From Dec. 5 to Dec. 7, New College’s Black Student Union (BSU), in collaboration with the Sarasota Film Festival, the Manasota Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) and several other local groups, will present members of the Sarasota community with a valuable opportunity to explore and celebrate Black life through Sarasota’s inaugural Black film festival, “Visions of the Black Experience.” The festival, which will include a variety of documentaries, panel discussions by local experts and demonstrations, has been in development for the past couple of years, evolving and growing throughout thesis student and BSU member Melissa Simmons’ time at New College.
“My first year, the third-year leaders in BSU talked about possibly doing a hair workshop as an event,” Simmons said. “We were really excited about it, but it never happened. This year when I went to my hairdresser in New Jersey, she offered to come to New College to do a workshop for us. I really wanted to make it happen before I graduated, so I decided to talk to Dr. Zabriskie.”
Professor of Sociology Queen Zabriskie, who will be both introducing and speaking at the event, helped Simmons and other BSU members plan which direction they wanted to take this workshop in. After finding the documentary Back to Natural on the syllabus for another university’s Black hair class, the group realized they needed to share it with the New College community.
“That’s when [Dr. Zabriskie] said that we could make it a part of a bigger event which would draw in a bigger audience if we collaborated with the Sarasota Film Festival,” Simmons said. “It just grew from there.”
After receiving funding through Dean of Outreach and Engagement William “Bill” Woodson, Simmons worked on bringing a diverse group of speakers to the festival. Although there will be many insightful discussions and presentations throughout the course of the event, Simmons is most excited for the interactive hair demonstration with Monique Moore, public speaker and Simmons’ own stylist.
“She knows so much about hair and has completely revolutionized the way I care for and interact with my hair,” Simmons said. “It’s going to be really educational and interesting.”
Simmons hopes that this event will call attention to the fact that the fight for natural hair is far from over and that there is still a great deal of work to be done regarding uplifting and supporting Black community members, especially in the predominantly White Sarasota area.
“There are still children in high schools getting sent home for having natural hair,” Simmons said. “Women in the workplace are being told their hair doesn’t follow dress codes or it’s unprofessional. There needs to be more understanding and appreciation of the struggle Black people experience everyday.”
For more information about the schedule of events and how to reserve tickets for “Visions of the Black Experience,” visit visionsoftheblackexperience.com.