Miami beauty queen competing in Washington embraces Afro-Cuban-American identity with natural hair

Leyanis Diaz is out to prove that beauty queens don’t need to have silky-straight or Barbie-wavy hair to wear a crown with grace.

Miss Black Florida USA is among the Afro-Latinas in South Florida who are joining a natural hair movement. The African-American natural hair movement is rooted in a defiance against a painful racist history and is tangled up in a fight for equal rights. 

Embracing their natural hair is a transition that goes beyond style choices or fashion trends. Diaz, who is an Afro-Cuban-American beauty queen from Miami’s Little Havana, said her choice is about redefining beauty pageants and self awareness.

“Competing with natural hair for me was about self discovery,” Diaz said. It’s also about “self-knowledge and self-love.”

When she competed for Miss Black Florida USA, she was wearing her kinky hair with pride and won the crown. This weekend, she was aiming to become the first Afro-Latina with natural hair to win the Miss Black USA Pageant in Washington, D.C. 

The 24-year-old Florida International University graduate was born in Cuba. Back on the Communist island, hair color and texture remains a status symbol. The women in her family didn’t have access to modern chemical straighteners or luxury weaves. African head-wraps were common. 

When she was 3-years-old, her parents brought her to the country where the legendary Celia Cruz found worldwide fame and redefined Afro-Cuban identity. The late Queen of Salsa used hair to express herself. Some of her outrageous wigs are on display at the National Museum of American History. 

When Diaz was a student at Riverside Elementary School in Miami’s East Little Havana, natural hair how-to tutorials were appearing on YouTube. She was a Miami Senior High School student when Facebook and Instagram helped to nurture a growing community embracing natural hair.

It wasn’t until she became the first one in her family to graduate from college that Diaz found the confidence to take a risk with her image. She joined the 24 million black women in the U.S. who are making the business of hair relaxers and straighteners plummet.

The natural hair movement counts on role models like Kerry Washington and Oprah Winfrey and it has become the foundation of a powerful industry — now estimated at $700 million — that is here to stay. In 2010, Dabur bought Namaste Laboratories for $100 million and four years later L’Oreal bought Carol’s Daughters.

Diaz wore her hair straight when she won the Miss Black and Gold Pageant two years ago, and after she transitioned to natural hair last year she competed in the Miss Homestead and Miss Hialeah pageants. She was the only one with an Afro hairstyle. 

“I aspire to make a name for myself and all Afro-Latina in the entertainment industry,” Diaz wrote in her Model Mayhem profile. 

The industry’s marketing campaigns need models, but Diaz is also aspiring to be a role model. She volunteers as a mentor at the Embrace Girls Foundation, a Miami Lakes-based non-profit organization catering to girls at local elementary and middle schools.


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2 police officers shot in Jacksonville

Two police officers were wounded while responding to reports of a suicide attempt Friday night at a home in Jacksonville’s Westside, where they believed three people were in danger.

According to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office police officers shot and killed a man they say who came out of the house firing a high-powered rifle.

“As the officers approached the house, they knew it was a rifle the individual was shooting,” Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Director Mike Bruno said. “They knew they were staring danger in the face and yet they moved forward to meet the commitment they held and swore to take for this community.”

The three people in the house were safe. One of the officers was shot in both hands and the officer who was shot in the stomach was listed in critical condition early Saturday morning. 

The shooting happened as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was assisting the Kissimmee Police Department with the death of Officer Matthew Baxter in Osceola County. 

Gov. Rick Scott tweeted, “We stand with ALL law enforcement in Florida.”

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1 Kissimmee police officer killed, officer wounded in ‘very grave condition’

One police officer was killed and another seriously wounded while responding to suspected drug activity Friday night in Kissimmee just south of Walt Disney World. 

Kissimmee Police Department Chief Jeff O’Dell identified the two shot as Sgt. Sam Howard and Officer Matthew Baxter. They were not able to return fire, O’Dell said. 

“They were surprised,” O’Dell said. 

O’Dell said Baxter, who is married to a fellow police officer and has three children, died. He had been working for the department for three years. Howard, who is also a father, was in “grave critical condition and the prognosis is not looking good,” O’Dell said. He is a 10-year veteran. 

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he was “heartbroken.” President Donald Trump tweeted a message to the Kissimmee Police Department early Saturday morning. 

“My thoughts and prayers are with the Kissimmee Police and their loved ones,” Trump said. “We are with you.”

Howard and Baxter, who were both wearing their uniforms, were shot about 9:30 p.m. in a neighborhood known for having drug activity, O’Dell said. Both officers were taken to Osceola Regional Hospital where doctors pronounced Baxter dead.

Four suspects were in custody early Saturday morning, O’Dell said. Detectives recovered the weapons involved and took Everett Miller, a U.S. Marine who is accused of killing Baxter, to the Osceola County Jail in Baxter’s handcuffs.

Osceola County Commissioner Fred Hawkins Jr. said the last Kissimmee police officer who was killed on duty was in 1983. 

“Heartbreaking loss of two of Kissimmee’s finest officers,” Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs tweeted. “Please join in prayers for families, friends and law enforcement.”

Police officers and deputies from St. Cloud, Orlando, Orange County and Florida Highway Patrol troopers were assisting the Kissimmee Police Department. 

“Our solidarity is with Kissimmee police as they deal with this tragic loss,” Orange County Sheriff’s Office tweeted Friday night. 

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was also at the scene. 

Local 10 News partner WFTV contributed to this report. 

Chief O’Dell: This is a tough time in law enforcement. I would ask that you pray for the men and women of law enforcement.

— Kissimmee Police (@kissimmeepolice) August 19, 2017

More messages of solidarity

KPD reporting two officers shot in the area of palmway and cypress. Media staging area at Stapkesvon Main Street.

— Kissimmee Police (@kissimmeepolice) August 19, 2017

Our hearts are heavy with the news of our 2 fallen @kissimmeepolice Officers. Our prayers are with their families & their fellow officers.

— Sanford Police (@SanfordPolice) August 19, 2017

We are 1 family. This makes 4 police officers shot in FL tonight. Our heavy hearts are with our brothers & sisters & their loved ones

— Mike Chitwood (@SheriffChitwood) August 19, 2017

Two Kissimmee Police Officers murdered tonight. Please keep @kissimmeepolice and all of the nation’s peacekeepers in your prayers.

— MartinCountySheriff (@MartinFLSheriff) August 19, 2017

We stand with @kissimmeepolice in grief tonight. All official info will come through their Twitter feed and briefings in media staging area

— Orlando Police (@OrlandoPolice) August 19, 2017

The men and women of BCFR stand with our brothers and sisters in blue tonight as we mourn the loss of two Kissimmee Police Officers.

— BCFRpio (@BCFRpio) August 19, 2017

We stand with our brothers and sisters at the Kissimmee Police Department. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved.

— Winter Park Police (@WinterParkPD) August 19, 2017

Our thoughts & prayers are with our brothers & sisters @kissimmeepolice after 2 of their Officers were shot tonight. 🚔💙 #LESM

— SarasotaPD (@sarasotapd) August 19, 2017

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Tornado touches down in Florida

A tornado or a “gustnado” touched down near Brevard County Friday evening after The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the area. 

Brevard County spokesman Don Walker said a storm caused minor damage to a fire station in Rockledge. Witnesses reported seeing leaves and debris falling from the sky in Rockledge. 

Merritt Island residents also reported damages, according to Florida Today

The storm clouds were also visible from Cocoa Beach.

Meteorologist with the National weather Service warned scattered showers and thunderstorms were going to gradually diminish in Brevard County Friday night. 

Local 10 News’ partners in West Palm Beach and Orlando contributed to this report. 



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Florida DUI driver hits 17 cars while trying to park, FHP says

A 25-year-old Orlando man was arrested on DUI charges after he struck 17 parked vehicles at an apartment complex in Osceola County, the Florida Highway Patrol said.Tony Futch was arrested and booked into the Osceola County Jail.The FHP said troopers we…

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Florida woman caught snorting cocaine off iPhone in school parent pickup line

A southwest Florida woman was arrested after a police officer saw her snorting cocaine off her iPhone in a school parent pickup line, police said.

Christina Hester, 39, was booked into a Lee County jail Tuesday on drug charges.

According to a police report, a school resource officer at Lexington Middle School in Fort Myers saw Hester using a straw to snort cocaine off her iPhone.

Police said the officer asked Hester to go inside the school, where he found cocaine in her purse.

Parents told ABC affiliate WZVN that they were disturbed to learn of the arrest.

“She’s responsible for other people’s lives and she’s driving a car where my kids are walking and other kids,” Lexington Middle School parent Katie Lindsay told WZVN.

Hester was released from jail on a $6,500 bond.

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