Scrolling through my Instagram feed last year, I was blown away by the portraits taken at Afropunk. I binged on the stories told within every square–the edgy clothing, the unapologetic self-expression, the overt statements. I just couldn’t get enough, so I made a promise to myself that I would go to Afropunk the following year.

It was the cherry on top when I learned that N.E.R.D would be headlining Saturday’s fest. I was so overjoyed when they released their album, “No_One Ever Really Dies,” last December. I call it the album of 2018 as it has been the soundtrack of my life this year. The lyrics encourage me to pursue my dreams, they lift my spirits (as all N.E.R.D songs tend to do) when I need it the most, and they remind me that I have potential, that all I need to do is believe in myself.

AfroPunk was my first ever music festival (can you believe it?), and I went solo!

Photo of the Afropunk Welcome Banner: Afropunk Festival of Consciousness
Afropunk Carnival of Consciousness

I won’t say I didn’t expect to meet people or socialize, but I made friends in line waiting to enter the venue (that was a lot sooner than I expected!). The two women I met were also attending the festival solo. (Later, inside of the venue, people would say that we looked like we were BFFs.) From the moment we first laughed together, I knew I’d found some good festival companions.

Days before the festival, I bought my ticket but realized pretty quickly that I would not be able to carry in my DSLR. I struggled with this. Do I try to sneak in my camera? Do I opt for a small prime lens and hope they don’t recognize the difference? Do I plead with (or bribe) the gate guard to let me in with it? In the end, I decided to leave my camera in my car. Needless to say, I would feel as if I was missing my best friend the entire time I was there.

I didn’t let that stop me though. I took photos with my iPhone 6 instead (which I quickly learned is not on par with the cameras on any of the later iPhones). My festival friends were asking me to take photos of them with their own cell phones (they had iPhone 7s), and I quickly emerged as the group photographer as they reveled in the angles and the composition I used to capture their likeness among the eclectic scenes around us. Yup, I’d found my element!

I’m not used to being photographed, but we were approached by several photographers who worked for Afropunk. My favorite photos were from a woman named Amina (@aminaamxn) from LA whose hobby is taking photos at music festivals. Not only did she inspire me with the photos she took of us, but she was doing it all with her iPhone! She made me feel like a model and inspired me to just shut up already (my words, not hers) about not having my Nikon with me haha.

Three black women pose for a photo in front of a blue wall at Afropunk.
Making new friends at Afropunk. Photo taken by Amina AmXn, @aminaamxn
A woman takes a profile photo of another woman against a black and yellow painted corrugated wall.
Amina takes a profile picture of Aisha with her iPhone.
A woman wears a crown of flowers.
Don’t let anybody worry your crown.
Two women pose for a photo against a colorfully painted corrugated wall. Both women wear flowers on their heads.
Flowers was a popular theme at Afropunk Atlanta 2018.
A woman with roses on her head poses for a photo.
Roses are red.
A photo of the back of a woman's head. Her hair is styled in two side buns of yarned locs with flowers adorning her hair.
A candid photograph of a photographer texting in front of a graffiti background.
Swagged out.

More people approached us for photos (again, not very uncommon at Afropunk), and I was photographed candidly which I think is the ultimate compliment. At Afropunk creativity abounds so it was fun to be on the other side of the camera and to be someone’s muse for once.

It was incredible to be a witness to everything Afropunk stands for, to see everyone come together carrying their very own vision of what our reality is and what our future should be, to hear so many voice and ideas and see so many manners of expression and manifestations of character.

A poster bathed in neon pink and blue light with the words "love" written on it.
A photo of the back of a man's hoodie with N.E.R.D's Summer 2018 concert tours.
N.E.R.D Summer 2018
A stark black and white photo of a man with wings on his back.
Winged. @kunjo_
An accidental photo of a painted corrugated wall, the sky, and part of my hair.
The back of a man's shirt reads: "I can't wait for the day my brain explodes so I can give it to the world."
“I can’t wait for the day my brain explodes so I can give it to the world.”
A back of a man's shirt reads: "Music and other drugs."
“Music and other drugs”
Sate performs on stage.
Sate. @stateofsate

I enjoyed just being in the moment, getting to know two new people and being engrossed in Afropunk’s ideals of individuality and inclusion, sexuality and freedom, politics and social justice, equality and rebellion, creation and creativity, curiosity and intelligence.

The Black Lives Matter table.
Black Lives Matter.
Photo from behind of a man with wings on his back.
“You think we’re fly, but we levitate.”
Photo of a dark Afropunk stage.
Pharrell front and center on the stage.
Skateboard P!

To paraphrase the words of Pharrell at the beginning of the N.E.R.D. set: When so many doors are closed to us, it’s amazing to be in a space like Afropunk where the doors are always open to everybody.

See you next year, Afropunk!