On any given Friday night, Washington, D.C.’s U Street is home to rabble-rousers and revelers. It’s notorious. Maybe, come 11 p.m., Service Bar, a locally-sourced, Southern food spot on U St., might be no exception. But this Friday, packed around five or so pushed-together tables, about two dozen black and brown women took part in a transformative, intimate gathering centered around natural hair. This is the essence of Lovin’ This Melanated Girl D.C., the Washington, D.C. stop in Shane Engedi‘s black beauty event series.
Past iterations of this include Lovin’ This Melanated Girl in Chicago, IL (April 2019) as well as in Dallas, TX (July 2019). Next up is Philadelphia, PA, Jersey City, NJ, and Brooklyn, NY (Oct. 5 — 6, 2019). Engedi, whose multi-hyphenate career includes vlogger as well as natural hair influencer and event producer, has also hosted Natural Collab Fridays. One took place in Charlotte, NC and the other in Brooklyn. While I can’t speak for the others, I can say tonight’s event, which Engedi graciously allowed me to attend as press, was heart-warming and much-needed. I’ve lived in the DMV on and off for about a decade. As a post-grad transplant to the Washington Metro area, I’ve been craving an IRL community — especially a community that looks and exists and moves like me.
I’ve done the networking coffees and happy hours. How can you not, as a member of a major-city workforce? But often, it doesn’t land for me: Men’s voices tend to be the loudest and I’m often one of a few POCs in the room. Lovin’ This Melanated Girl D.C. was the antithesis of that. Nestling in between cool black and brown ladies to bond over our natural journey, D.C. life, food, drinks, and fashion was refreshing. And it was a far cry from the stuffy, dry chats over gone-too-soon glasses of wine or overpriced lattes I’ve had prior to tonight.
Apart from chatting with folks with shared experiences, the topic being one that I’m actually passionate about helped make my night. The TL; DR version of my natural hair journey: After relaxer, braids, some relaxer, and then a bleached/dyed nail in the coffin, I did the Big Chop to give white beauty standards the middle finger. I then grew my Afro to a big, beautiful, blonde, lion’s mane, but shaved my head to keep the heteropatriarchy on its toes. Something you learn going natural is that everyone’s journey is so different and yet similar at the same time.
Maybe your motivations vary. Your textures differ. Your routine evolves. Your TWA blossoms or you let it thrive as a close-crop à la Jada Pinkett Smith. (In my dreams, anyway.) But you will always need moisture. Lots of it. You’re still going to face slick and not-so-slick micro-aggressions from your non-black co-workers. You’re still desperately on the hunt for a stylist who’s going to embrace your curls instead of viciously rake through them or get handsy with the scissors. You’re still going to live for the compliments of naturalistas who know how long it takes to get that twist-out just right.
These wonderful moments of connection happened in the comfortable, divey glam setting that was Service Bar. As an ambivert-passing introvert, you won’t see me on U often. But the place was a vibe. The fare was mostly bar snacks inspired by Southern cuisine: Fried pickles, mac and cheese, ice cream with fruit compote, and notably, a fried-chicken-bucket-with-Champagne package called “What the Cluck.” I ordered the cucumber and ricotta on ciabatta toast. It was def on the light and airy side for bar food, which was novel for me.
While the food menu is slim, Service Bar has an extensive drink menu. I ordered the vodka soda with rhubarb, rose, and lime. I love all things rose-scented and rose-flavored, so it was a wrap as soon as I spotted on the menu. Besides, in Libra season? It def seemed like Aphrodite’s drink of choice.
And all the goodies I got from Lovin’ This Melanated Girl also seemed like Aphrodite’s haul of choice. We got all sorts of good oils, creams, shampoos and conditioners, and other wholesome cosmetics that I can’t wait to indulge in. Engedi’s own natural journey — both hair and skin — started because her struggles with with acne and eczema in her teenage years. I’m very much about checking out these products in order to develop a more body-friendly skincare and haircare routine.
Sponsors for the night included Earth Science Naturals, Cachos Brazil Hair Care, Jamaican Mango & Lime, Hot Head Thermal Haircare, CurlMix Inc., some black hair care OG’s like Luster’s Pink and Palmers, Thank God It’s Natural, Froerty, and newer, popular kids on the block like Deva Curl and Rizo’s Curls — all of whom contributed goodies. There were also vitamin gummies from HUM Nutrition, a sample from Coola Suncare, and toothpaste from Hello Products.
Thinking about the rush of warmth tonight filled me with, I’m reminded of a piece of art that’s done the same for me and other black folks in years past. I’m a heartfelt fan of Solange Knowles (see: the time I trekked to Solange’s visual album screening in Baltimore). When “Don’t Touch My Hair” came out, the empowerment it offered, specifically in the medium of black hair, made it so clear why Solange’s album was called A Seat at the Table. In the same way, if you do ever attend one of Engedi’s events, expect to gain, with a warm welcome, just that.