Black History Month Always: A Time To Step Up (Featuring Diversity and Inclusion in Designs by a Black Balloon Lady)





The Black History Month celebration reminds me of a story I believe everyone on earth needs to hear!

It’s a story that happens to be mine.

In this blog, I’ll share my experience during one exciting celebration that also turned out to be full of conflicting emotions and feelings.

It began a few years back when, for the first time ever, I submitted my entry to compete in a world-renowned balloon convention. It was all set, I was going all-in with designs that represented my historical culture and my own brown self. 

I researched some historical African traditions and found the perfect design I wanted to represent as one of my competition pieces and set out to create it with balloons. 

I also wanted to create a competition piece that looked like me. You know, the big, curly, kinky hair, brown skin, and the attitude of self-confidence. 

Yeah, you guessed it! The beautiful brown-skinned lady, me. 

On the day of the competition…

I was surprisingly relaxed because I just wanted to build something different to represent my culture. 

I didn’t care if I won or not. It was about trying something new and different for me.

During the building of my African entry, in particular, the vibe was overwhelming from so many people of my race. 

The feeling was a lot different from the reactions of people of a few other races who seemed to avoid looking at it as if I had been setting up a voodoo ceremony. 

I was even told by another African-American that I wasn’t going to win because I created black art, REALLY! 

Don’t get me wrong, I did get some really positive comments that cheered me on, but very few, and with very little understanding of what I was representing! 

I guess it didn’t matter if they read the description posted. For me, it felt as if I was being condemned for having the nerve to create and represent my black culture in my balloon designs. 

Jumping to the Kinky hair competition, black women and men have been embracing their natural hair, and I showcased it through balloon art. My kinky curly hair design was well received. 

 

What was the difference between these two designs, such that one was well received and the other was not?

They were both representing myself and my culture. I never got the answer to that question.

My Kinky Curly hair design won second place. Later, you’ll learn the inspiration behind it.

And yes! It was a proud moment for me and for what that design represented to those of color who attended that convention.

I overheard someone say my winning was political.

Did I win because It was political or did I win fair and square? 

I was certainly not the first African-American to compete in this convention, but perhaps I was the first African-American Female to win in that particular category! 

It seems as if it turned out to be some kind of an “affirmative action” situation and not a win based on my own merit.

The Balloon Industry has a large African American ethnic group with balloon businesses, but why is there a lack of African-American Balloon prints and shapes?

Why is it that very few African-American balloon designs cater to this ethnic culture?

This question will remain unresolved until everyone listens and takes action.

The Coronavirus has struck the world hard. People are working from home and there has been no socializing. We have relied heavily on social media. 

At the same time, the pandemic has brought social injustice, police brutality, and systemic racism awareness to the forefront. 

The great news is organizations and manufacturers are becoming more aware and intentional in their impact on society.

They’re revisiting their policies and procedures to include items addressing systemic racism and social injustice. 

The internet is a good channel for promoting social justice and learning about black culture if there is no access to a library or history books. 

It is through honest and factual posts that African-American people can promote the following goals:

1. Seeking and demanding justice

2. Uplifting voices of those in the “minority group”

3. Promoting awareness among distinct races and cultures around the globe

4. Building and strengthening relationships in organizations and neighborhoods

5. Platforming lived experiences

6. Planning and respecting relevant African-American events

7. Boosting the morale of various races and cultures 

Today’s world is about spreading social equality, be it in fundraising, promoting advocacy, educating people, and other ways.

With that being said, let’s go back to my inspiration behind my African competition entry.

Let’s talk about the Ghana Ashanti Dolls for a minute, otherwise known as Akua’ba. Akua’ba are wooden ritual fertility dolls from Ghana and nearby areas. 

The best known Akua’ba are those of the Ashanti people, whose Akua’ba have large, disc-like heads. African dolls across the continent are created for young girls to play with and as a charm to ensure fertility in women. 

The dolls are handed down from mother to daughter. Western dolls are popular in Africa and are often dressed in traditional garb. What seems to be Voodoo about this item? Nothing!

When the dolls are considered in the context of African culture, they are usually not thought of as children’s playthings, but rather as objects that are laden with ritual and religious associations within the community. 

African dolls are uniquely handmade and are used to teach and entertain. They are manipulated for ritual purposes. 

The Ashanti people live in central Ghana, approximately 150 miles from the coast. The Ashanti are a major ethnic group of the Akans (Ashanti and Fanti) in Ghana, a nation that’s barely more than 50 years old, previously called the Gold Coast.

My balloon art showcased the Ashanti Doll along with custom-made balloons with Kente cloth. Despite the uneducated whispers, it’s not voodoo!

Kente cloth originated with the Ashanti people of Ghana, in a village called Bonwire. The people made the first cloth out of black and white fibers from a raffia tree. 

To this day, Bonwire is still the most famous center for kente cloth weaving. 

The cloth symbolizes wealth or prestige. Ahwepan refers to a simple design of warp stripes, created using the plain weave and a single pair of heddles. 

The designs and motifs in kente cloth are traditionally abstract, but some weavers also include words, numbers, and symbols in their work.

What makes kente cloth so special is that it’s reserved for Asante royalty and limited to special social and sacred functions. 

 

Festive balloon decoration fitting for Kwanzaa, African American Holiday, or Black Holiday

 

Another balloon design my team and I worked hard for is inspired by Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa is less than 50 years old.

Is Kwanzaa religious?  

Though often thought of as an alternative to Christmas, many people actually celebrate both. 

“Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, but a cultural one with an inherent spiritual quality,” Karenga writes. You can learn more about it at https://www.history.com/news/5-things-you-may-not-know-about-kwanzaa

With all the modern world’s efforts to enforce equality in the world, now more than ever after being awakened by George Floyd’s unfortunate experience, it is indeed high time for the balloon industry to step up its game.

There are literally no African-American printed holiday balloons, like Black History Month, Kwanzaa, African textile prints, or shaped balloons for the Kwanzaa symbol. 

Most African-Americans traditionally celebrate Christmas, yet, there are no black Santa Clauses, black elves, or even black angel balloons.

African-American culture is barely recognized in any way in the balloon business. 

Wouldn’t it be nice to celebrate a baby shower with a brown-colored baby-shaped balloon for a change? 

Or, wouldn’t it be so cool to celebrate International Women’s Day / Month with a balloon-designed female image centerpiece that has Afro hair?

    The balloon business does have the brown tone balloons to work with; however, one can surprisingly and easily pull up balloons that are specifically printed to celebrate the culture of Asians, Jewish, Mexicans, Italians, and of course Caucasians across the globe. 

    Cultural representation through balloons should not be merely about forming flags with colored balloons. 

    Of course, it would also make sense to make unique prints available to celebrate national festivals and other traditional events across the globe.

    I’ve been in the balloon industry for 15 years and have always had to create my own ethnicity because there are no balloons that represent me or look like me outside of the brown latex balloon faces. 

    Thank goodness for that small gesture.

    Fingers crossed, the balloon industry continues to educate itself with efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in balloon designs and prints.  

    If you want to learn more about how Top Notch Balloon Creations can make your special events more inclusive, diverse, and unique, let’s talk! 

    We are dedicated to providing our clients with balloon art and decoration services that are perfect for any occasion, for anyone regardless of color or race.

     

    Julie Cylla – Certified Balloon Artist & Award Winning Balloon Decorator at Top Notch Balloon Creations 

    873-9651

    Topnotchballooncreations.com