Rocking Their Cause and Natural Hair: The 2023 Naturalistas Photo Shoot

By Carla Thomas
The Truth Contributor

Ten years ago, I embarked on a remarkable endeavor known today as the Naturalistas Photo Shoot. It was a tribute to honor the beauty and strength of Black women and girls who embrace their natural hair. This year, however, will mark the ninth annual photo shoot, as there was one year when I did not hold the event.

For this year’s shoot, I felt compelled to ensure that these remarkable women have the opportunity to showcase their multifaceted identities beyond their hair. I decided on the theme, “ROCK YOUR CAUSE!” and invited the ladies to wear a t-shirt representative of their values, passions, or causes that are important to them. This shoot was not just about hair, but about the diverse and empowering issues that drive us as African American women forward.

Chayna Brunner, Aurora Peterson, Kristie Peterson-Knighten, Cherisse Brunner, Kai Smith, front kneeling, Kynnedy Knighten

As a way of giving back, a $25 donation is required to participate with 100 percent of the proceeds going to support a charity of choice. This year’s charity is Open Arms Transformation Living (OATL), under the leadership of Fonda Royster. OATL’s mission is to create a community where youth homelessness is a thing of the past.

The 2023 Naturalistas donated $375 to help support their mission.

As you read on, you’ll not only have the pleasure of admiring the diverse and captivating images of each woman, but also get to delve deeper into their stories as they share the significance behind the T-shirts, they’ve selected to champion their causes and the unique ways they celebrate their natural hair.


Kristie McKnighten

Blessed to Bless is a passion project born from divine instruction given to my daughter Chayna, simply stating: “help those in need.” So she decided to fill bags with items loosely, yet strategically, based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and give to the homeless. The contents include snacks, a nominal amount of money (perhaps to catch a bus somewhere) and even a handwritten note of encouragement.

Her mission is now two-fold. The bags are created to help those in need, as instructed. However, the second and perhaps most impactful aspect is the method of distribution.

Chayna purchases all the items, packs the bags, but then freely gives them for others to give away. This allows them to experience the gift of giving to those in need!

Chayna says it “teaches others to hear that small voice, recognize opportunities to serve, and be prepared to answer every call to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”

I am so very proud of Chayna and an active supporter of this cause.  Hopefully, this photo reminds people of what I too believe:  that we are naturally Blessed to Bless!

Any inquiries can be directed to



Erika White

Erika White

“Lifting as we climb ”

Black women continue to be the largest and most consistent voting demographic since 2006. With their power at the polls, Black women continue to align their voices in the discussion on policy on critical issues from advancing economic justice to voting rights to maternal and child health.

Black women don’t ask political parties or politicians for their policies or agendas; they uplift and advocate for policies that improve their lives and the lives of everyone around them.

The Black Women’s Roundtable works to engage, educate, organize, and mobilize African Americans of all ages to participate in American democracy. Having the ability to vote in fair elections, to legislate and shape public policy, and to run for higher office (and win) is how we gain a voice for Black women and our country as a whole.

I see my natural hair and my passions intersecting to create the representation that I am not easily swayed to change my mind and deeply value my roots. My hair is a unique representation that shows I stand by what I believe in, I celebrate uniqueness, value freedom, passion, and resilience.


Maya Williams

I chose to wear the shirt that expresses “Black by Popular Demand” celebrates history of Black people and the accomplishments made by them throughout the nation. This is also an expression I want to represent through my Naturalosity brand and for Black women to remember their roots. Naturalosity is a brand to inspire, educate, and empower women to get the best advice for proper natural hair care.

My story begins with being told that I wasn’t going to excel at anything if I wore my hair kinky. After hearing those words, I immediately transitioned from straight to kinky hair with my mom and two sisters. I have been 11 years natural, and it has been the best decision and I wanted to express my experience with Black women who have dealt with or are dealing with stereotypes or microaggressions.


Celeste Smith

Celeste Smith

This is so much more than a photo shoot for me personally. I remember saying many years ago that my hair in its natural state is not professional. A very wise woman told me. “Celeste, you have slave mentality.”  I was very bothered by her comment to me. What other race says that their hair in its natural state isn’t professional? Even after that it took me a few years to embrace my natural hair. It wasn’t until 2010 that my whole attitude changed.

Being photographed with all these beautiful Black, Bold and Powerful women with their natural hair sends a beautiful message. As I walk this road called life, successes and failures are going to come my way. My “Attitude Matters” on how I handle them!


Kim Taylor

Be Real not perfect…. I realized after a health scare this year that I needed to be thankful for what God has given me thus far and not take anything for granted. With that being said, I also realized that what we often expect from ourselves, and others is perfection… there has only been one perfect person to walk this earth… Jesus Christ, just live in your truth… your reality and be kind to others and you will be BLESSED!


Donnetta Carter BKA The Social Butterfly

The t-shirts I chose to wear “Fancy and you already know” and “Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated”, represent my personality and describe self-love, resilience, transparency, loyalty, uniqueness and commitment.


Sandra Gill

I decided to wear my ‘I AM” t-shirt because I am enough and beautiful, worthy, loved, an overcomer and strong in Christ. The world wants to ‘other’ me; make my cultural expression a constraint, but I heard Gwendolyn Brooks’ declare, ‘(natural) hair is a celebration in the world.’ Therefore, I am never a limitation but qualified to be who I am!


Fonda Royster

I chose the Open Arms Transformation Living T-shirt to bring awareness of the increasing numbers of teen homelessness and exploitation, esp. in Toledo. Additionally, I wanted to promote a safe nonjudgmental space (organization) for these babies in need.