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An Interview with Ensign Jacqualynn Leak: A Look at Her Past, Present and Future

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Ensign Jacqualynn Leak is an inspiration to so many. In 2018, she successfully fought for and achieved an end to the Navy’s dreadlock ban. By doing so, Leak made an entire branch of the military that much more inclusive. Locsanity decided to have a chat with this amazing naval Ensign to learn more about her past and present, as well as her future aspirations.

Interviewer: Where did you grow up? 

Ensign Leak: I grew up in Pontiac, MI a city 30 miles north of Detroit. 

Interviewer: Tell us about the magical moments in your childhood. 

Ensign Leak: My childhood was one of many challenges which proved to limit the magical moments I remember outside of what I imagined or read. I read a lot, played basketball and ran track…mostly played basketball and read books. But I do recall moving across town during the summer before I started first grade. The first day of school I was very surprised to see my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Leigh of Alcott Elementary, had now been assigned as my first grade teacher. This was magical for me because she was a guardian angel of mine in preschool and kindergarten. I always found that she understood me and offered me space to be at peace. 

Interviewer: Which events did you find the most challenging? 

Ensign Leak: Events which required me to be seen, not heard. From my youth, I was taught to be seen, not heard. When we went to visit friends or family, the rule was to be well-behaved. This same unspoken rule seemed to carry over into my adult life at various places of employment. There have been times when I was in meetings and made to feel that my opinion wasn’t valued nor wanted. It seemed as though when I spoke on a subject, I’d receive a certain kind of stare or other forms of unwelcoming body language…as if to force me to be quiet. I’ve also experienced situations where I’ve been encouraged to make others feel comfortable in my presence, even if it resulted in me being uncomfortable. I'd be asked to speak softer, with a different tone, etc. When I reflect on all these different experiences, I’ve come to realize that my voice has been muffled or stifled for much of my life. With this new found revelation, I now refuse to be silenced on things which I have an opinion. I will be heard. I will be seen. I will be seen and heard.  I have come to a space of walking in my truth and light, refusing to dim it for another person's comfort. If my light upsets another, I recommend they look within themselves so they can brighten theirs.  

Interviewer: What were your middle and high school years like?

Ensign Leak: In middle and high school I kind of went to the beat of my own drum. I definitely considered myself unique and different. I dressed in whatever fit at the time. My style would teeter between tomboyish and super girly, just based on how I felt. I stood out mostly because I never tried to fit in with others. Because I played basketball, my friends were either basketball players also or others who were in their presence. Often, I was accused of being a lesbian, even though I didn’t identify as such. Back then, that was the stereotype. If you played basketball, people assumed you were a lesbian. Somewhere, some person decided that was “their” truth and projected it onto others. My truth, however, is it didn’t matter to me then, and certainly doesn’t matter to me now. A human being is a human being when everything else is stripped away. 

Interviewer: When did you make the decision to join the Navy? 

Ensign Leak: Initially, I wanted to join the Marine Corps but decided on the Navy after going to the Armed Forces Center and speaking with each military branch. The Navy recruiter was very persuasive.

Interviewer: What prompted you to enlist? 

Ensign Leak: Divine intervention. I was working as a server at Red Lobster when one day, everyone was saying their goodbyes to one of the busboys, Drew. Drew was leaving to head off to Marine Corps boot camp. Prior to this, I had very little interaction with him, but something was nagging me to have a conversation with him before he left. We ended up speaking later that weekend just before he shipped off and I was intrigued by what he said the military could offer. Later that week, I ended up speaking with a friend, Trecie, and found out they were enlisted previously. Before I knew it, I was at the Armed Forces Recruiting station asking what it would take for me to enlist.

  Ensign Jacqualynn Leak

Interviewer: Tell us about the moment you decided to loc your hair. 

Ensign Leak: My journey to loc my hair was interesting. I never saw myself in locs, especially as a member of the military. I had been natural for five years and always wore protective styles. I was beginning to wear a lot of twist outs and eventually decided to try something more permanent. I went to a loctician who used several products in my hair but I was just not satisfied with how it looked, so I washed them out. About two months later, I found my current loctician and scheduled my consultation. My appointment was two months later and I’ve never looked back. 

Interviewer: What has your relationship with your hair been over time? 

Ensign Leak: I would say that it has been one of growth and evolution. I recall using so many harmful chemicals at one point because I didn’t know how to care for my thick, curly hair. Additionally, I’d offer that my journey with my hair has been a reflection of my journey getting to know myself and loving myself unconditionally. 

Interviewer: What prompted you to challenge the U.S. Navy's dreadlock ban?

Ensign Leak: I loc’d my hair about two months before the Marine Corps authorized Marines to wear locs. With this in mind, I figured it wouldn’t be long before the Navy joined suit, given the Marine Corps falls under the Department of the Navy. In April 2015, the grooming regulations were updated but, to my surprise, locs were not authorized. I’ve always been a doer, so I took it upon myself to speed things along, realizing that if I continued to wait then I could be waiting a long time without even knowing if a change was coming. I decided to be that change. More importantly, I grew tired of covering my beautiful locs with a wig Monday thru Friday for 8-10 hours a day. 

Interviewer: What was the reaction from your peers and superiors? 

Ensign Leak: When I initially began the process, I did a poll in a few navy mentorship groups on Facebook. The responses I received helped me shape how I would present the information in my request/recommendation. Some of the audience totally understood what was to be accomplished while others felt we already had plenty of options. Those who didn’t understand the assignment felt we were being inconsiderate to ask for more. 

Interviewer: It’s been over 3 years since your victory. What have peers new and old told you this freedom means to them?

Ensign Leak: This accomplishment has been one which I am humbled to have been a part of. I’m a very modest and private person so I don’t tend to brag about my efforts. For those who know of my involvement, they are grateful that I had the courage and fortitude to push for change and be the change I wanted to see, instead of complaining with no solutions. I have been approached by numerous sailors who have personally thanked me and expressed gratitude for being able to wear their loc’d styles freely. Through the ranks, there are so many women who have converted to locs. It’s simply breathtaking to see! All of us are embracing our natural selves! Lastly, every time I see a female sailor in uniform with locs, my heart smiles. It serves as a constant reminder of why I pushed so hard.  

Interviewer: How did you celebrate? 

Ensign Leak: I celebrated by taking my wig off at work and throwing it right in the trash!! 

Interviewer: What's next on your horizon? 

Ensign Leak: I am working on quite a few endeavors, one is being a motivational speaker and life coach. Over time, I have learned that I must live in the present and be the change I want to see. This means that I have embraced my light and intend to share it with the world, even if it’s not always appreciated. There are so many people who walk this life fighting themselves and I want to be a role model and inspiration to them to just be unapologetically themselves through life coaching.  

Locsanity couldn’t agree more! We’re so thankful to Ensign Leak for taking the time to speak with us about her journey. If you’re inspired by her story, consider taking a stand of your own by supporting The Crown Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” Go to www.thecrownact.com to learn more. 

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