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RapidChat: Nanette Nunu

Nanette Nunu is not only a young African American professional, but a natural hair enthusiast. When she's not working her nine-to-five job, you will find her in front of her video camera providing beauty tips and tricks for her "Curlfriends" and subtly providing insight to her life in a city where she admits "I find myself counting, on one hand usually, the number of people of color in any environment I find myself in."

Nanette Nunu is not only a young African American professional, but a natural hair enthusiast. When she's not working her nine-to-five job, you will find her in front of her video camera providing beauty tips and tricks for her "Curlfriends" and subtly providing insight to her life in a city where she admits "I find myself counting, on one hand usually, the number of people of color in any environment I find myself in."
RapidGrowth: Growing up on the East Coast, what brought you to the modestly sized Midwestern city of Grand Rapids, Michigan?

Nanette Nunu: I work for General Mills and was promoted to a role as a Customer Account Manager supporting Meijer – so naturally I had to move close to HQ.

RG: Is your family from the states?

NN: My family is originally from Nigeria and I am three quarters Nigerian and one quarter Ghanain. My mom emigrated here years before I was born. So outside of living in Nigeria for a few years when I was very young, I have spent my whole life in the U.S.

RG: As a woman of color, what has it being a transplant to a city that struggles with diversity? 

NN: To be honest, it was shocking at first. I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. on the Maryland side and went to college and lived in Philadelphia for a total of six years. If you’ve ever been to either, you know that both these cities are extremely metropolitan and diverse. Before moving, I tried to manage my own expectations knowing that Grand Rapids is a smaller town and the Midwest is generally far less diverse than the East Coast—especially D.C. and Philly.

As a young African American professional, I quite simply rarely see people like me. I am black in a predominantly white space. I find myself counting, on one hand usually, the number of people of color in any environment I find myself in. Whether it be a restaurant, bar, coffee shop, work meeting, etc. I’ve gotten used to it now that I’ve lived here for almost 1.5 years and I truly would be remiss not to say that I do believe Grand Rapids is doing what it can to bring diversity and inclusion efforts to the forefront as it rapidly grows. The city is growing at an extremely fast pace; I just hope that that growth is inclusive and that everyone benefits equally.

RG: What are some things you see that the city is doing right? 

NN: I love the heritage festivals in Rosa Parks Circle! I believe that more events like that to support all heritages and ethnicities is critically important! The exposure it provides for minority groups and the education it provides to the Downtown Grand Rapids community is invaluable. 

RG: On the flip-side, what are things that you notice the city could improve upon to cultivate more diversity?

NN: I think the city should continue to do more weekend festivals/events. In Philly, for example, the city hosts street festivals throughout the year in different neighborhoods each time with different local restaurants, bars, and food trucks participating each time. It’s an opportunity for people to get to know a new neighborhood and a chance for the people and businesses in that neighborhood to be highlighted. To me there is a pretty distinct separation—socially—between Downtown GR and everywhere else. I think there is any opportunity to close that gap.

RG: In addition to your nine-to-five at General Mills, you are an avid YouTube Vlogger. What inspired you to start this side hustle of yours?

NN: I don’t know if I’m an “avid” Youtuber; I’m a newbie and still have so few subscribers but I’m working on it! 

I’ve been interested in beauty since I wore blue Wet n’ Wild pencil eyeliner to the first day of eighth grade in middle school. It was the first time I could wear makeup to school and I think that was the first day of my obsession. For me, all things hair and beauty are a form of creative self-expression. I’ve always been more interested than most of my friends in doing funky things with my hair and makeup and even my personal style. 

I’ve been thinking about starting a YouTube channel for a while but didn’t get serious about it till this year. I have a blog that I think I just wanted to add a visual element to. It’s hard giving product reviews when the audience can only read your perspective – there’s something lost in translation there that you are able to keep when it’s via video.

RG: Recently, in one of your videos you talked about someone asking if they could touch your hair. Can you explain this common issue people have with natural hair experience and how it ties into the “Don’t Touch My Hair” movement?

NN: All my life people have asked to touch my hair—out of curiosity, fascination, genuine interest, and so forth. They’ve been curious about my frequent changes to my hair—braids, weaves, twists—and peppered me with comments like “It’s so cool!”, “How did you grow your hair so fast?”, “Is it real?”, “Does it hurt?” and a variety of related questions. So, I’m used to that. What I am not used to—and should never have to get used to—is people touching me without my permission. 

The “Don’t Touch My Hair” movement isn’t really a movement at all. I think it’s just a case of women of color, particularly black women, finding their voice to fight back at a lifelong struggle. Enabled by Solange’s recent “Don’t Touch my Hair” song, I think it’s just coming to the forefront that black women fight the daily battle of being questioned and asked to be touched by others – primarily white people. Black women and their hair are being othered and fetishized as though they are something beyond normal—both positively and negatively. 

Honestly, this is my hair, why are you treating it like it's some alien concept or mystery beyond comprehension? Embracing my natural hair is a celebration myself and my body as a black woman. It doesn’t deserve to be violated and diminished to satisfy the curiosity of anyone. Ever.

RG: At what point did you decide to start embracing your natural hair?

NN: I went natural about two years ago now—actually literally two years because I took out my last weave Thanksgiving 2015! I went natural mostly out of need to restore my hair to health after a series of damaging perms and keratin treatments that I’ve had over the years in an attempt to keep my hair straight and more manageable. It came at a time where more natural-haired black women were being portrayed in the media and companies were putting a larger focus on creating hair products that are good for natural hair. I’ve put in a lot of work to be gentle with my hair—like several hours a week to take the right vitamins, apply safer, more natural products, and drink more water! It’s been a form of self-care honestly.

RG: That is your advice to women everywhere to start embracing their natural beauty?

I bought into the natural hair movement because to me it symbolizes freedom, hard work, and self-love. It’s not something I’m doing for the benefit of anyone but myself. It’s like anything else in life—fitness, nutritional health, financial health. These are all things that work if you work towards them. People prioritize things like losing weight, getting more responsible with their expenses, and so forth. Each of which require making changes and committing to them to see results, so I approached my hair care pretty similarly. I did some research, made some changes, and saw results. It’s a source of pride for me!

RG: Lastly, what is the best beauty advice you’ve personally ever received? 

NN: Drink water first thing in the morning. Oh, and always take your makeup off before bed. Also—take good care of your skin, no amount of makeup will compensate for poorly managed skin. That’s three, sorry!

Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
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