By Jade Ortego
Killeen Daily Herald
Hundreds of people of all shades milled in and out of the inaugural Central Texas Black Expo, where the themes of the day were unity and pride.
The 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. event was organized by Mu Theta Omega Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., which hosted Greek Fest in the past. The convention was expanded this year because "we wanted to incorporate everyone in the entire community," said AKA treasurer and chair of the expo, Taneika Driver.
Breakout sessions for adults and senior citizens were scheduled all day. They included panel discussions about many topics, including the state of the economy, tracing one's ancestry and becoming a homeowner.
There were many vendors, selling pizza and fried chicken, clothes, art, flashy hair accessories, and Mary Kay cosmetics.
A sign reading, "Be The Next Queen" beckoned young women to register for this year's Miss Killeen Pageant. The pageant director, Nine Wessen,said she set up a booth at the expo because, "you can't be in the Miss Killeen Pageant if you're not at events in Killeen."
Booths representing local causes, like the Women in Power show that educates about cancer, and the Central Texas Sickle Cell Anemia Association, raised awareness and donations.
A booth from the Children's Advocacy Center of Central Texas had people sign up to be Court Appointed Special Advocates for children that have been abused or neglected.
Representatives from schools like Texas A&M-Central Texas, West Point, the University of Texas, Southern Methodist University and Howard University courted the many teens attending the event.
At a panel discussion titled "Taming You Mane: The Psychology of Hair," three mental health professionals and a hair dresser discussed their own hair horror stories, which involved hot combs, chemical relaxers and rude strangers that can't keep their hands to themselves.
Child and adolescent psychiatrist-in-training Nakita Moore and psychologist and pastor Christine Simon both talked about their decision to go natural with their hair, which they felt was about rejecting enforced and damaging social norms.
"You don't go natural for a hair style," Moore said. "It's about you loving you." Moore wears her hair in a puff. "It feels like a crown on top of my head. I can't help but hold my head up high," she said.
Simon wears her hair in long, natural braids. "I was tired of trying to make my hair look like someone else's hair," she said. Simon said that children internalize messages they hear from family and the media about natural, kinky hair as bad, and straightened hair as good. "I don't think they get the enforcement from us that the way they are is beautiful," Simon said.
Stephanie Miller, a therapist and clinical social worker, and co-chair of AKA for the expo, said she organized the panel discussion because "a lot of people in black culture have hang-ups about how they look."
The expo also included children's activities, a food tasting, a talent show, a high school step-off and many other activities.
All proceeds will go to scholarships for local high school students. Last year, the sorority awarded $10,500 in scholarships.
Though the event was packed, Driver said she would have been happy if just five showed up.
"I just want the community to come together on a united front and see the positive things blacks have contributed to the world. And with Black History Month, what better time than now?" Driver said.
Contact Jade Ortego at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553. Follow her on Twitter at KDHcourts.