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Sports Picks: 02/20/19-02/26/19

Come As You Are

Aaron Mervin’s vibrant portraits come alive against an ebony backdrop. His models are young and ... not as young. They’re not beauty queens, though their beauty is enough to take one’s breath away. His work is a celebration of hair, yet to say his art show is merely about hair would be to miss the point.

His photographic exhibition, Natural Nywele: A Celebration of Natural Hair, challenges public perception of beauty and confronts stereotypes. The work invites people of all backgrounds to love and accept themselves—and their neighbors—for who they are.

Nywele is the Swahili term for hair and, according to Mervin, natural hair is so much more than a fashion statement: It’s a powerful expression of culture, self and age-old African traditions.

“A lot of Africans were brought here from the Ivory Coast, the west coast of Africa, and one of the languages that our native people spoke was Swahili,” Mervin explained. “I wanted to tie that natural language of ours with hair.”

In Africa, the way a person wears their hair tells a story, revealing class, marital status and more. It might even be able to tell us more than our names can.

“Our last names are not our names,” the artist said. “If we go back 200 years, it stops. Our names were most likely a slave master’s name. When we got here, we lost everything: our names, our culture, our foods and, not long after, our traditional hair.”

A Jacksonville native, Mervin graduated from Terry Parker High School and lives in Jacksonville’s Northside with his wife, a Duval County Public School teacher. The couple has three kids and seven grandchildren. Mervin runs Head Shot Studios and has been a professional photographer for several decades. He began working on Natural Nywele in the fall of 2017. The enthusiastic community response pleases him.

When he began recruiting models, Mervin’s requirements were straightforward. They needed to have natural hair: no chemicals, perms, relaxers, hair extensions or weaves.

“It’s not that I have a problem with weave or anything like that, but I think too many girls feel they need it to be beautiful,” Mervin said. “And that’s a problem for me. If you wear extensions because you’ve got four kids, a full-time job, you’re involved with the church, you’re in these four other clubs and you just don’t have time to do your hair, I get that. But if you wear it because, ‘My real hair’s too short, my real hair’s too nappy, people don’t like natural hair, long hair is beautiful,’ if you’re doing it for those types of things, that for me is a problem. So I wanted to do a project that celebrated our natural hair. I wanted African-Americans—guys and girls—to see natural hair, to see the varieties in styles, varieties in color, just the diversity that can be there. I wanted to show the whole African-American community. This is our hair. This is how it grows out of our head. Let’s have some pride. Look how beautiful we can be. Look how diverse it can be, look what kinds of styles we can do. Just look at us!”

Mervin also hopes to raise understanding, appreciation and acceptance of natural styles outside the black community.

“I think a lot of the racial prejudices and climate have been heightened because of the president, and I think that’s unfortunate,” he explained. “And what I think is, a lot of non-African America doesn’t understand us or our hair. Just because one of our girls, one of our guys comes into their job, their workplace, their business with a style of hair they aren’t used to seeing, it doesn’t make them a thug. It doesn’t make them a rapper. It doesn’t make them a bad kid. None of those things they may be worried about are true. There’s some prejudice because people don’t know.”

He hopes experiencing each piece up close and personal will diminish the mystery and misunderstanding.

“This project is an opportunity where non-African-American people can come in and see our hair as art,” Mervin says. “On the street, you can’t just walk up to a guy with dreads and stare at his hair. ‘Look at that guy over there! He’s got really nice texture. I think I’ll just walk up and check it out.’ You can’t really do that, you know. What my hope is, after seeing this show, when you get to work tomorrow and your co-worker comes in and her hair is a totally different style than what you think is maybe a ‘normal’ style, you look at it totally different. Maybe you’re less intimidated. Maybe you appreciate the beauty of the hair and the difference more because you’ve had the chance to see it in an art exhibit. You’ve had a chance to really look at it and think about it. When you see it out in public, I think your perception is going to be different. My hope would be that seeing this exhibit would open our eyes to the beauty and diversity of each of us.”

The photographic portraits on display are accompanied by narrative plaques. Each local model has a different story to tell about going natural. They’re passionate and bursting with personality.

Marquetta is elegant, standing in profile with hands raised as her beautiful long ponytail cascades from the back of her otherwise shaved head. Dramatic and proud, her look is mesmerizing. Her testimonial reads:


Journey—Assimilation to Acceptance

From Miss Irving’s kitchen … hot combs, sounds of sizzling, smell of burnt hair, sometimes skin.

‘Hold still, girl!’ … I wanna be pretty but only straight hair will do … I don’t feel pretty and I still don’t fit in.

The ‘Revolution’ gifted change of mind, body … Spirit of acceptance … of me, beauty boundless and undefined.

I affirm that God did not create me to assimilate!”


Gloria is stunning. Her white-gray hair encircles her head like a halo and her warm eyes sparkle with wisdom. Gloria is Mervin’s mother and his biggest supporter. She writes:


I am a 74-year-old, married, retired nurse. I have been wearing my hair natural for five years. I stopped getting tint in my hair 10 years ago, trying to hide the grey, when I noticed that just was not working. My gray kept creeping through even when the tint was less than a week old. I said, ‘Oh no! I can’t keep doing this.’ My gray was turning green and yellow, I even saw red. That gray was stubborn and did not take the tint well. There is a verse in the Bible found in Psalms 71:18, that let me know as I got older my hair would turn gray, that within itself makes me proud of my hair, and proud to be a senior citizen. I am so proud of my hair I wouldn’t change it for all the tea in China! I get so many lovely compliments on my hair and style wherever I go. Some people, as they begin to gray, think it makes them look older, but I say beauty is as beauty does. I love my hair and I love me!”


Aaron Mervin’s photography celebrates women brave enough to reject cultural beauty standards and embrace themselves in their entirety—culture, faith, family, ancestry, age and more. It’s a message he believes the country needs to hear. This is not an art show about fashion. This is not an exhibition exclusively celebrating the beauty of black women or the African-American experience. It’s applicable to everyone who has felt pressured to conform to someone else’s standards. Mervin believes we’re at a tipping point.

“A lot of African-American women are starting to define differently what they feel is beautiful and that’s why I think this particular exhibit is so powerful,” Mervin says. “A lot of girls are starting to go natural. What I’m hearing from a lot of girls is that they want to be proud of who they are as they are. They don’t want to have to relax their hair or perm their hair and do all those things that society said would make their hair beautiful by having it long and straight. So I think what’s happening is that African-American women are embracing their natural hair more and they’re reshaping what beauty is for us and the rest of the world is looking.”

Natural Nywele is on display through February, culminating with an evening fashion show event in which the entire gallery and lobby will serve as a runway.

Oppo-calypse Now

Decades back, those enfants terribles of Miami hip-hop, 2 Live Crew, presented us all with a choice: As CLEAN as they wanna be? Or … more tantalizingly … as NASTY as they want to be?

For me, the choice was easy. I’m sure some people didn’t take the measures I did to get the nasty version—I came out of it with some extra trading stamps, I’ll say that much—but my teenage mind couldn’t fathom why anyone would want the clean version of an album.

I think that holds true for political campaigns, too. The winning ones are always as nasty as they wanna be.

In the first half of the race for mayor of Jacksonville, incumbent Lenny Curry spent money and slammed challenger Anna Brosche, who was not buying time anywhere. Critics call it gaslighting. One person close to the action marveled at why it took Brosche weeks and weeks, and even given a runway, why she couldn’t put together an ad depicting the transactionality that Anna’s Army believes defines Suite 400. While many have pointed out the disproportionate influence of Shad Khan, Peter Rummell and the rest of the big-money crew on executive branch policy, clearly it’s too third-rail even for a reformist candidacy to touch in an ad.

What we did get was interesting: Lenny Curry has “nothing to say” about ending the “Curry Crime Wave,” because he’s too preoccupied dissing Councilwoman Brosche. The Brosche ad is a big bet, a six-figure spend in a budget that hasn’t come close to seven figures yet, and might never. The argument is simple. Are you sick of Lenny Curry yet?

If Brosche’s “stop lying about me and solve the crime problem” ad sticks, maybe she can keep Curry below 50 percent and prolong the contest into May. However, that presumption is based on the dynamic remaining static. Sort of like Andrew Gillum’s fourth-quarter messaging, which had no answer for the narrative laid out regarding Hamilton, junkets with lobbyists, and the rest of the small-potatoes horse-trading that helped DeSantis close the deal.

Word is that Curry will drop an ad lampooning Brosche’s spot, and it would be a smart play. The mayor maintains a cash-on-hand advantage, and can play more tricks, including routing money to statewide political committees (Hello, Florida Senate Republicans) to maximize the impact of those buys.

How many shots can Brosche afford (in the literal sense) to throw? Down by 38 in one survey (UNF’s drops today, and will be friendlier), she hasn’t spent much of her own money for this race.

Curry’s campaign has been more measured than one might think. There’s oppo that could have been played, but hasn’t—and might never. That tells me they like their polling. It’s only when GOP campaigns feel threatened that the real stuff comes out. (Example: the brutal hits Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam ops shopped last year.) So, until Brosche drives up her own name identification and/or Curry’s negatives, the real dirt stays under the rug.

Democrats don’t seem as hip to the game. Even though a metric ton of oppo was there to use against Andrew Gillum, his opponents didn’t bother. It was as if they trusted public polling or something.

Right now, Anna Brosche is a functional Democrat. While there is a bit of a shell game regarding official backing, what’s clear is that the Florida Democratic Party has no problem with local resources being used on a candidate who ran as a moderate, pro-business Republican in 2015. Brosche has been spared from even having a platform in the traditional change-agent sense of the word. And media has spared her even the kind of grilling Bill Bishop got in 2015 over shifting positions on LGBT rights. Her campaign events, if advised to press, are done so sporadically.

She escaped two potentially problematic narratives last week, the kinds that in different cycles may have been blown up. Sunshine Law storyline: a glancing blow. Ethics complaint: mistakes will happen. No rapid response from Lenny Curry’s operation like there would have been in 2015.

The reason is simple. They trust their metrics. If they can win in March with 51 percent of the vote, that’s good enough for them. 

Word is, Brosche is tightening her stump speech and strengthening the emotional appeal. She’s going to have to. The fact that Curry’s operation has played this campaign so vanilla suggests they are trying to tamp down whatever populist fire may be building. Apparently there will be a debate at Jacksonville University on March 6.

When they try to destroy Brosche, that means she’s making progress. If they don’t? It’s because their polling says, “Don’t bother.”

Win or lose, it will be interesting to see how Brosche calibrates for 2023, a year that could have her, Daniel Davis, Aaron Bowman and Audrey Gibson in the mayoral mix.


Celebrity Smokesmen

A couple of weeks ago, this column took a brief look at some of the celebrities who’ve been rushing to get themselves fixed up in the reefer biz, and this week we shall return to that subject. Why not? It does seem to be a source of nearly unlimited potency (not unlike some of these newer strains, but that’s another subject). Whether we’re talking about medical or recreational use, the legalization of pot is now one of the very few sure-fire bets in electoral politics today. With the national cannabisseur caucus growing by the hundreds every day, investing in the industry may be some of the easiest money to be made this side of political consulting.

It seems like every week there are new reports of celebrities either buying into marijuana companies or starting their own. Sometimes you see the name and think, “Well, that’s a bit unexpected.” But other times, it makes perfect sense, as in the case of former NBA forward Lamar Odom, whose life offers stark evidence that, as intoxicants go, you can do a whole lot worse than weed. You may recall that Odom was briefly a Kardashian spouse, which is enough to send anyone off in search of the strongest mind-altering substances available.

Odom’s drug problems go back way further, and led him to the brink of death four years ago when he suffered a cocaine-induced heart attack during a marathon $75,000 slump-busting session at the infamous Bunny Ranch (whose owner, the perennially greasy Dennis Hof, died in similar fashion last year). Odom was lucky, though, and has beaten back his demons with the help of weed. Last year, he launched Rich Soil Organic in California. The project is a joint venture between Odom and Camp Green, which grows organically with no pesticides or other chemicals added. His brand has expanded from weed itself to the highly lucrative paraphernalia market. Given their eponym’s personal history, Odom Vape Pens are the obvious choice for anyone wishing to be irie and ironic at the same time.

Another seemingly odd entrant into this brave new world is Mike Tyson, whose background needs no recitation here. The Nintendo Punch-Out star was recently photographed toking a foot-long joint with B-Real from Cypress Hill. I guess his legendary cardio is still on point. Tyson and his business partners bought a massive patch of land in–of course–California. Part of the plot will be used for growing cannabis; the rest will be set aside to develop a luxury weed-themed resort. For some reason, Tyson’s business plan makes me think of the television series Fantasy Island, which was before  your time, but surely this must be the most obvious reality-show idea ever. That young knockout kid has already got his 40 acres, but he won’t need a mule, because it’s legal. Fab.

Last, but not least, is The Man: Mr. Willie Hugh Nelson. Still sprightly as he approaches his 86th birthday, the legendary singer-songwriter is an industry pioneer, having already released his own “Willie’s Reserve” line of weed, edibles and accessories. Culturally, he has gone further than practically everyone in normalizing mainstream perceptions of pot-smokers.

His latest venture is his own brand of CBD-infused coffee beans, aptly named “Willie’s Remedy”–because you’ll need the hot beverage in the morning if you’re gonna party with that dude. With Juan Valdez recently deceased, the commercial possibilities are obvious.


Are you harboring any concerns or questions about medical marijuana and the ongoing discussions about it? Let us clear up the mysteries for you. Send inquiries to

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Hello Kitty

If you’re a die-hard feline fancier, you’ve most likely been to a cat show. Between the elaborately decorated cages and the perfectly groomed Persians and Siamese, you may have left the scene wanting one of these gorgeous creatures—or a dose of Benadryl, wondering how these juried competitions work.

Cat shows, like cats themselves, are a bit of a mystery to most people. I caught up with cat show judge Rene Knapp (and not just any cat show; she’s approved for all breeds for The International Cat Association), to find out what it’s really like to step into the ring and pick the best.

Personally, I’m rooting for the underdog.


Letting the Cat Out of the Bag


Davi: What goes on at a typical cat show?

Rene Knapp: The main event is the competition. Rows of cages house the feline participants waiting to be judged in several rings. The judges evaluate each of the competing cats and award applicable points. There are vendors, raffles and cheering and applause for the winners. Certainly, a unique, fun experience where you can see beautiful breeds and learn more about cats in general.


Are all the cats in the show purebred?

No. Entries in the Household Pets competition don’t have to be purebred. In fact, many of these cats have unknown origins because they were found or adopted. Others do have pedigrees but are unable to compete as purebreds because they don’t meet the breed standards, and some have only three legs.


How does the cat judging work?

Judges at cat shows compare cats with their breed standard. Of course, these standards and point values are different for every breed. Throughout the day, each judge will evaluate every cat in the competition. Owners bring their cats to the competition rings where a judge examines it, and then gives awards.


Can you explain the show classes?

Cats compete in one of five categories. Kitten includes pedigreed kittens between the ages of four and eight months. Championship includes unaltered pedigreed cats older than eight months. Premiership includes altered pedigreed cats older than eight months. Veteran class includes pedigreed cats older than seven years. The Household Pet class features non-pedigreed cats older than four months.


What does a cat show judge look for when evaluating the competitors?

Judges compare cats to their breed standard. These standards specify how an ideal cat of a breed would look and act. And judges look for overall balance and proportion in a cat’s features, and a calm, happy personality.


Please explain all those ribbons awarded at the show.

Cats who claw their way to the top of the
show receive certain ribbons in colors corresponding to the titles won. There are many titles, from best of color to best in breed to best cat or kitten in show.


What perks do blue-ribbon cats get?

I don’t think the cat really cares. It’s mostly about bragging rights and the pride an owner feels when his feline wins top prize.


As it turns out, cat lovers have been parading their feline friends, showing off at shows, long before Grumpy the Cat hit Instagram. But it’s not just about the competition itself; it’s about the community. Times and tastes may change, but rest assured, if there are cats around, there will always be cat people—and cat shows.

The Ancient City Cat Club holds its fourth annual Celebrating the Pirate Cats of St. Augustine, featuring more than 125 kittens and cats, plus a raffle and cats and kittens for adoption; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 23 and 24, at Solomon Calhoun Community Center, 1300 Duval St., St. Augustine, 829-0381,, $6 adults, $3 seniors, free for kids younger than six.