charging stations, we were well taken care of. Swag bags were more like swag suitcases – so many goodies! Personalized T-shirts, pens galore, notebooks, makeup and skin care products – and that was before we walked around the main exhibit room, collecting more fun things from vendors like Maple Leaf Foods, Adult Essentials, IÖGO, and more.

My “Baconista” shirt from Maple Leaf Foods

The Rent Frock Repeat booth – catch them on Dragon’s Den next month!

Eventually, it was time to settle into the breakout sessions. Multiple sessions were scheduled at the same time, but luckily I was able to attend all of the panels and presentations I wanted to without too much conflict. My favourite panels? Writing And Pitching To Magazines (with editors from Today’s Parent, Chatelaine, iVillage, and Huffington Post Canada), How To Create A Sponsorship Package (by the hilarious Raj of Pink Chai Style), Speaking To The Media (with Preet Banerjee,), and All About SEO (by Jennifer Osborne, President of Search Engine People). For me, all of these panels spoke to what I was looking for, and I had ample time to connect one on one with the speakers to introduce myself, share a business card, and make a deeper connection.

Panel time at SCCTO

Kate White’s keynote

The keynote speaker was Kate White, former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine (she stepped down in September). She was DOPE! Her major points were that as women going after success, we have to “go big or go home” – through her own personal experience, she showed us how she worked her way to the top (including a story about how she asked for $50,000 – and got it). She was majorly inspiring, and was the perfect keynote for a roomful of women who are all striving for our own forms of success.

I was really looking forward to the Multicultural Bloggers panel, but SCCTO removed it from the agenda when they final version came down. Instead, we met up at a designated “Multicultural Bloggers” table during the morning networking break, and I met some awesome ladies. The discussions we had at that table led me to believe that a panel or more formal session would have been very welcome, because that networking table wasn’t nearly enough time. Hopefully next year, they’ll leave it in. Speaking of, I know a number of people asked me how diverse the attendees were – and it was really what I expected. Most of the women I met were mommy bloggers, or somehow geared towards blogging about family/children. Culturally, the attendee group was largely Caucasian – all I could think about were the awesome digital women of colour I know who could have really benefited from the conference, and hopefully they’ll jump on it next year!

My new *free* cards courtesy of Moo Cards and SCCTO!

Overall, the positives for me were meeting so many cool Canadian bloggers, Kate White’s keynote, the panel sessions I mentioned above, and the really cool gift bags and products from the sponsors and vendors. The negatives were varied as well. The panels that I didn’t enjoy either had presenters who weren’t great public speakers, or who were presenting material that was common sense or way too general. There was a lot packed into the 2 days, so by the time 8pm rolled around (the start time both nights for separate evening parties), I was ready to go to bed. I missed both night events out of sheer exhaustion, and from other accounts it seems like a lot of women shared the same tired sentiment. It was also interesting (and somewhat jarring) to feel the palpable difference between people who were blogging for the love of writing or their subject matter, and those who were CLEARLY blogging to make a buck or “get famous”. It really made me sit back and think about what my purpose is in this whole blogging thing, and to be honest – I’m happy with what I’m doing and where I plan to take it.

So, the big question – will I go again next year? We’ll see. Like anything else, your experience is what you make it – however, when you’re paying upwards of $200, you expect a little help in making that experience the best it can be. By next year, I’ll have another year of blogging under my belt, so I’m sure my needs and interests will be different. If SCCTO has plans for speakers and knowledge sessions and events that I feel will speak to what I’m dealing with, I’m there. Shoot – if they want me to jump on board as a speaker, I’m down for that too! Overall, I thank She’s Connected with organizing an event of this magnitude, dedicated to Canadian women and Canadian brands moving into the digital era. It’s serious business, so I can’t wait to see how things grow from here!

There you have it – my quick rundown of the She’s Connected Conference 2012! Were you there? What did you think? If you weren’t there and have any questions about the conference, let me know! And did anyone get my “analog girl in a digital world” reference? If you did, bonus points for you! 

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