An afro has been described as a crown laden with politics and societal pressures. Pick Progress is a photo project focused on sharing stories of black individuals. The project has two main goals:
1. To highlight individuals who are underrepresented in the greater American narrative.
2. To create unique customized combs — pieces of art — that represent, encourage, and celebrate the Black identity.
The afro-pick has been a haircare tool used by Black individuals for over 6,000 years. Socially, it is more than just a styling tool; it is at the intersection of all Black culture. It is a conversation piece representing natural Black beauty. It is also a powerful symbol for Black pride and empowerment (i.e., the Black fist hair pick). By highlighting this important and cool haircare tool, we’re bringing awareness to the problems black people are facing in their communities and nationally in a unique and connective way. In other words, we’re highlighting real word problems with ‘style.’
It’s symbolic. Black history cannot and should not be contained to the 28 or 29 days of celebration in February. Starting the project the day before and ending the day after February is a little nod to the fact that Black history is relevant all year long.
The colors were inspired by Kente cloth, a type of interwoven cloth strips made by the Akan ethnic group of Ghana. The color of Kente cloth holds a special significance. I selected colors that would correspond with each phrase on the pick.
Black: Maturity and strength. Blue: Peacefulness, harmony, and love. Fuchsia: Femininity, calmness, sweetness, and healing. Green: Planting and growth. Gold/Yellow: Royalty, wealth and glory. Red: Passion, bloodshed, and death
I selected words, quotes, campaign slogans, movie titles, song lyrics, slang words, and other linguistic motifs to represent elements of Black Culture. To make it easier to search through the project, I decided each pick could fit into one of three categories: words, quotes, and slang.
Words – Formal concepts popularized and used by the majority of individuals.
Slang – Informal words and phrases (e.g., hashtags) that are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people.
Quotes – Words and phrases that have direct sources of origin. Credit is typically given to a particular person.
I knew at the start of this project that I wasn’t going to be able to cover all of Black culture and history; there are too many powerful and poignant quotes, words, and phrases from our community. These words and phrases are meant to speak to the vibrancy and volume of Black culture at large.
There are many iconic and important phrases that did not make this list. I wanted to balance the list evenly (from past to present, from trending to historic, from well-known to obscure). I wasn’t trying to be controversial; I just wanted each comb to be different and dynamic. However, I did try to pick some phrases that empowered and recognized a variety of subgroups or subcategories in Black culture (e.g., Black women, the Black LGBTQ+ community, Black beauty).
First, I wanted this project to represent the many shades of Blackness. I’m not only talking about depicting different skin tones, I’m also talking about showcasing various perspectives, experiences, and opinions regarding being Black. In mainstream arenas, we typically look at prominent figures to be the voice of the people. However, the public gets more clarity about topics, like Black culture, when we spotlight a diverse group of individuals. As spectators, we get the privilege of listening to voices different from ours and comparing their experiences to our own. For Pick Progress, I wanted to give any and every Black person an opportunity to stand on the soapbox. So, I contacted Black people I knew (my friends and family), networked to spread the word, pasted posters on social media, and cold called individuals to see if they would be interested in contributing. Within the time constraints, I tried to give anyone and everyone a chance to speak their truth.
Additionally, I wanted to make sure the project was inclusive to all Black individuals and groups. While I’ve requested and attempted to include narratives from all groups, I know there’s always room to improve diversity and inclusion. So, I hope 50 new projects bloom from Pick Progress to push the conversation forward in areas not yet reached. We need everyone to contribute to the conversation.
The Pick Progress Project is both a challenge for myself and a way to give back to my culture and my hometown. The current racial tension in the United States continues to re-ignite the urgency for minority narratives and representation. When I was in graduate school, my only focus was to get good grades so I could get a good job and hopefully have a better life. But then, I saw news stories about minorities dying or being abused based on preconceived notions. In that moment, I realized that there’s no education or professional title in the world that can shield me from hatred and prejudice. Regardless of where life takes me or how long I live on this Earth, I want to be a part of the progress and action to make this world a better place for all of us.
I’ve love afro-picks. Whether I’m sportin’ them in my hair or rockin’ them in my back pocket, picks are dynamic tools that elevate my life. For years, I’ve dreamed of picks having more style and swagger. I thought, “What if picks could be more unique?” Months passed and my dream kept pestering me. So, eventually, I decided to teach myself the skills necessary to make more unique afro-picks. After some time and some training, I designed 31 unique picks. The process of designing each afro-pick made me think about my community and my culture. I quickly realized these picks could more than a vanity dream. These picks could be a source to celebrate Black culture. Thus, I set about creating the Pick Progress project.