When you are Black teen growing up in Chicago, the following tend to be true: A) You know everyone on the South Side of Chicago; B) Everyone is your cousin; C) You know at least two people who have dated someone in Chicago and/or; D) You went to either Whitney Young or Kenwood high schools.
With that said, I met Shani while she was a senior at Whitney Young well on her way to Howard University (the real “HU” for any Hamptonians reading this) in Washington, DC. Her brother is best friends with the cousin of a girl who grew up in my neighborhood. Furthermore, I introduced her brother to (what is now) her sister-in-law. EVEN furthermore, her brother’s best friend dated one of the other dynamic women I recently featured on The MCB Project’s Self(ie) Portrait. To say “The world is too small” is an understatement. Follow all of that? Good.
But what you may not know to also be true is that Shani is dope.
This is her story.
I was raised in a vey Afrocentric, arts active family. Between my father, an artist and historian, and my brother, a noted graffiti artist, I had the inspiration and art materials to create whatever I could think up. At age eleven, I became an entrepreneur, taking braid clients nearly every weekend. I was always a great student, and I followed that trajectory until I graduated from Howard University in 2011. I was accustomed to making my family proud through excelling academically, and once I finished school, I found myself in a rut with no job prospects. I felt that my family was secretly disappointed in me and it took a toll on my self-esteem.
Fortunately, nail art, a longtime hobby of mine, manifested a job opportunity at a popular Black owned nail salon. There I made a name for myself creating intricate wearable art for numerous clients. After two years of working in the salon, I decided to devote more of my time to my own endeavors in art, film and fashion. Now, I co-create a line of reclaimed vintage sportswear, I’m making more imagery, and I was recently included in my first group art show.
Throughout my post college journey My biggest hurdle was negative thinking. I would worry unnecessarily about what other people would think about me pursuing my ideas. I feared that because I was interested and skilled in various disciplines that I wouldn’t be taken seriously. The irony of it all is that I’m typically met with overwhelming love and support, which goes to show that reality is truly subjective. Negative thinking is poison, it is false, and it was stifling my creative energy.
Transitioning into positive thinking is an ongoing process, but investing love in myself has made me feel so much happier, lighter, and freer. I resolved that beyond societal norms and family expectations, I exist, And the only factor governing whether or not my existence is fulfilling is me. My impact on the world won’t be made behind a desk, I will sustain myself with my mind and my hands, like I always have. All that matters is that whatever I do comes from a place of genuine love.