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NABJ celebrates natural hair on air

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KOIN's Velena Jones among the 25 journalists profiled

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — An image of 25 black female journalists — including KOIN 6’s very own Velena Jones — is going viral.

A group of black female journalists celebrating their natural hair at the National Association of Black Journalists annual convention. (NABJ)

Velena’s on the left in the blue dress.

This photo was taken last month during the National Association of Black Journalists annual convention in Miami, Florida when more than 2 dozen female journalists of color came together for a one-of-a-kind photo shoot.

Wearing huge smiles and bright outfits, the newswomen proudly showed off their curls, locs, braids and afros — hairstyles they’ve chosen to wear on air.

“Traditionally, in this business of TV news you hear how straight hair is prettier, more polished and professional,” said Velena. “So, we assimilate. We play the part, most times being made to feel like our natural beauty is not good enough for the mainstream. It is defeating and not to mention time-consuming to try to fit the mold.”

Velena said the black women she grew up watching on TV all had straight hair. For years after she entered the industry, she went to great lengths to wear her hair straight.

“This required an hour and a half in the bathroom straightening every curl to make it look ‘perfect,'” she said. “I would experiment wearing my hair curly once or twice a year reporting in Midwest summers when it was too hot in humid to do anything else, but I never felt comfortable.”

It wasn’t until she noticed how damaging all of the styling was on her hair that Velena decided to start wearing her hair natural.

“I started wearing my hair natural on-air while working in Wisconsin after having a talk with my boss,” she said. “I finally felt liberated.”

Velena hopes the decision sends a clear message.

“Representation matters,” she said. “It’s important for journalists, the people living in your communities, to reflect everyone we are serving. We as humans, anchors, reporters, neighbors are not all monolithic, so why would we portray that on TV?”

In abandoning the styling tools, Velena also hopes to inspire younger generations.

“I want the little girl or boy who is watching TV who looks like me to know it’s okay to be authentically you,” she said. “To know that beauty comes in different shades, sizes, and hairstyles. I want them to know they can be successful even if they don’t fit the “mold.'”

WOIO anchor Sia Nyorkor decided to go natural on TV last year in an industry dominated by straight, slick hairstyles.

“I had relaxed, I had straightened, I had covered, worn wigs, worn weaves, wore extensions, and I just didn’t feel like it anymore,” she said.

Several other women from CBS affiliated stations appeared in the photo.

“So many of us sometimes feel we’re alone but in that moment,” said Nyorkor. “We didn’t feel alone because there were so many other women who are doing the exact same thing.”

She said all reporters should feel comfortable wearing the hairstyle they choose — without fear of bias.

“It’s your hair, wear it the way you want,” she said.

She said she’s encouraged by new measures like the crown act in California and New York that outlaw hair discrimination and she hopes this photo inspires other women to embrace their natural beauty.

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