Christina Julme says she founded her brand BèlNègès at a time when websites targeting young Haitian women in Haiti were nonexistent. Since the launch of the website three years ago, Julme has transformed her online hub into a household name among web and social media users in Port-au-Prince, and Haiti’s other cities. The content is mostly in Creole, and draws not only young women in Haiti, but Creole speakers around the globe. With articles with provoking titles like “Marriage Can’t Be The Biggest Dream You Have For Yourself”, “Don’t Sell It, You Won’t Get A Good Price For It”, “Stop Doing It For Other People”, Julme and her team have succeeded in making over minds and hearts in Haiti. She has held retreat-conferences that cover topics like self-esteem, entrepreneurship, and holistic health, and regularly teams up with social workers, mental health counselors to add weight to her message.
Kreyolicious: What are some of the things you’ve been up to since our last conversation?
For now, the team is working to bring the BN site (www.belneges.org) live. Since last year, Haiti’s Minister of Social Affairs officially recognized BèlNègès as an organization. It’s been our motivation to present our work and vision to all those on internet. We hope that the website is going to be ready before the end of the year. All of our loyal readers from the blog don’t need to worry, because we’ll still have the blog, and it’ll be an integral part of our blog. We’ll make the announcement when we officially launch.
Above: Christina Julme having some me-time during a BèlNègès event in Port-au-Prince.
Kreyolicious: Where is the BèlNègès movement at this point?
BN has changed on paper, but it hasn’t changed in terms of conception. But it did makeover the minds of those who have followed our project and movement. We’ve gone from being known for our work in the natural hair movement to being an organization that works with young girls and women to change their lives.
In the past two years, we’ve reached more than a thousand girls and young women off-line, and thousands through social media. Today, BN is an organization that’s here to stay. A lot of work still needs to be done with and for the girls and young women in Haiti. We’ve even reached women living in other places. Our goal is still the same: to redefine young Haitian women, while promoting beauty on the inside, and the outside.
Kreyolicious: Having a website is cool, but there can be challenges. What steps do you take to keep yourself motivated?
BèlNègès.com has been launched since 2013. It’s been more than a year since we’ve been working with other young writers who share our background and contribute articles. We work like a team, which means that we collaborate with those who have different capabilities, so that we can walk the road together. It’ll be the same when the blog transitions into a full-pledged website.
Above: A BèlNègès retreat orchestrated by Christina Julme, a movement for Millennials in Haiti held at a horse ranch in Kenscoff, a town near Port-au-Prince.
Kreyolicious: Do you feel that everything you set out to achieve with the BèlNègès brand has been achieved?
BèlNègès is a project that we launched, that’s already grown beyond us. And that’s the beauty in the work that we’re doing. As we grow as women, our perspectives, our values evolve, as does the values and perspectives of those who are growing with us. This makes us realize that we don’t stay in the same place mentally and physically. We haven’t achieved an iota of all the projects we have in mind. We just hope that when this generation is gone, we at least have established a base so that the next generation of girls and young women can take over. Because for someone to redefine who they are, and to improve their lives accordingly isn’t something that can be done in a hurry…or that can be done overnight.
Kreyolicious: You’ve written about skin bleaching in Haiti among young girls and women.
Since we [at BèlNègès] cater to a Haitian audience, we feel a responsibility to address topics that reflect our reality. This is why we publish articles in the language that most identify with, and in the language that’s going to prove a debate…especially among young women. Our motto and objective after all is beauty on the inside and the outside. This topic is just a glimpse of future content plans. We just want to remind people not to hesitate to share their thoughts and comments—even if they might have a different point of view. This way, we can have more worthwhile debates that can lead to the changes we’d like to see.
Above: BèlNègès retreat participants having an exchange.
Kreyolicious: Do you think social media has helped young women in Haiti see that there’s beauty in every body shape and size or do you think it’s reinforced the opposite?
We can’t lie to ourselves about this topic, because the truth is right in front of us. Since we’re living in an underprivileged environment, there’s are little means to bring positive messages that can reach out to the female masses. If we consider the issue of internet access, I have to admit that access is still a luxury for most. Also, those who can afford a personal computer, or a Smartphone are few. And then there’s the issue of illiteracy. But when we look more closely, we realize that while few may have access to it, it’s still a great tool. And it remains our most powerful tool, until we’re able to reach out to our audience through other mediums [TV]. [Meanwhile, social media is the main, and fastest tool that BèlNègès uses to reach out to young women. Even if we can’t reach out to all the women in Haiti, all our BèlNègès followers know they have their own hub on the internet.
Above: A BèlNègès tote bag, among the many other offerings from Christina Julme
Kreyolicious: Are there a lot of female website owners in Haiti?
For now, I don’t think there’s that many. I hope that will change soon. But I’m always open to collaboration with those who have the same vision as we do. This way, we can have our mission reach where our voices and our hands can’t.