CBC Trailbreaker is broadcasting live Friday morning from LJJ Barber Shop in Yellowknife. To listen to the segment marking Black History Month, go to the CBC Listen app or visit CBC Listen online.
When Diana Lubansa gets ready to braid hair, she’s thinking about the seasons, the weather, the mood — all things that factor in to what type of braid she chooses.
It’s winter, which means right now most people want single braids, the type that will last.
“The weather [is] very dry and harsh for our type of hair … and no matter what you apply, it breaks,” Lubansa said.
“Most women like to have on protective hairstyles to protect their hair. Single braids is a really good one that women just like to do because they can keep it for up to four weeks or more.”
Lubansa is the only person in Yellowknife who offers professional hair-braiding, something that has great significance to the Black community.
She works with her husband, Jonel Louis-Jean, who owns LJJ Barber Shop, which welcomes all customers but has a focus on styling Black hair.
The barbershop is one business being featured on The Trailbreaker Friday morning to mark Black History Month.
Louis-Jean opened LJJ Barber Shop in January 2022 with Lubansa and two other barbers. Aside from braiding hair, Lubansa also handles the administrative side of the business.
Lubansa learned how to braid hair when she was growing up, and has worn most of the hairstyles she specializes in herself.
“It was part of the culture — everybody did it,” she said.
Braiding dates back thousands of years, she noted, adding she recently found out that in North America, when Black people were enslaved, some would use different patterns of corn rows to map their escape routes.
“The slavemaster had no idea what that was — they thought it was just a style, a pretty style that somebody came up with,” she explained.
“So braiding is something that is deeply, deeply rooted in Black culture.”
De-stigmatizing Black bodies
Inemesit Graham, a personal trainer and fitness instructor in Yellowknife who owns Mummy Fitness, operates out of the Yellowknife Racquet Club.
Her journey to becoming a business owner specializing in fitness began after her second pregnancy, when she found her body didn’t “snap back” from childbirth the way other people seemed to.
“I started to think there was something wrong with my body,” she said — a fear that had been with her all her life.
Born in Nigeria, Graham moved to England when she was five. There, as the only Black child in her class throughout elementary and middle school, she was bullied for hernias she had.
At six years of age, she had surgery to close the hernia, but it wasn’t successful.
“I feel like I’ve gone through an existence where my body has always been othered, and I [was] made to feel like my body didn’t fit the dominant narrative about bodies,” she said.
“Experiencing that, postpartum, and being taught again that I needed surgery so my body could meet the standards that other people thought it should meet was very triggering to me.”
Strength training began as a way to push back against the idea that surgery was the only option to “fix” her body. As she got stronger, she found herself doing things people told her she couldn’t do.
“I was being taught I couldn’t lift heavy weights with hernias, but I was,” she said.
She also has diastasis, which involves the abdominal muscles being separated during pregnancy.
“I was told that needed to be closed and returned to its pre-pregnancy state for my body to be functional. Ten years later … I’m able to do more athletically than a lot of people can,” she said.
She realized much of the fitness information that exists today comes from studies that didn’t include Black or female bodies. On top of that, she noted, Black bodies have been stigmatized as a result of the slave trade, colonization and generations of people being told that Black people were less than human.
“My tagline, what I put on my website, is, ‘Your aesthetics don’t determine your athletics.’ Although it started as a journey to find liberation within my body, I’ve learned that our freedom is tied — nobody can be free until everybody is free,” she said.
“By sharing messages around my body, and by decolonizing my worldview around my body, and by sharing a different narrative around my body, I find that people’s bodies that don’t fit the dominant narrative feel seen, heard and included.”