Black is Beautiful Mini Blog Series Part 4: Meet MELISSA!

Hello, friends! Happy Saturday! The calendar declaration of Black History Month is coming to an end, BUT that does not mean that the celebration of our Blackness ends here. I am here to present to you the LAST (whaaaa, I know, I am SO sad too!) installment of the Black is Beautiful mini blog series for this month! One of the most inspiring people I know that I am featuring today is my sweet soul sister, Melissa! Let me share a bit about this beautiful human being before we get into it!

I have been so privileged to have gotten to know Melissa these past few years on a deeper level. Being another Congolese sister of mine, we have very similar upbringings. Our families are long-time friends. This connection has been a blessing since it has allowed me and her to foster our own friendship over time. I was so excited to hear that she was attending school in SoCal way back when I first began college. Though we did not attend the same university per say, her proximity to where I was located was perfect because she got to spend a few holidays and breaks with my family. There, our bond grew stronger. I honestly view Melissa as a sister who I dearly admire. We have beautiful memories together, and she is a fashion ICON yall! My favorite thing about her is that she is truly symbolic of a humble and gentle spirit. She is one of those people with who you can feel such radiant energy exuding from her. Let me stop bragging now – I want you to read about all of the exciting accomplishments we are going to uncover today about her in this interview!

IreneWhat are your name and pronouns? Give us a quick synopsis of who YOU ARE!

Melissa: Hi beauties! My name is Melissa Mulengwa (she/her), and I’m the Owner & Founder of Mama + Mimba Maternity (and most recently, Mimba Chic – yay!). I’m a 20-something forever fashionista and blossoming entrepreneur. I LOVE fashion + style, and expressing myself visually through clothing. I’m a first-generation immigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have a background in public health & women’s health, and for a long time in my undergrad career, I honestly thought I was going to go to medical school to become an OB-GYN (I just couldn’t pass organic chemistry – if you know, you know, haha!). Although I ultimately decided to go to business school to get an MBA, I’ve loved and always known that I wanted to work with pregnant women. But I had absolutely NO idea that I would start a business at this point in my life, let alone a maternity boutique.

I’m not a mother just yet, and I’ve never been pregnant before (although I’m SO excited for that part of my life when the time comes). But I know that God placed it on my heart to open a maternity boutique that would inspire women to feel beautiful & powerful throughout their motherhood journeys. Through Mama + Mimba (and now Mimba Chic), I’m learning what it means to be a mama, how beautiful pregnancy is, and how truly amazing women are. It’s so special to me that I get to combine my passions for fashion + style and working with pregnant women in two lovely spaces, and I’m so happy I get to share this journey with you all.  I’m so excited to share chic maternity fashion, uplifting words, and inspiration!

IreneChoose THREE words that come to mind when you define “Blackness”. Define each word in its relationship to Blackness. Why did you choose these three words?

Melissa: The 3 words that come to mind when I define “Blackness” are: melanin, glow, and unique. I chose these words because they are the words that perfectly capture all of the beauty, strength, and power that is Blackness!

MelaninMelanin is such a beautiful word to me, and is the very thing that gives us our vast range of beautiful skin tones. It is what gives each of us our own unique stamp that allows us to stand out among others, and to be deeply rooted in our Blackness. I love my melanin, and my beautiful, chocolate brown skin!

GlowIt’s truly magical how our skin just naturally glows, especially under the sun! I remember sitting down and having an honest conversation with my baby cousin when she was younger (she also has chocolate brown skin), and telling her that she is the most beautiful person in the world (and always will be) because she naturally glows like the sun. Seeing her face light up as a big smile stretched across her face after I told her this was truly the cutest, most special moment I’ve ever had with anyone, aw!

UniqueBlack people (and Black women especially) are truly the most unique and beautiful beings on the entire earth; from our hair textures, skin tones, and body shapes, to our style and personalities, we as a culture and as individuals are just so phenomenal and powerful!

IreneWhat is the MOST beautiful thing about being Black to you?

Melissa: To me, the most beautiful thing about being Black is the elegance, power, and beauty that we so naturally carry in our walk, our talk, our style, and how we show up in the world every single day. We carry with us the stories and experiences of those who came before us, the hopes and dreams of those who will come after us, and the strength and courage we need to live in the present moment. The joy that reverberates from our hearts as we carry on the legacy of our culture from one generation to the next with such grace is just so beautiful to me, and I’m so grateful to be a Black woman in this life!

Irene: How do you keep your Blackness beautiful on a regular basis?

Melissa: I keep my Blackness beautiful by practicing self-love and self-care daily. For me, self-love and self-care look different during each season of my life – in the current season I’m in, self-love and self-care are pouring into my journal whenever I feel most led in the mornings, as well as writing down all the hopes and dreams that I’m praying over (as this is my favorite way to speak to God); maintaining my health and fitness (including drinking 8 cups of water daily and doing my mini workouts + taking walks); being consistent with my daily and nightly skincare routine (the goal is for my skin to look like a glazed doughnut all 2022); listening to uplifting music that inspires me to love myself and the woman I’m becoming (and also if I just want to whine my waist and be THAT GIRL in my room, haha!); watching YouTube videos featuring my favorite fashion girls (Monroe Steele and Highlowluxxe are my absolute FAVES!); and lastly, coming up with amazing fashion looks & concepts, and doing editorial-style photoshoots. 

Each of these activities makes my heart fill and burst with joy and allows me to truly see and feel how beautiful my Blackness is, always!

IreneWhat is one of your favorite songs that fit/exemplifies that Black is Beautiful?

Melissa: One of my favorites is called “Cleva” by Erykah Badu – this song is my JAM, especially whenever I wash my hair. I love how its beat just hugs my soul, and its lyrics make me feel so beautiful as a Black woman in the simplest, truest way possible. My favorite lyrics from the song are “My dress ain’t cost nothing but seven dollars / but I made it fly / and I’ll tell ya why / ‘cause I’m clever…” To me, these lyrics (and the rest of the song) tell me that Black women are honestly the coolest, flyest people on this planet, and that it doesn’t take much effort to embody that. Our existence is just that, beautiful + clever. 

Irene: How can we support a fellow amazing Black person like yourself? Do you have any projects, businesses, creations, etc. that you are working on that you would like to speak briefly about and/or we can support?

Melissa: Yesss! I’m the proud Owner & Founder of two beautiful brands: Mama + Mimba Maternity, and its beloved (and new) sister brand, Mimba Chic. I created both brands to inspire mamas-to-be to look and feel their absolute best during their pregnancies with stylish & functional maternity fashion. Through both platforms, I also hope to bring more representation of Black women in motherhood & maternity wear spaces. Below is a bit more about each brand:

Mama + Mimba Maternity is an online maternity boutique that uplifts & empowers mamas-to-be with beautiful, elegant, and chic clothing. Our maternity dresses are carefully selected and curated with love to compliment a woman’s natural glow from within. At Mama + Mimba, we inspire women to feel beautiful during all parts of their motherhood journeys. Thus, all of our dresses can be worn before, during, and after pregnancy! Hooray! Shop with us at www.mamaandmimba.com, and follow us on Instagram @mamaandmimba! (Also, if you’d like to learn more about me and my inspiration for starting Mama + Mimba, watch our introduction video on YouTube!)

Mimba Chic is a platform that inspires mamas-to-be to live their best and most fashionable lives during their pregnancies. We help mamas bring out their beautiful, natural glow with stylish & functional maternity fashion. From helpful tips on the most comfortable maternity basics and maternity casual wear to invest in, to the cutest maternity dresses to wear for special occasions, we provide mamas-to-be with our top recommendations for the best fashion pieces they need in their maternity wardrobes. Who says you can’t be fabulous, fashionable, and pregnant? Check us out at www.mimbachic.com, and follow us on Pinterest at @mimbachic!

IreneCan folks connect with you to learn more about you/support you? If so, please drop your social media info down below!

Melissa: Definitely! To follow along my personal journey and love for all things fashion + style, follow me on Instagram at @melissamulengwa!

IreneAnything else you want us to know about you or anything you want to share with the readers? Feel free to drop it down below!

Melissa: My daily reminder to myself (and to you) is to choose love, and to show up in love, always. You were beautifully crafted in your mother’s womb by God to be the amazing person you are, and the world deserves to see you glow! And always remember that your Black is (and always will be) beautiful. 🙂

I don’t want these to end, ah!! Now do yall see why I was in such AWE at the beginning? Melissa is a self-made woman, okayy! A whole entrepreneur, making her dreams a reality every day! It has been so amazing to hear her talk about these dreams when we were young ones in college, and to have actually manifested it into a reality is so empowering to witness. Check out her businesses. She has put in so much work building her businesses from the ground up. If motherhood is in my future, I will definitely be supporting because fashion stops for no one — I must be stylish at all times! Also, I LOVEEEEE me some Badu! “Cleva” is also one of my all-time favorite songs by Ms. Badu! You’re so right, it does make for a great hair-washing song! I swear my deep conditioner penetrates better with “Cleva” in the background (lol). Thank you so much, Melissa, for letting me feature you today. It is truly an honor to have you on the site and for you to share such exciting news with us!

Friends — I don’t want to say it BUT this technically does conclude the Black is Beautiful mini blog series that I have planned and executed for this month. I really had so much fun interviewing my lovely friends this past month. Each and every individual interviewed is so special to me, and I really hope that you all were able to learn from them and also support their various businesses, projects, and aspirations. I am so touched that you all took the time to read my blog series this month. Yall’s support, affirming words, and shares have truly made this process even more worthwhile. I hope that by reading this series, you all have learned a little more about why Black is SO beautiful and the many forms, shades, and narratives Blackness presents as.

I maayyyy have a little surprise to share on the blog in a few days – we shall see! Stay tuned just in case! 😉

Peace and love,

Irene

Black is Beautiful Mini Blog Series Part 3: Meet DESTINE!

Hello, friends! Happy Saturday! You know what time it is – the third amazing individual who will be blessing us with her presence on the Black Is Beautiful mini blog series for this month is here! Meet DESTINE! Before we delve into the interview, I must share a bit about my friend!

This lovely soul and I have been family friends for YEARS – like I mean our families have known each other forever. We both share an enriching, vibrant, Congolese culture. We have very similar upbringings and relatable stories that we both share on a personal level growing up as the children of Congolese immigrants. I remember when going on our family trips to NorCal, I made it a point to stop by her house to relive all of the fun memories that we would have whenever we visited Destine and her family. That includes playing ruthless rounds of Uno games that never seemed to end with my siblings as well as Destine and her siblings. Though we are physically far, I appreciate the continuous love that Destine continues to radiate and pour into my spirit all of the time.

IreneWhat are your name and pronouns? Give us a quick synopsis of who YOU ARE!

Destine: My name is Destine Kyubwa (she/her). I am a creative, poet, lover, entrepreneur, and so much more! Within those curated identities, I’m a child of God to my core. Moving from that place spills into every aspect of my life. My will and purpose come from watering the seeds that have been planted in me since birth. My etheric calling began a few years ago when I dove into the wellness and spirituality world. With my deep passion for self-development, I’ve had the honor of utilizing my Marketing Degree with social media; more specifically Instagram and my email newsletter. I wholeheartedly cherish connecting with community online but also nurturing the safe spaces around me in real life. If I could describe myself in one word, I’d use intentional. Self-expression is everything to me! Getting the message out about living life fully and authentically brings me so much joy. (:

IreneChoose THREE words that come to mind when you define “Blackness”. Define each word in its relationship to Blackness. Why did you choose these three words?

Destine:

The first word I’d use that comes to mind defining “Blackness” would be rich! Being a melanin-rich person is a miracle! It’s a beautiful reminder that we were created by the hands of the Divine. I’ll forever remember the words from Bob Marley, “my richness is life, forever.” I always write about the notion that liberation is found where love is. Over the past few years, as a melanated woman – I rest in the knowing that living life can be a form of revolution. Living can be what creates the vision! From our presence, we build. From our will, we create the world we wish to see with respect to the past. Melanin absorbs sunlight. It coats every cell in our bodies. It’s literally an amino acid. Melanin-rich individuals are basically coated with the essence of life. What isn’t rich about that? I love us. Lol.

The second word that comes to mind is rooted. There is just something magical about hair that defies gravity. Beyond our physical attributes, I’d like to believe our “Blackness” is spiritual. How tethered are we to our purpose? How firm are we about living life on the terms of unshakable faith? How confident are we in our ability to break free from the perceived limitations of our “struggle?” We are strong, even when we are soft. To be rooted, is to be difficult to destroy. Our longevity in this material world comes from the spiritual roots we water as well. 

The third word that comes to mind is creative. Melanated creatives make the world go round! Our “Blackness” can especially be found in our joy. If you’ve been following me on Instagram, y’all know I’m so dang passionate about the power and beauty that comes from creating! Creating heals, transmutes pain and I can confidently say, sustains. Whether you find joy in poetry, creating content, dancing, singing, writing, designing, anything really – you can deepen your love for yourself or your journey in ways that are indescribable to others. Our ancestors sang. They most definitely moved their bodies. Your darkness or pain can be the breeding ground of creation. We transmute, transform, then remember our essence and the truth of Yahweh love. Creation can be a form of worship when upholding the will of God. It’s the way in which we serve our gifts to the world. I’m so honored to witness the beautiful creations made from melanated beings daily.

IreneWhat is the MOST beautiful thing about being Black to you?

Destine: The most beautiful thing about being Black to me is my heart. Living life in accordance with spirit is a blessing. I know true beauty can be found internally beyond my lovely complexion. I also know the uniqueness of God’s work is miraculous. Love rests in places that are unseen to the human eye. I strongly believe our hearts, our souls calling is what makes life, life. One beautiful masterpiece.

IreneHow do you uplift your Blackness on a regular basis?

Destine: I uplift my Blackness through connecting to my roots. I’ve had the blessing of growing up in a big family and spending a majority of my younger years around my Grandparents. Connecting to Congolese food, music, and trying to learn my native language has been a blessing forever ingrained within my heart. Getting protective styles done by my mom, friends and aunties consistently, has given me the opportunity to love my hair and grow in confidence with my crown. I personally keep my blackness beautiful by prioritizing what makes me feel real, raw, and true. Oftentimes that means wearing my hair natural and wearing less makeup on a regular basis. Freedom can be found when we disconnect from what the world tells us to be and focus on what God has called us to be!

IreneWhat is one of your favorite songs that fit/exemplifies that Black is Beautiful?

Destine: SO. I found this song during fall of 2021 and I’ve been an avid listener of Maverick City Music for a while now. This particular song exemplifies the beauty in Blackness because it’s all about uplifting our uniqueness and God at the same time! If you love gospel music, you’ll love “Pretty Brown Skin” by Maverick City Music (featuring EUGENE KIING & Mav City Gospel Choir). 

Here are some lyrics to get a little feel of the magic. 

Pretty, brown skin

Pretty, light skin

Pretty, dark skin

I see African written in your DNA

Hello choco-melanin from the motherland

With your black skin

Never should you want it any other way

This is for them queens that’s rocking ’em kinky twist (Ooh, ooh, ooh)

From box braids to bantu knots and full lips (Ooh, ooh)

Them dreadlocks, crochets, afros and real hips (Ooh, ooh, ooh)

Them pom-poms and sew-ins with edges that’s real slick (Ooh, ooh)

Now catch this (Ooh, ooh, ooh)

Your black presence is necessary

“Your black presence is necessary.” Yes. Sometimes it’s hard for me to fully grasp the miracle that is our existence. This morning while reading Isaiah 40:28 – 31, I realized once again how powerful God is! The “creator of the ends of earth” loves us, created us, and has plans to prosper us. I was reminded that the power of God is “unsearchable.” If there is one message you get from this blog, I just want to remind you – even if the world doesn’t love you for you, God does! I love you. I pray these words find you well.

IreneHow can we support a fellow amazing Black person like yourself? Do you have any projects, businesses, creations, etc. that you are working on that you would like to speak briefly about and/or that we can support?

Destine: Thank you so much for asking Irene! I have seriously enjoyed my time answering these questions. You can support me through engaging with my work online and joining my newsletter for a more intimate space of faith-based writing. The newsletter is of course free of charge. It’s filled with inspirational journal prompts and just about anything God puts on my heart to share. If you resonated with my answered questions during our time here, you’ll resonate with the newsletter!

Oh my goodness! I have really exciting news to announce soon on IG but this space will be the first to hear. 🙂 I am a soon-to-be published author! I’ve been watering this seed for years now. It’s a poetry book filled with all kinds of spiritual depth and wisdom about scared rebirths. My Instagram will be the first place I announce it. @destinesunshine_

I would also love to add that my 1:1 coaching container, Sunshine Temple is open for all who feel the call! Sunshine Temple is for women who are navigating sharing their gifts online, nurturing your femininity in integrity, and desiring daily support through inspirational audios, journal prompts, and daily voxer access to me. My coaching services have shifted to help serve those similarly in the entrepreneur world. I recognize owning your authenticity in this world can be difficult for some on their journeys. My containers also provide a safe space for alchemical art such as sharing poetry or written works. Our expressions during these sessions can be a form of transformational healing. I’m wholeheartedly ready to serve you on your faith walk. @destinesunshine_

If you know someone who might be interested in my coaching containers, my posts on IG or my free newsletter, be sure to let them know. I will link all my information below.

IreneCan folks connect with you to learn more about you/support you? If so, please drop your social media info down below!

Destine: I can’t wait to connect with you more deeply!

Instagram: @destinesunshine_

Email for newsletter: deekyubwa@gmail.com

Booking for 1:1 support: https://linktr.ee/destinesunshine

Venmo: destine-kyubwa

IreneAnything else you want us to know about you or anything you want to share with the readers? Feel free to drop it down below!

Destine: Sweet love. Thank you for being here. I just want you to big up yourself in this moment because God knows you deserve it! You are not here by accident. God has a purpose for your life and those around you are beyond inspired by your light. This journey called life is a day by day phenomenon. I pray that whatever you’re building, longing for, or fighting brings you wisdom and peace. I love you for all that you are. 

Peace be upon you,

Xx Destine 

My goodness. It has been so rewarding to see Destine blossom into the ethereal being that she is today. I feel so refreshed learning more about her, and Destine, thank you so much for being so vulnerable in this special space! Your chosen words to define Blackness – rich and rooted – are some of my favorite words that I have heard thus far. I absolutely loved how you articulated these words in its relationship to Blackness. Melanin literally is derived from an amino acid – you are so right! ALSO can we just appreciate the fact that we were the FIRST to hear the wonderful news that you are going to be a published AUTHOR?? Thank you so much for sharing that incredible news with us! I am SO excited for your journey and you deserve every bit of the honor and fame that I know is coming your way. Please keep us posted on the book title so I can link it here!

Yall, I really hope you all have been having a blast and have been feeling enlightened by the featured folks of this month’s blog series thus far because I certainly have! Stay tuned for the NEXT beautiful Black person that I will be highlighting next SATURDAY for Part 4 of my Black Is Beautiful mini blog series!

Peace and love,

Irene

Black Is Beautiful Mini Blog Series Part 2: Meet REFILWE!

Hello, friends! Today I am SO thrilled to announce the second lovely individual who will be blessing us on the Black Is Beautiful mini blog series for this month! Meet REFILWE! This beautiful person and I go WAY back. I am going to brag a bit about my friend before I showcase her!

Our undergrad brought Refilwe and me together! We have been good friends for about 7 years now – my goodness! Refilwe and I have so many college memories and life experiences together, from staying up until 4 am during our late-night talks/hangouts to traveling to different parts of California on fun girls’ trips. Honestly, I don’t really know where to start but I don’t want to digress too much because if I get into it I can write a novel on all our memories together. Refilwe is a person that carries out everything that she does with SUCH passion and intention. First of all, she is a headwrap and earring QUEEN. Her sense of fashion is absolutely impeccable. Her spirit is such a beautiful, dedicated one that radiates as she moves on this earth. Refilwe loves people with all of her heart, and as you will learn a bit more, her love manifests in ways that bless and uplift the folks in and out of her communities.

IreneWhat are your name and pronouns? Give us a quick synopsis of who YOU ARE!

Refilwe: My name is Refilwe (Ree-feel-way) Gqajela (she/her). I am a daughter, sister, comrade, friend, organizer… I am a Black queer woman, South African Oakland raised immigrant, Pan African Black nationalist, communist… I am an avid watcher of television and recently enjoying all that anime has to offer #OnePiece #DemonSlayer Also I like tea 🙂 

IreneChoose THREE words that come to mind when you define “Blackness”. Define each word in its relationship to Blackness. Why did you choose these three words?

Refilwe: You gonna have me pull up an essay from college lol

The first word that comes to mind is love. When I think of Blackness I think of Black love, how full it makes me feel, and the active forces that work to challenge and disrupt it. Black love is a radical work and personal value that guides all that I do. 

The second word that comes to mind is struggle. One of our ancestors said ‘freedom is a constant struggle’ and they were very correct. To be Black is to be an aspiring free person in what has been made an unfree world. As a Black woman in particular who inherited the radical Black tradition of liberation struggle and the knowledge that my liberation would hesitate all others, I know I will be in constant struggle for and towards liberation. 

The third word then that comes to mind is freedom; *insert Nina Simone’s ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free*. She captures in this record so much of my feelings regarding Blackness and freedom.

IreneWhat is the MOST beautiful thing about being Black to you?

Refilwe: Whewwwwww! Well, being a part of a diaspora that touches all parts of this world and that actively works to understand and build relationships across shared realities and differences is pretty lit. 

IreneHow do you uplift your Blackness on a regular basis?

Refilwe: Shea butter. Honoring my momma. And organizing for the liberation of all Afrikan people. 

Irene: What is one of your favorite songs that fit/exemplifies that Black is Beautiful?

Refilwe: Most of Nina Simone’s catalogue, but let’s go with ‘Young Gifted and Black’

IreneHow can we support a fellow amazing Black person like yourself? 

Refilwe: Support the Black folks in your life every day. Your coworker, neighbor, student, etc. Listen and make space for them, don’t lean on their labor or voice when you can speak up, and hold your respective communities accountable for their antiBlack practices. Be proBlack — don’t just give up at ’not being problematic’. Move beyond the DEI trainings.

Irene: Do you have any projects, businesses, creations, etc. that you are working on that you would like to speak briefly about and/or that we can support? 

Refilwe: Nothing ready to be supported but hopefully I’ll have some personal project out soon. Still developing and learning from my creative voice. 

Irene: Can folks connect with you to learn more about you/support you? If so, please drop your social media info down below!

Refilwe: IG: @re.fil.oe and Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/refilwegqajela/ 

Irene: Anything else you want us to know about you or anything you want to share with the readers? Feel free to drop it down below!

Refilwe: I am trying out Linktree- check out my public but under construction link now: https://linktr.ee/RefilweG 

Thank you, Refilwe, for speaking to us today! Shea butter is amazing – I MUST agree! No wonder why you are always glistening! I am so honored to have had you be a guest on my blog today. Your soul radiates continuously, and I just felt it as I read your interview. Yall, I hope that you click on her Linktree and social media and connect to see all of the projects, work, and resources that she has to offer because she is a wealth of knowledge. I am so excited to hear and follow your creative voice as it continues to flourish.

I hope that yall enjoyed this blog interview as much as I did! Stay tuned for the NEXT beautiful Black person that I will be highlighting next SATURDAY for Part 3 of my Black Is Beautiful mini blog series!

Peace and love,

Irene

Black Is Beautiful Mini Blog Series Part 1: Meet SHAINAH!

Hello, friends! Today I am SO excited to present to you the first beautiful individual who will be kickstarting my Black Is Beautiful mini blog series for this month! Meet SHAINAH! Before we give her the spotlight completely, I am gonna share a bit about how we know each other.

I met Shainah back in 2018 when I had the wonderful opportunity to study abroad in Ghana. She was actually in a completely different program than me, so I did not get to interact with her daily. We even lived on complete opposite sides of the campus, so I would only really run into her when I was hanging out in International Student Housing (ISH) visiting my other friends in my program. However, I remember my friends would always talk about this person named “Shay” who was super dope and creative. I had no idea who she was but I did not understand why I did not already cross paths with her! Then, I heard that she was a Black creative who wrote and performed such beautiful poetry. When I attended the University of Ghana’s enriching performing arts shows showcasing student talent, I finally had a face to put to the name! Though our friendship did not begin until near the conclusion of my time abroad, we remained well-connected through the power of social media. So today, I present to you, the lovely Shainah!

Irene: What are your name and pronouns? Give us a quick synopsis of who YOU ARE!

Shainah: Hey, innanet! I’m Shainah M. Andrews (she/her/hers). But everybody that I met while on the African continent calls me Shay — it’s their nickname of endearment for me (which I don’t mind). I’m a 24-year-old artist and educator — these two descriptors, largely, encapsulate so much of what I love and am PURPOSED to do by way of Jesus Christ. I impact in my own special way mostly through language, food, and heritage travel. When I speak my poetry, call me ShaiYaa (homage to my roots in Ghana)!

I’m blessed to say that my self-titled brand (which aims to provide numerous types of written, audible, and visual services) allows me to express my creativity and connect with people globally from all walks of life.

Irene: Choose THREE words that come to mind when you define “Blackness”. Define each word in its relationship to Blackness. Why did you choose these three words?

Shainah:

#1) INCOMPARABLE — In a world that loves to classify people according to their skin color (not even mentioning other factors such as hair texture and facial features), I can’t help but often reflect on the Lord’s intentional design and Him thinking about how beautiful His creation is — not just when it comes to physical qualities. We all (human beings) were made in His image uniquely but everybody’s experience here on this earth is different. And there’s something SO incomparable embedded in the DNA of Black people — it’s in the way that we love up on a random stranger in the beauty supply store or barbershop, cook up a meal with minimal ingredients and STILL somehow manage to make it taste bomb, elevate every area of life (like sports), and SO much more. “I’m so glad I’m gang” LOL!

#2) HILARIOUS — Not to toot my own horn but I really be crackin’ myself up with jokes, freestyles in my own room, when I reflect on things I’ve said in the past, etc. Black people are HILARIOUS! And it’s not even always what we say — it’s sometimes just the FACES and SOUNDS we make; often, out in public, all you gotta do (after seeing or hearing something) is connect eyes with someone else who’s Black and y’all both will be like “mhm” or “yup”! My family and friends in particular always have me clutching my stomach because they make me laugh so much. And every social media app out here in the world also proves how comedic Black people are! We provide the world with the laughs that make you sit back and sigh with joy. I think that this is a quality among us that’s often left out when highlighting Blackness (opposed to something like our ability to endure hardships), but our humor is something that I really thoroughly love.

3) BRILLIANT I immediately think of how colorful and vibrant we are as a people (I know most people think of intelligence when they think of brilliance and we ARE intelligent people! But I want to expand a bit on Black people’s brightness in other ways). Irene can attest to the vibrancy of Ghana, and all throughout West Africa! People glisten, glowing because their skin has been kissed by moonlight. Our colorful styles throughout the Diaspora match our lit personalities! I mean, even the fruit and vegetables in Ghana are extra vivid and juicy! Don’t even get me started on the mangos there. Whenever I picture Black people, I think of our brilliant hair colors, God-given tones, nail polish and jewelry choices, vivid food markets, and so much more! Thinking about and seeing our brilliance is honestly always SUCH a serotonin booster for me.

Irene: What is the MOST beautiful thing about being Black to you?

Shainah: I return back to how incomparable we are, really. It’s difficult for me to pinpoint a single thing that’s most beautiful about being Black from my point of view. But in a loophole kind of way, the MOST beautiful thing about being Black is that there ISN’T just one singular thing — it’s the totality of who we are which STILL isn’t fully understood by humanity. I think God was very intentional in that way!

Irene: How do you uplift your Blackness on a regular basis?

Shainah: There are a number of ways that I uplift my own Blackness every day. Some days, I remove my twists to reveal my plush, natural afro. On most others, I protect my twists with a colorful African headwrap or a stretchy, solid-patterned one right from a massive beauty supply store. And let’s talk about protective hairstyles, box braids being my absolute favorite! My faith is of utmost importance to me, so I often like to reflect on the things that the Lord has said and done. Every part of me was methodical, from my plump lips designed to proclaim His goodness to my hair which insects often mistake for home to the authority in my voice, even in my soft tone. I’ve noticed that “you were made for such a time as this” has become especially popular since the start of this COVID-19 pandemic and I’d like Black people to consider drawing strength from that Scripture (Esther 4:14). While Mordecai was referring to Esther’s ability to rescue her people, I hope that God doesn’t mind me putting this in the context of the 21st century. Violence against Black bodies, minds, and spirits — such as racism and white supremacy — are not new but amidst this pandemic, so much IS unprecedented. Even when it’s difficult to see it, I want my fellow Black brothers and sisters to know that they were not born to see 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, etc. accidentally or coincidentally. You were not born to brave these storms alone — apart from Christ! I encourage you to lean on Him, even in a world that just wants us to throw in the towel and accept the mediocrity that it offers.

Irene: What is one of your favorite songs that fit/exemplifies that Black is Beautiful?

Shainah: Choosing my favorite song, I imagine, would be like asking a loving mother to choose her favorite child; I looove music more than I can articulate! BUT I actually DO have one in particular that exemplifies Blackness’ beauty:

I HAD to include the cover art for “La Diaspora” by Nitty Scott (featuring Zap Mama) because it embodies Blackness SO well — the colors, intensity, beauty, allat! Shouts to my sis, CJ, who included this song in a playlist that she made for me in 2019! Fun fact — I met her AND Irene when we all studied abroad in Ghana in 2018! The whole song is phenomenal, but here are some lyrics to give you an idea of its fullness:

Freed all my people from here to Montego Dale morena like this Puerto Rico

We go when we make it rain like El Nino Got that sofrito, that primo, that negro

None of the hitters is f-ckin’ with me though We so cool, we ride off in El Camino

We gon’ be seen, yo — no need no Nat Geo Got so much juice, they just call me Tampico

Part of my life commitment through my work is to show the tissue that connects the African Diaspora whether we’re talkin’ Brixton in England or Salvador de Bahia in Brazil, for example.

Indulge me a second longer on the topic of art as I offer up a poem about Blackness and its beauty — it was written with dark-skinned women at the center. Though short, it’s very sweet and my FAVORITE poem by Rudy Francisco, my favorite poet!

Irene: How can we support a fellow amazing Black person like yourself? Do you have any projects, businesses, creations, etc. that you are working on that you would like to speak briefly about and/or that we can support? 

Shainah: Thank you so much for asking this question!! You all can support me by engaging with my work online which includes poetry, global recipes, spiritual posts, and so much more! If you’re into spoken word or know somebody else who is, be sure to check out my two spoken word albums which can be streamed wherever you listen to your music and podcasts! I’m under the artist name “ShaiYaa” everywhere.

Also, I have two cookbooks out which contain recipes from all over the world — this includes crowd favorites, like Ghana’s quintessential kelewele, fish stew (which unites my roots in West Africa as well as the ones here in the South in the United States), and tastes inspired by places like India and Jamaica! My electronic cookbooks are currently available HERE. If you purchase during the month of February, use the code BLACKISBEAUTIFUL to save some money!

Even when I rest, the Lord gives me downloads and I always have my hand in work of some sort ^_^ I hope to put out more written projects this year, but we’ll see what He leads me to do! For the time being, please consider supporting my posts online, spoken word projects (What I Wrote but Barely Spoke and Freeman), and cookbooks (Slay in the Kitchen with Shainah: Appetizing Meals from Around the World Made Affordable and Divine Bites). AND if you ever need any of my services, please contact me; I’m blessed to say that I’m already being contacted for Black History Month programs, so make sure you go ahead and book me while you can. My commissions are currently open!

I really love it when people spread the word about what I do whether with the click of a button or by word of mouth. If you like it, somebody that you know may love it. Please tell ya people about me ^.*!

Irene: Can folks connect with you to learn more about you/support you? If so, please drop your social media info down below!

Shainah: Connect with me on mostly all the apps!

Instagram | @ShainahMAndrews

Twitter | @ShainahMAndrews

Facebook business page | https://m.facebook.com/ShainahMAndrews/

LinkedIn | https://www.linkedin.com/in/shainahmandrews

To have a look at my portfolio and consider booking me | https://linktr.ee/ShaiYaa

And if you ever want to sow into me financially |

$JustSayShay (CashApp)

shainahandrews@yahoo.com (PayPal)

Irene: Anything else you want us to know about you or anything you want to share with the readers? Feel free to drop it down below!

Shainah: You reading this — thank you for sharing this tender, intimate space with me. I believe in you and the vision down on the inside of you, even if you’re not sure what exactly that is yet. Don’t get it confused; most days, I’m taking what feel like baby steps towards my dreams. But know that steps are steps! Be gentle with yourself and breathe. I love you and Jesus loves you most! If you ever need prayer, professional advice, or other things of the sorts, know that you are now my homie. So, you know how to reach me! I’ll end this interview with my signature parting — a nod to Matthew 5 verses 13-16:

Stay salt. Stay light.

There you have it, friends! Wasn’t this interview just SO stunning? I am not gonna front yall – I honestly am emotional and at a loss for words. CLEARLY Shainah is an artist and a fellow sister in Christ, so beautifully spoken. My heart is so full knowing that you all got to read and learn more about this beautiful human! Her Black is INCREDIBLE, and it shows in all aspects of herself. Thank you so much, Shainah, for speaking life into us today and for being vulnerable with us. I am so honored to have you on Renrenspeaks today. ALSO yall better buy her cookbook!!! I bought her first edition and lemme tell YALL. The recipes are BOMB and are so beautifully put together. And the visuals? It is hands-down the coolest cookbook I have ever purchased.

I hope this blog interview warmed your heart as much as it did mine. Stay tuned for the NEXT beautiful Black person that I will be highlighting next SATURDAY for Part 2 of my Black Is Beautiful mini blog series!

Peace and love,

Irene

Black Is Beautiful – Blog Series Loading!

Hello, friends! Today marks the commencement of Black History Month! Every day is a celebration of Blackness, but in case yall forgot or didn’t acknowledge that — here you are! I have a VERY exciting blog series that I hope you all are ready for this month. Black is Beautiful is a mini blog series that I will be working on consisting of four special interviews from some of my favorite, most admired Black individuals that I have the privilege of knowing.

Stay tuned! Every Saturday in February, I will be showcasing a new person on my blog! They will be sharing why their Black is beautiful among other inspiring, amazing aspects of themselves. So tune in to show your support by stopping by my site to learn more about each one of these beautiful Black individuals!

I hope that this blog series is just another reminder that Black people are beautiful and deserve to be celebrated always. Once again, happy Black History Month! Go and support Black-owned businesses, buy us some lunch, Venmo us a monetary gift, and show us some love!

I am so thrilled to showcase these blog interviews with you all this month!

Peace and love,

Irene

*note: image was retrieved from here.

I Love Being Black!

Hello, Black friends! I love being Black! I said I LOOVVEEE being Black! I love the texture of my hair, the skin that I’m in! What an anthem ALWAYS (I switched up the lyrics a bit, but you get the point)! I first heard this chant when I was in college. Being surrounded by the beautiful gathering of Black college students expressing their Blackness in a multitude of shades, hairstyles, clothing, and many other expressions has always been some of my favorite memories of a cohesive celebration of pure Black joy.

I can rave on and on about why I love being Black. Yes, being Black has its struggles. Let me emphasize – being Black in America IS a continuous struggle. I always have to think twice about my appearance, the words that come out of my mouth, and the way I move in my environment. However, it is also with these struggles that I have learned that my Blackness is glorious and pretty dang powerful.

To me, being Black is a gift. It is an honor that I hold dear to my heart and that I wear with pride consistently. Being Black has allowed me to see the multifaceted injustices in my community and what my role is as a Black woman to change them. My Blackness is also so diverse. I am a Congolese-American, so I get to intertwine these two identities and witness them co-exist with each other simultaneously. Being Black, I have learned that there is no one true way to BE Black. I can define my Blackness to mean anything that I want it to mean! I am not going to lie; when I was younger, I lacked a lot of representation of Black folks in my life and, thus, had a very warped perception of how Blackness manifests. Because I didn’t watch the movie Friday, didn’t eat soul food (actually didn’t even know what soul food was until my late teens), or failed miserably at the game Black Card Revoked, I didn’t think that I was “Black enough” to fit in with the Black communities around me. I struggled to wholeheartedly love my Blackness for many more reasons besides the seemingly trivial ones listed above. BUT I learned a GREAT LESSON later on in my personal development as I began to unlearn my preconceived notions about Blackness. Being Black is not a monolith, so don’t ever let anyone convince you that it is! That is a dangerous way to think that completely invalidates the diverse experiences of Black people (example – myself!). Remember, you CAN fail miserably at Black Card Revoked and still be Black! I speak for myself though, lol!

I will forever be unapologetically Black as I navigate the world around me. All of my identities come with “Black” attached to them first, for I could never see the world without this melanin covering my body. To all my Black folks out there – Happy Black History Month! We are BOMB! We are light, joy, and excellence. Remember, the celebration of Blackness is not just limited to the month of February. Let’s continue to radiate our Blackness in honoring and celebrating our ancestors, our history, our accomplishments, and our triumphs yet to come.  

Peace and love,

Irene