Rotimi was one of the featured artists at the For Sisters Only expo on Nov. 5. (Photo by Rob Roberts)

The For Sisters Only expo, otherwise known as FSO, recently offered a consortium of seminars, healthcare screenings, panel discussions, inspirational forums, and live performances to encourage Black women to improve, engage, and progress in society. FSO brought together hundreds of women with local vendors and small businesses on Nov. 5, for its 17th annual conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest D.C.

“Zion is here at FSO because we believe in going where people are hurting and this city is full of people who need to know who God is and that He is the healer; we cannot reach them sitting inside the church, we have to come out into the streets and venues like these to meet them,” Executive Pastor James Marshall of Zion Church Online, a group of pastors operating from four campuses across the Washington, D.C. region, told the AFRO. “We are different from many churches in that way because we are contemporary and our goal is to specifically meet the needs of young people by bringing them to God.”

Regina Lawson, supervisor of General Recruitment of Child and Family Services, reinforced Marshall’s sentiments, looking at Black women as both those in need of social services and the natural caretakers for thousands of Black children in need of foster care. “It is critically important that District children who need fostering and adopting are able to remain in the neighborhoods where they were born because they are able to remain around relatives, schools, and the churches they’ve known,” Lawson told the AFRO.  “When we come to events like FSO, we are able to engage with young, professional women who are able to tell us what services they need to become adoptive and foster parents.”

Ward 7 resident Drea Sears and her cousins Fatima and Sharla Griffin said they came to this year’s event after hearing about some of the musical acts participating, but arrived to find much more. “I was most impressed with the number of service and trade organizations that turned out for the event,” Sears, who wants to join the military, told the AFRO. “There were recruiters there to answer all of my many questions about serving my country, and that was really important.”

Melissa Roche, owner of Nappstar, an organization that promotes positive images of natural Black hairstyles, said that she went to FSO to help Black women take control of their self-esteem by embracing their hair.  Roche said Black women’s hair has been a politically-charged and racial issue since the Hyatt hotels fired an employee in 1987 for wearing braids – which they deemed an “extreme and unusual hairstyle.”

“For Black women to embrace their natural hair has become a mental balancing act that is impacted by stereotypes of Black hair being unprofessional, unkempt, and socially rebellious,” Roche told the AFRO. “Even when we love our natural hair, it is sometimes publicly ostracized to a point where community support is needed. That said, we work to show how beautiful, stylish, and professional our hair can be without processing it.”