World Afro Day: The Big Hair Assembly launches its student film competition

  • Video report by Granada Reports Journalist Lucille Brobbey.

Students at Manchester Enterprise Academy (MEA) are preparing to take part in the student film competition for The Big Hair Assembly taking place on World Afro Day.

The Big Hair Assembly is an educational event involving people from all backgrounds joining together in celebration of afro hair.

The competition launches on 25 May and creates a healthy discussion around hair discrimination and afro hair in schools.

English teacher Anita Galasso has been working with a group of Year 10 students at MEA on their project. 

If successful, their video will be shown to millions of people across the world. Credit: Manchester Enterprise Academy

Winners of the competition will have their film shown to millions of people across the globe in September on what will be the 5th anniversary of World Afro Day.

MEA want the film to open up a discussion about how hair can be an expression of identity. 

As a Trust, MEA are taking part in the anti-racism charter which is looking at the curriculum, discrimination and anti-racism policies. However, as a school, Mrs Galasso wanted the students to take part in a project that was a bit more positive and uplifting.

English Teacher Mrs Galasso said: “It’s a great opportunity for young black children to speak about their natural hair experiences but also our plan is to share the video with the rest of the school.

"It’s a great opportunity for others from lesser diverse households and communities to learn about our hair.”

Some of the Year 10 students taking part shared their experience of wearing their natural hair growing up.

Lyshaé said: “I started coming to school with my natural hair, wearing my natural hair and I had two buns. I used to love that style. 

“I came into school and people told me I look like Mickey Mouse and then I hated it from there.

"So then I started wearing my hair in braids. I wore it out once and people told me I look like I got attacked by a hair drier so I just never did that again and I’ve just been coming to school like this ever since.”

Braids are a traditionally African hairstyle and can be used as a protective hairstyle to maintain moisture in afro textured hair. Credit: Manchester Enterprise Academy

Aaliyah said: “When I was younger, I wore my natural hair out, but I always hated it so much and I always used to cry to my Mum about like, ‘oh can I straighten my hair, I really hate my hair, I wish I had white girl hair’.

"You don’t really realise how you feel until you grow out of that stage your life and then you look back and think wow I can’t believe I used to feel like that.”

What is 'natural hair'?

When these students refer to their hair as ‘natural hair’ they are referring to their hair texture, curly or coily, which has not been chemically changed.

People can chemically straighten their hair using a relaxer. 

Black and white photos taken by the Year 10 Photography group at MEA will be features in the film. Credit: Manchester Enterprise Academy

In schools across the UK, some rules say that you cannot have ‘distracting hair’ which often prevents some students from wearing their natural hair or traditional hair styles. 

MEA pupils cannot wear durags or headscarfs unless it is for a medical or religious reason, but students say the rules need to change: 

What is a durag?A durag is a silky head wrap which can be used to lay down afro textured hair. It can help create waves and accelerate the development of dreadlocks.

It also helps to protect curly and coily hair types by maintaining the natural oils in hair and prevents breakage. Generally, people add oils or creams to their hair before using a durag.

Year 10 student Matthew said: “My hair has grown onto me, it’s part of me now and so to have people see that as well like, on the outside and see my hair what it’s much more like on the inside.

"It’s part of me and my everyday life now.”

Some school rules across the UK still list afro hairstyles as ‘distracting’. Credit: Manchester Enterprise Academy

Although Matthew has embraced his hair, some school rules across the UK still list afro hairstyles as ‘distracting’ and while this is the case, these students are determined to help change that.  

Aaliyah: “I want to make sure that no other girl has to go through that, no other young black child should ever feel like that because it is such an isolating feeling.”

Ify, year 10 student said: “Our hair is our culture and people should learn about it and I feel every hair should be accepted, afro or straight.”

The winning films will be shown at the virtual assembly which will be live-streamed on 15 September.

Founder of haircare brand, Odyssey Box Chloé Elliott has this advice for adults about being their authentic self to work:

She said: “I wanted to be able to provide the hair care education that a lot of us missed out on when we were younger and so it’s all about building a space where people of all ages can  connect with their hair, embrace their hair, feel more confident and have the tools to do that.

"Our community ranges from women who missed out when they were younger to people who faced a lot of discrimination and had to make decisions and change the way they had to care for their hair to be able to build career for themselves and now they’re relearning and sharing that with younger generations too.

“Keep in the back of your mind that your hair however you choose to wear it, whether you wear it out, whether you wear it braided, whether you prefer to switch up your styles with wigs, with weaves with different colours, it is an expression of your identity and however you choose to wear it is absolutely fine.”