Geechee Gals Gettin' It - Vol. 1: Jocelyn Holmes
The Gullah Geechee culture is not only rich in history. The gifts our ancestors gave are infinite and inspire us daily but it doesn’t just stop there. No, Gullah Geechee is a living, breathing culture. What we do today continues to shape our community and narrative. From healing work, to activism, music, entrepreneurship, preservation, counseling, parenting, natural haircare and more, Gullah Geechee women continue to “Reach back and get it” and then put their thing down, flip it and reverse it!
Joselyn Holmes, Geechee Gal
I am from St. Helena Island, SC. I grew up on Seaside and currently live in Cedar Grove of St. Helena Island.
I didn’t start identifying as Gullah Geechee until I was at least 5 or 6 years old. I just remember growing up laughing at the way my grandparents talked. Little did I know it was sticking. I was picking up on everything they said and did. My first time in a field was because of my grandmother; we picked okra and tomatoes, corn and snap beans. Every Sunday we’d have a big family dinner and you could always expect some “hoppin john” aka peas & rice, cornbread, mac & cheese, turkey wings, potato salad and more. Sundays were literally Gullah Grub day. I was also influenced by the show Gullah Gullah Island. I remember watching this show in kindergarten. It taught me social skills and family lessons through song and also highlighted the Gullah culture. It wasn’t until I attended Penn Center’s summer camp that I was really able to claim my Gullah Geechee identity. As a camper and eventually a junior counselor, I learned a lot about our enslaved ancestors and what they went through. We toured the local museum and viewed all the handmade clothes and artifacts that were used back in the day. We’d also watch videos and have speakers come and enlighten us with more knowledge. I can honestly say that my identity as Gullah Geechee has evolved through different stages and experiences in my life.
Being Gullah Geechee is a privilege. To be a part of a culture that endured and paved a way for me is just a blessing. Gullah Geechee isn’t just a popular fad to cling to. It’s a way of life—our way of life that needs to be promoted and preserved.
I’ve always had my own style. I have a collection of baseball hats that I started buying my first year out of high school. I have a thing with coordinating, so my hats always matched my sneakers, shirt and socks. I was blessed with a gift to cut people’s hair. I’ve been a Master Barber for 9 years, and I enjoy every minute of it. It’s such a great feeling being able to enhance one’s natural beauty with a simple haircut. My culture certainly influences my barber career. Every style is a revolving cycle of what was worn before my time. Many of the styles have some type of symbolic meaning behind them.
My advice to my fellow black women entrepreneurs would be to keep God first and be patient. In order to be a successful businesswoman you first have to love what you do. Be humble and accept constructive criticism. Always remember that you have to go through to get through. Times may be rough, but nothing worth having is ever easy. Support your fellow black women and never let their success make you envious. You never know the storms they went through to get there.
I am most passionate about motherhood. There is really no greater feeling than working hard to take care of the very kids I carried for nine months and birthed. I love teaching them the lessons that were instilled in me. I think we need seminars as well as summer programs to teach more of the Gullah Geechee Culture to this generation. Art shows, crafts and music should be incorporated to assist in telling our stories. Our culture should be taught in the school system as its own course–not just one chapter in a history book. We could even have fashion shows, cooking & sweet grass basket weaving classes. Trips to local farmland & docks. All of these could be ways to engage the younger generation and continue to bring awareness and knowledge to the culture I am so proud of.