Where you grew up and your background can often have surprising effects on our lives and careers. We’ve asked folks from the community to tell us about how their background has affected them.

Rocky Arroyo | Photographer

I’m originally from Los Angeles, California, namely Pasadena, but I briefly lived in Bishop, California during my senior year of high school. After that I lived in San Luis Obispo, California which is where I attended community college. Living in Bishop, CA is where I was introduced to snowboarding. The snowboarders in Bishop really took me under their wing and I snowboarded nearly every weekend at Mammoth Mountain during the winter of my senior year of high school. Likewise with each weekend with the ski and snowboard program at school. San Luis Obispo (SLO) was a Mecca for running and triathlon. The allure of endurance sports really stuck to me in SLO. After attending community college I took two years off of school to pretty much just train and race triathlon. I pretty much ate, slept and lived swimming, running and cycling each and every week. Read more>>

Stefan PVDS | Musician/Artist

I grew up in a lot of places. I was born in England, then lived in Baltimore, MD, Jacksonville, FL, and Birmingham, AL all before I graduated high school. I think being exposed to so many cultures and environments gave me an appreciation for how diverse the world is and how much there is to explore. It also made me pretty adaptable to changing environments. I’ve also been exposed to countless different styles of music, which is why my palate is so varied. I love everything from Blues to hip hop too classical, and everything in between. This makes me want to explore different styles of music in my own projects, which is very exciting and refreshing. My family is very musical (both of my sisters are professional violists and my brother and I were in bands together in high school), so despite music being an unconventional path, my parents have always been incredibly encouraging and supportive. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to pursue my love of music, and I’m prepared for all the unexpected twists and turns my journey will take. Read more>>

Hugo ( Juice ) Sanchez | Bassist and Owner of Juice’s Music Shop

I grew up in the Inland Empire as the youngest of three kids. Our parents introduced us to music around the age of 13, and I fell in love with the bass guitar instantly. Growing up playing in church set a path that would lead me to where I am today- playing for artists such as Shadmehr Aghili, Tye Tribbett, Todd Dulaney, Chandler Moore, and Naomi Raine. I’ve also always been a business man throughout my journey as an artist. Understanding how the music industry unfolded for me, I wanted to give others that same opportunity to be a musician or a creative. In November 2019, my wife and I opened our music store in Whittier, California called “Juice’s Music Shop.” Read more>>

Manna Dabholkar | CEO – GIFT Global Initiative | Human Rights Commissioner

My journey, a decision to commit my life to public service and humanitarian initiatives started well before I landed in the United States as an immigrant 12 years ago. Born and raised by parents who were lifelong public servants – Papa was in politics, a lawmaker advocating for the poorest neighborhoods and slums in India and Mom was a homemaker supporting his aspirations and crazy ideas to create a better world. While other kids were out playing and making friends, we were accompanying my Dad on his election rallies, holding his hand, and walking through some of the most dangerous slums of India. The people who lived in these slums had no food on their tables, no running water, no sanitation, or electricity but they welcomed us with open arms. I would see him sit on dirt floors and eat with these families. As a child I cringed that he did not mind the unhygienic conditions around him, often spending hours in these places. Read more>>

Fred Thomas Jr. | Writer-Director-Actor

I’m from Philadelphia, PA… South Philly as we call it. I was a kid who loved to play in the street with my friends. I mean from sun up to down down until you were covered in dirt. I was raised by a village. My grand parents lived within four blocks of each other as well as my aunt’s, uncles, and cousins. I had a lot of friends in the neighborhood from school and those you lived around me. I often reflect on these times when I’m writing. I draw from those days, the people, the culture and what was happening at the time in the city. Read more>>

Teresa James | Singer/musician

Terry and I both are from around Houston, in the middle of an area called the ‘Golden Triangle’ in reference to the amount of music and musical talent from around the area between Houston, Ft Worth-Dallas, and New Orleans. We grew up listening to, being exposed to all kinds, styles of music. From country, blues, southern soul, Mexican/Tex Mex and were introduced to Reggae pretty early on….all that blended into our southern musical upbringing. You have to remember that such artists as Bobby Bland, Janis Joplin, Edgar & Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bob Wills, George Jones, ZZ Top, Johnny Nash are all from this fertile area along with all the amazing musicians from New Orleans. And those artists and those like them were the soundtrack of our formative years. Read more>>

Justice Domingo | Professional Dancer & Content Creator

I grew up in West Los Angeles, off of Centinela and La Brea to be exact. I didn’t always feel that way about where I come from. Honestly, I actually hated my neighborhood as a child. I grew up in Inglewood and spent most of my life there. I used to cry to my mama and beg her to move us somewhere else. I thought it was ghetto. I felt unsafe. I resented the hood because of my mom’s inability to get sober as well. But as an adult, I can’t help but feel an immense amount of gratitude for the city that raised me. My mom was a was a white woman raising two black kids, and made the intentional decision to raise us in a space where we could feel connected to our black culture. My two neighbors, who I always referred to as my aunties, particularly had a huge influence on my development as a young girl of color. They taught me how to do my hair. Read more>>

Rika Dharmesh Bhakta | Development Assistant

I am a first-generation Indian-American woman who was born and raised in North Carolina. My South Asian identity is the part of me that I cherish the most. It’s something that I’ve had a very complex relationship with, and it took me a beat to figure out why it’s such an important part of me.
When I was eight years old, I was at the park with my parents, and I headed for the tire swing. A little boy, who couldn’t have been much older than me, said, “This swing isn’t for colored people.” That is my first memory of discrimination. It wasn’t until high school that my otherness was thrown back at me. I was a lottery kid, picked at random to attend a school in a different, wealthier part of town. Someone told me, “You know, you’re like an honorary white girl.” They said that I didn’t really count as a minority because I wasn’t like other Indians. It gave me pause, because, what does that even mean? Why did I have to fit into their box? They failed to see the complexity, the color, and the depth in me. Read more>>

Katia Belas | Filmmaker

I’m a Brazilian-American filmmaker. I was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and moved to Los Angeles in my early 20s to extend my education in Film and Television production. Being from Brazil gave me the strength to fight for what I want. Although I came from a family with resources and peaceful living, life in Brazil is tough, if you don’t make things happen for you, you get crushed, betrayed, looked over, and end up living a life that is given to you but not a life that you want. Culturally, Brazilians have their special ways of fixing things, creating solutions, and molding the environment they are surrounded by. My roots as a Brazilian are what made me not look for the opportunities, but to create them for me. I’m a person who doesn’t trust everyone but gives space for them to prove that they are worthy of my trust. Read more>>

Simone Attenni | Actor & Musician

My journey to becoming an actor has been a journey back to myself, to my core. I think of my life like an onion. At my core, my root, I am a performer. As I imagine it is for many people, as I grew up and traversed life, I built up layers around my deepest self – like the layers of an onion. I could never really veer too far away from my core. Both of my parents are artists in their own way. My father was always taking me to concerts, plays and movies and my mom is a brilliant painter and chef. I also grew up in Rome, so I was constantly surrounded by amazing art in all its forms. I started playing guitar at a young age, acting in high school, and practicing traditional Kung Fu. But as a curious person and being the only child of two flight attendants, traveling around the world from the age of six months old, I was often distracted by all the world had to offer. Read more>>

Winter Fate Morvant | Energy Services Analyst at Chanje Energy, Owner/Head Baker at Winter Fate Bakes, Dog Mom

I was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. New Orleans became my second home as a young adult – it’s where my heart is and will always be. I was raised by a mother from beautiful Magnolia, Mississippi and a father from “down the bayou” in Thibodaux, Louisiana. My dad is a retired Louisiana State Trooper and Military Veteran so he was strict on me growing up – and I’m so thankful he was. He instilled a lot of things in me that made me into who I am today – honor, respect and structure. If I had to make a list of my favorite qualities about myself – I bet you most of those would stem from how my dad raised me. Growing up in the south during the late 80s and 90s and into the 00’s did teach me a lot about the way the world works and during that time, I started finding my own voice. I had very different perspectives, opinions and views than seemingly everyone around me and it was a bit rough. I always knew I was different and that I didn’t want to just go along with the status quo like every other kid did. Read more>>

Jennifer Mariela Bermeo | Artist. Performer. Creator. Storyteller. Creator of Make Your Move.

I was born in Newark, NJ, and moved to Lincroft, NJ when I was about 2 years old. Where we moved was like growing up in a classic NJ indie movie, what can I say my older brother taught me well, He owns Zerokid in Jersey City – go visit, you’ll see what I mean. Where I’m from made everything I am -as I think it does most people. By chance, I started dancing at 3 years old and my interest in dance would lead me to NYC. My parents would take me to NYC most weekends, spending my time taking classes from the country’s best teachers, bettering myself as a dancer. Soon enough I was attending acting and modeling lessons on Sundays in NYC throughout freshman and sophomore year. By junior and senior year dance took the forefront. Yet the older I grew, the more I began to appreciate the significance of my heritage. I’m a first-generation Ecuatoriana. I think first-gen kids will get what this means the most. The sacrifices our parents made to provide us the opportunity to be whatever our hearts desire. Read more>>

Maria De La Luz Sandoval | Artist, Illustrator

I’m a Queer Chicana originally from Bakersfield California, My upbringing was pretty crazy and was unstable. I grew up in the foster system since I was ten years old. In my early 20s, I started working on myself and processing the trauma of the past. Because I was already an artist, I used it more as an outlet for healing. Creating in that process, I shared healing emotions through artwork that many women found relatable and resonated with it. Super grateful for the trials and tribulations of what made me. They gave me the strength to never give up on myself to continue healing and creating throughout it all. Read more>>

Kalah Walker | Storyteller & Content Creator

I was born and raised in conservative, suburban Mississippi. When I look back, I realize I grew up in a bubble. I was naive to not only the struggles going on in my own home – like my mom doing everything she could to make life comfortable despite financial burdens that I had no idea of – to the struggles of my community beyond my bubble. A turning point for me was when I went off to college about two hours from home. After being exposed to various ideals, ethos, people, and cultures, I realized that the world was huge, scary, but full of possibilities. That’s when I realized that I had to escape that bubble and explore the world for myself. Later, I realized that self exploration was pivotal for self love. Now, I’m living one of my greatest dreams – living in LA and traveling the world, documenting my journey of self preservation. Read more>>

Jonni Redick | CEO, JLConsulting Solutions

Our sense of belonging and value originates early in our lives and it takes us so long to feel that we are worthy of love and good things for ourselves. As I reflected on that little girl who use to play and laugh, and yet already felt ashamed that she was so, so different. Chubby with short wild hair. Desperately wanting to be someone else, anyone else than who she was in those early years and the many years that followed. I was born in Burbank, California and lived most of my life off and on in California. There were periods of my childhood up until the age of 13 years old when I would live in a different city or state several times in a school year. Raised by a single mother as a biracial child, not having a relationship with my father, we were often struggling financially as I struggled to fit in. Read more>>

Patradol “Dodo” Kitcharoen | Story Artist & Animation Director

I was born and raised in Bangkok, Thailand. Doodling and making comic strips have always been my favorite childhood pastime. The quirky art style and humor of 90s cartoons shaped my taste and personality in storytelling. With great support from my family, I majored in animation production at Mahidol University in Thailand and was quickly drawn to storyboarding, as it allows me to both draw and tell my stories. Through my school projects, I got to try my hands on different kinds of stories and mediums beyond my usual comfort zone. All these projects allowed me to crystallize my personal style while adapting it to different kinds of narratives at the same time. The creative process and outcome were extremely rewarding and I knew that I want to continue growing my skills in this field. Read more>>

Tanika McBee | Author & Educator

I was born and raised in Chicago, IL. I think chicagoans are very well rounded. We are ready for any and everything. I adapt easily to different environments and I’m not afraid to take risks. Growing up I’ve done a lot and I’ve seen a lot, the good, the bad and the ugly. I wouldn’t change a thing though because that’s what made me the person I am today and allows me to share my stories globally!. Read more>>

Wolfgang Bloch | Artist

I was born and raised in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The house I grew up in was in a new development and it sat alone, surrounded by open space and nature. As a kid I could venture outside everyday; get my hands in the dirt and be exposed to nature. Our family vacations were spent throughout Ecuador and we always traveled by car. Somehow my parents managed to cram four kids and gear into a Volkswagen. I can still remember the images I saw, while looking out the backseat window during those trips. Beautiful, vivid landscapes with hardly anyone around. Looking back, I think those trips and being exposed to that landscape really shaped me into the person I am today. Being in nature is still vital to me. It helps me stay centered; it inspires me, opens my eyes and opens my heart. My work centers around that feeling. Read more>>

Porter Shields | Singer/Songwriter, Actor & Entrepreneur

I am from East Atlanta and I was born in Memphis. I love the swag, fashion, arts, food, the business culture, and the influence we give the world. My city is the real Zamunda and Wakanda. It’s a place where black people are thriving in all industries on every level. From education, real estate, medicine, science, tech, the service industry to sports and entertainment. I lived in London and New York and I didn’t see as many black folks winning like we do in ATL. Living outside of Atlanta made me appreciate my city way more. Read more>>

Anne Hollister | Actor, Writer, & Comedian

I grew up in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania and moved to New York City when I was a teenager to pursue an acting career. In fact, I started living on my own when I was 14 year old and that significantly impacted the kind of person I am today. Going from a small, conservative town to living on my own in Manhattan definitely required some adjusting. I quickly discovered I needed to know not only how to fend for myself but also how important it is to listen to and empathize with people who are different from you. Life is often about balancing the instinct to protect yourself from others while also understanding the value of letting others in. I learned that at a young age, and am thankful for that. I’ve found that I feel I am the most successful when I follow my gut. It’s a tricky thing to do, especially in the entertainment business, since people are always trying to feed you their own ideas of what success is and how to get there. My unusual upbringing I’d say is most responsible for my ability to navigate that space. Read more>>

Jaye Ganibi | Owner, Horseback Riding and Wine Tasting Tours

I am from what used to be the modest, country-like area of Thousand Oaks, California. My parents moved themselves, their two sons and horses there in 1975, shortly after my twin sister and I were born because they noticed that their former location was becoming quickly over populated. I am from an extremely middle class, blue collar family. My dad was and had been a self employed salesman his entire life. Although we sat in the middle, we were comfortable. Because of my dad’s choice in business he was able to provide for a family of six, while my mother was able to stay at home. Most importantly, my dad coached us in every sport and never missed a game or event. This way of living is all I knew, and in fact turned out to be all I wanted. After graduating from College in 1997, I tried to work the 9-5 route because that’s what I was “supposed to do”. I learned quickly this was not and would never be for me. I learned quickly that I was okay to not have benefits. Read more>>

Ryan Fine | Artist, Songwriter, & Pianist

I’m from Cincinnati, OH and I absolutely love my hometown. I try to visit once a month to visit with family and friends and of course get some Skyline and Graeter’s Ice Cream. I moved to Nashville in 2017 to pursue a career in music and my roots from Cincinnati definitely gave me a strong foundation. During high school, I had so many opportunities to work on my music chops from being a part of musical theater, the marching band, drumline, choir, to recording Beatles covers with my friend Jeff after soccer practices. After that, I decided to continue learning about writing and recording by auditioning for the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. That’s where I got to learn about songwriting, jazz harmony, piano performance, live and studio sound engineering, film scoring, and entrepreneurship. While at school, I had a 10-piece jazz/pop group called Ryan Fine and the Media, interned at Audiogrotto recording studio, and played local venues solo, and weddings with the Blue Water Kings Band. Read more>>

Guido Cattabianchi | Founder & CEO – primalwine.com

I was born and raised in Valpolicella, a wine region outside of Verona, Italy. Growing up, wine was always around, vineyards are part of the landscape in a rather inescapable way. Several of my friends have wineries; wine, in general, is deeply embedded in our lives and it’s central to the local economy – a lot of businesses gravitate around the wine industry. The best summer job for us kids was harvesting grapes, something I always did while in high school. Growing up in a wine region doesn’t mean that one is automatically “into wine” as an adult, it’s just normal, regular life that incidentally involves wine. My passion started much later in my late twenties when I decided to pursue a sommelier diploma at one of the Italian organizations that offer certifications – FISAR – but one can say that it was always there, latent. Read more>>

Kenli Mattus | Co-Creator, Head Music-Producer of Play It Back Songs powered by Teen Cancer America

I grew up in the Tri-state area on the East coast, basically a suburb of NYC in Northern New Jersey. My family has a bit of a rags to riches story and so growing up, I went from living in a middle-class town to moving to a few towns where everyone’s parents were working all the time being successful, usually being entrepreneurs. They were working A LOT. What our parents didn’t provide in quality time, they made up for in material things and comfort, but as anyone knows, quality time is huge for kids and I figured out early that when I sang, I got attention, so I sang all the time. Another part of my upbringing that impacted me was the fact that my mom sacrificed her artistic dreams (she wanted to sing too) to make sure we were financially secure, so she encouraged me and my artistic/creative dreams. I didn’t really understand that I wasn’t going to be a giant, pampered rock-star right out of the gate and I spent a lot of my energy promoting myself, my bands and my music. Read more>>

Tim Cozine | Entrepreneur & Creative

I was born in raised in West Los Angeles (Culver City). Growing up in LA, you’re exposed to different cultures and challenges that the city has to offer; which helped to expand my mind at a young age. My parents were very spiritual people that always encouraged me to try something once, and to trust my gut. Graffiti, Streetwear, Athletics and the Arts were the most influential on my upbringing, and my company and brands pay homage to each of those aspects. Read more>>

Andrew Synowiec | Musician

I grew up in a small city called Annapolis, MD. It was the perfect place for a budding artist because there were just enough opportunities to hone my craft in real-world settings without being overwhelmed by a big city. Read more>>

Emily Kaszton | Drone Pilot & Educator

I grew up in a small little city in Orange County, about 30 minutes inland from the ocean. I have three older sisters, so technically I have four moms. Growing up, my sisters were my idols and I admired how well they did in school and how beautiful they were. Meanwhile, I was marching to the beat of my own drum. I had a speech impediment in middle school, struggled with a C+ grade average and I distinctly remember a teacher telling my parents I would be lucky to graduate high school. It was easy for me to get deterred, especially when I was mistaken for a boy after my mom gave me a bowl haircut. On weekend’s I would host my own tv show with my dad’s video camera, play video games with neighborhood boys and get lost outdoors until my mom yelled for me to come home. Read more>>

Nick Bergere | Producer

I’m from Sarasota, Florida (the Tampa Bay area) and the DIY scene was really big there when I was starting to get into music. In Tampa was all the hardcore and metal shows, and in Sarasota was all the emo/punk/rock bands. I was a huge warped tour kid and loved getting sweaty and throwing down in the mosh pits. Those heavy bands (Veil of Maya, Born of Osiris, Volumes, Northlane, Animals as Leaders) were huge influences for me at the time and still are honestly. I was originally in an instrumental prog-metal band where I produced all the music and basically tried to shove as many insane chords and time signatures into a 5 minute song I could. I really turned the music I was playing into some sort of technical art, rather than an expressive one. I loved it and I still listen to and produce metal, but the aesthetic of these scenes still resonate with me so much more heavily than the culture of EDM. Read more>>

Shirley Song | Film & TV Composer

I’m an ABC. An Australian Born Chinese. Growing up in Sydney, Australia, I lived in close proximity to my grandparents who were professional Chinese theater directors, actors and playwrights. So at a very young age, I was speaking, reading and acting in Chinese theater productions. Imagine now, a confident but very much toned down, (debatably) less annoying, little Asian Honey Boo Boo. Minus the makeup, the glitz and glam, and the whole pageant-ness, and replace the Georgian Southern accent with a pretty full-blown Aussie one. However, I never quite feel Australian, nor did I completely feel Chinese. I developed a self-deprecating sense of humor and would constantly put myself down so that I would fit in. It was a defense mechanism, a shield. “If I laugh about myself first, then no one else can harm me!”, I thought. Read more>>

Ramia Griffin | Influencer

I was born and raised in Sacramento, Ca! Shoutout the 916! Growing up, I played sports my whole life. I really believe I made the most personal growth on the court. I can especially thank my high school coach, he taught me the pain of regret is much greater than the pain of discipline. I give my all to anything that I choose to pursue, keeping myself disciplined and focused so that I can achieve my goals and be successful. At the time, I hated being held accountable, but now I am beyond grateful. Every suicide I had to run, time I was yelled at, and moment that I wanted to quit but kept going, made me the person I am today. A strong, educated, and independent black woman with drive, who will settle for nothing less than excellence. Read more>>

Maryam Dabboussi | Artist

I moved around many times but lived in Dubai most of my life. Being in such a diverse, busy, energetic city really influenced me as a person, but also as an artist. Not many people are from there as it’s so transient, but I feel like I adopted that and am drawn to a more nomadic lifestyle, living in different cities and wanting to see every corner of this world. I always look to the Lebanese heritage of my family for inspiration. I find myself missing it more than ever now that travel has been halted. Every city I’ve lived in is a living, breathing organism with its own personality, and I try to translate that energy through my work. It has changed quite a bit in the past few years, but it will always be glamorous, unexpected, bustling. Dubai’s energy runs through my own, desert heat and sunsets always influence my pallette. Having been in LA for 5 years now, I feel the colors blend and show through in my newer work. Read more>>

Rammy Streit | Lifestyle Entrepreneur

My parents emigrated from Iran to Southern California when I was three. Both of my parents worked full-time jobs to make ends meet, and they were ultimately very successful: my father became the CEO of a computer electronics manufacturer and my mother owned a small chain of clothing boutiques. While I understood the value of hard work from their example, I was not sure what career I wanted. Over the past 20+ years, I have followed a very unconventional career path. I obtained a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology before transitioning into Pharmaceutical Sales. Then I went back to school to earn an MBA from Kellogg School of Management with the intent of becoming a management consultant, but I ended up on Wall Street as an Investment Banker at Lehman Brothers just before the financial crisis of 2009. Read more>>

Jake Bennett | Songwriter

I was born in London, England and grew up in Cape Town, South Africa before moving to the United States. My background, or in some ways lack thereof, I believe is what shapes everything I create and everything I obsess over Growing up and moving countries I found myself trying to be different: If I was in South Africa, I would say I was English; and if I was in England I would say I was South African. But when I moved to LA I was different no matter which identity I chose, so the identity I chose was one of someone who writes music and words about the things that connect us as people, rather than the things that sets us apart. My life spent on the road has given me a fascination in people, and all that we have in common. I found that to be that no matter who or where we are in the world, we all feel the same things, and a life trying to find words that describe those things is the life I now live. Read more>>

Sage Magee | Artist and Author

I’m originally from right here in SoCal. I lived in Kansas for a few years and went to college on the east coast. Being raised primarily in Southern California meant I was exposed to all different kinds of people, languages, and cultures. It was a very unique experience for me as a mixed-race Black Biracial person because greater LA is more of a tossed salad than a melting pot. There are a wide variety of people but we all tend to cluster together with our own, which meant I saw every color of the rainbow but never saw many other biracial people. There’s no such thing as LA’s biracial neighborhood. It stood out to me since childhood that I was different but never in a bad way. That was the impetus for me co-writing and illustrating I Love Grandma’s House: A Biracial Girl and Her Two Special Worlds. Read more>>

Manmeet Kaur | Dancer & Makeup Artist

I am from North India, more precisely Punjab but I am California born and raised. Growing up was different for me. Majority of my life I grew up in Palm Springs, where there were not many Indian people, maybe us and two other families but that was it. I went to a predominantly white school where I was made fun of a lot for my fragrant food and my brother who tied a turban. My home life was much different. My parents were such hard workers. When we came home it was always all love. They taught me that working hard and working honestly was always so important. Along with respect and helping others. This rubbed off on me and it is something I live by to this day. My parents never let us feel the effects of the outside world. They always raised me to be strong but to also be kind to others no matter what. That has impacted me to who I am today, being a performer for a majority of my life, it has taught me that I love to give and make people smile. Read more>>

Zoey Philippou | Textile & Fashion designer

I am from Cyprus, a small beautiful island. Growing up with a small community like ours, i felt that anything different than what’s considered to be “normal” was criticized and not easily accepted and of course i was always against this. Since i was a teenager i found my self experimenting with fashion as this was one of the ways to show my point of view, that being different doesn’t have to determine who you are perceived to be in society. Fashion for me is first of all a way of expression, so i started making clothing pieces for me to wear as a form of expression. A few years later this has led me to create my fashion brand ‘Cherry and mint”. Read more>>

Erica Gatt | Esthetician Spa owner

I am from Phoenix, AZ. I was raised by my mom. We were financially embarrassed (as people in my family would say) at times not knowing where our next meal would come from. My mom wasn’t able to give me a proper birthday party, so she decided to have a sleep over for me. She put a towel down on the kitchen floor dumped all her makeup on it and brought out her dresser vanity mirror and said have fun doing makeovers on each other. It was one of the best birthday parties I ever had. That is when I knew I fell in love with the beauty world and that I have a creative mind. After my mom married my step dad, they were extremely strict. I became very rebellious; therefore, I was grounded, which felt like all the time. Being the oldest child, It forced me to to keep myself busy and to spend time with my mom and 6 sisters (his, her, theirs, ours; in different homes) I needed an outlet to express my artistic side and to make time pass. I would do facials, popping zits, makeup, hair, nails, dress them up and take photos. Read more>>

Nneka Gigi | Braid Adornment Artist, Writer and Doctoral Student

I am originally from Buffalo, NY and grew up primarily on the east side of the city. I struggled with finding usefulness in my physical self as my dark skin, curves and hair texture seemed to oppose what beautiful and successful women looked like as I entered girlhood. I use to hate my hair. Being Nappy didn’t feel so happy but I realized it was “better late than never” when I finally not only understood the root of my self hate but I had the authority to pluck such nasty roots. Exploring and becoming fascinated by my Nigerian heritage has greatly impacted who I am today. Learning more about my Igbo heritage has given me a greater sense of self that I felt society, school and work experiences once took from me. Trying to learn my father’s tongue but specifically West African “hair-itage” completely transformed who I thought I was and who I knew I could be. Connecting traditional hairstyles with that of Black girl hair magic in the United States helped bridge an important gap for me. Read more>>

Ashley Chafin | Artist

I am from a small town in Virginia., which was half very old money and half redneck. I hightailed it out of there as soon as I could. Read more>>