4 Inspiring Yoruba-American Women

The more I log onto social media to get my daily dose of color coordinated feeds, makeup looks, fashion inspiration and the occasional conspiracy theory, I find that many of the young black women on my explore page are Naija women. Usually, their “handle” (username) gives it away and in the rare case that it does not, I am pleased to find the Nigerian flag waving in their bios. When I realize that they’re Yoruba women, my interest level skyrockets because I picture them as a long lost older cousin, living their best lives, making their mark on the world. These are the women that I have in mind as I begin the New Year because I am inspired by their work, not because they have a well curated social media presence (which seems to be the primary mode of measuring the value of people’s societal contributions these days) but these women have a message and are unrelenting in the pursuit of their goals! Here are my top 4 inspiring Yoruba-American women of 2018!

Screenshot from oloriswank.com

OLORI SWANK

Celebrity Fashion Stylist dedicated to helping you live your best life in style — Olori SWANK, like many young Nigerian women, was on the fast track to become a doctor. She graduated with honors from the University of Georgia with a degree in Psychology. What was meant to be a gap year between undergrad and medical school, turned into an unexpected transition into the world of professional styling. One day, the VP of A&R at Jive Records recruited her to style his artists, apparently, he told her to just style his artists the way she dresses. What a compliment! Years later, with her unforgettable cobalt blue hair, she has styled celebs from Childish Gambino to Teyana Taylor. She has also curated full wardrobes for NFL players and has appeared on CNN, OWN and BET. For the rest of us, she has adult coloring books, her own clothing line, two fashion workshops, a dinner series, a children’s book and a fashion and lifestyle self-help book.

What can we learn from Olori?

There is value in going off the beaten path! Despite many Nigerian parents and relatives attempting to convince us that there are exactly five tracks to success (engineering, medicine, law, pharmacy or a Ph D) women like Olori teach us that there is value in listening to your own voice, following your own journey and taking a BREAK when you need one. Olori has a successful career in styling because it is her natural gift, it’s not something she learned in school. So don’t ignore your natural talents nor take them for granted, who knows it may be the key to your ideal career. For the naysayers in the back, don’t think that styling isn’t a gift…because some of y’all will spend 1,000 dollars on an outfit and it will still look like you got dressed in the dark. CHAI!!

Screenshot from luuvie.org

LUVVIE AJAYI

New York Times Best Seller, Podcast Host and Digital Mastermind — This summer, I stumbled upon Luvvie Ajayi after listening to Jesus and Jollof, a hilarious podcast that chronicles the Nigerian experience in America. After getting my dose of comedy, I decide to do some additional research on Luuvie. Turns out her debut novel, I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual is on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Luvvie describes it is as the “necessary commentary that critiques our fame-obsessed, social-media centric lives, while encouraging us to do better”. Sounds like my kind of book! *Puts on 2019 reading list* When she’s not traveling the world speaking at conferences or racking up millions of views on her Ted Talks, she is ranting on Rants and Randomness, her other podcast. She started her career 15 years ago, casually blogging and reacting to Scandal episodes. Her Scandal reactions became so popular that even Shonda Rhimes herself acknowledged them. When Luuvie isn’t being a communication, technological, comedic genius, she is running her two websites, a non-profit about the impact of HIV/AIDs on women and girls, and working with a variety of partners such as McDonalds, HBO, and Nike among many others! She has been featured in Essence, the New York Times, Forbes, NPR, and as one of Oprah’s SuperSoul 100. The list honestly goes on and on! If you aren’t hip to Luuvie, you’ve got of a lot of her material to catch up on! It’s impossible to capture all of her accomplishments in a paragraph.

What can we learn from Luuvie?

Don’t be afraid to claim your PURPOSE especially if you are already doing the work. If you’ve listened to Jesus and Jollof, you would have learned that it took Luuvie a while to call herself a writer. Imagine, a woman on the NYT Best Sellers list didn’t want to claim writer as one of her titles. It is so important for us to verbalize what we want for ourselves. You ARE a writer, a singer, a good student, an innovator, a doctor (well that last one might get you into trouble if you don’t have your certifications)…but you get it. The power of the tongue is not to be underestimated. Claim what you want to be yours, claim what you think is “just a hobby” and mostly importantly, claim what makes you the most nervous, chances are you are more afraid of your potential than anything else.

Brandon Lundby

JACKIE AINA

The Beauty YouTuber that wants the makeup industry to be more inclusive — It’s Jackie, Jackie, Jackie, Jackie, JACKIE, JACKIE, JACKIE, JACKIE, JACKIE (only true Jackie fans will understand what just happened). With approximately 2.5 million subscribers, Jackie Aina has the highest subscriber count for any black beauty influencer on YouTube. After beginning pre-med studies (of course) and then enlisting in the U.S. Army, she began building her YouTube empire in 2009 while working as a makeup artist. Her channel provided black women with makeup advice, tips and tricks, which were missing on YouTube and in the makeup industry at the time. They say if you see a void, fill it, and that is exactly what Jackie did. Today Jackie is our hilarious, witty and authentic YouTube fav, offering her honest feedback on the latest makeup releases and demo-ing stunning makeup looks. In many ways, I consider her to be a makeup activist due to her unrelenting advocacy for diversity in the beauty industry primarily regarding shade inclusion. In 2018, she had a collaboration with Too Faced Cosmetics to extend the range of foundation shades available to consumers and her highlighter collaboration with Artist Couture sold out three times. She has also collaborated with e.l.f cosmetics, Sephora and Sigma Beauty to name a few. Jackie is advocating for change but am I the only waiting for her to just start her own line?

What can we learn from Jackie?

Well blended makeup never goes unnoticed.

Just kidding.

(Not really)

Beyond offering makeup advice, Jackie’s Youtube channel initially served as her creative outlet during difficult times. For me, her journey encourages us to always create and invest in ourselves, which in turn may be therapeutic but also rewarding in the future. When Jackie worked for M.A.C and Bobbi Brown, she could have decided that her contribution to the makeup world ended when her clients left her chair but she chose to share her passion with us and aren’t we glad she did? Also, success is not an overnight phenomenon, it took Jackie ten years to get to where she is today. Have patience and be consistent my friend.

Screenshot from goodreads.com

TOMI ADEYEMI

New York Times best-selling author and writing coach — If you haven’t read Children of the Blood and Bone, I don’t know what you are waiting on. Tomi Adeyemi has written one of the best books of the year? The decade? Do I dare say, our generation? Regardless, it is a great read, giving us magical African fantasy, with Orisha (traditional Yoruba religion) elements and Yoruba names. The incantations were even in YORUBA!!! (I had to have my mom help me translate) It was an amazing read and I can’t wait for it to be adapted into a movie. Let’s discuss why this book is so important. As far as I know, this is the first book that features Yoruba mythology in a non-academic or instructive manner, in terms of those practicing or studying Orisha religion. The book is for the average reader. Think about how many books we’ve read about Greek, Egyptian, Roman and Chinese mythology in school, it was time for other mythologies to be included. I was thrilled to see Tomi take the initiative to bring Yoruba mythology front and center. When she isn’t writing the second book in the trilogy, she is coaching aspiring writers on her site. A little bit more about Tomi, she graduated with honors from Harvard with a degree in English. Children of the Blood and Bone is actually her second attempt at writing a novel, after her first book wasn’t received well among editors. Yet, she’s achieved nothing but success with her second attempt. She signed a seven figure publishing and movie deal and has been recognized by literature greats like Stephen King. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, right?

What we can learn from Tomi?

The universe around us is dropping hints and signs to bring us closer to our purpose in life. Sometimes we have to stop running towards a goal and listen, observe and pray. Get out of the house or your daily routine and travel. If you can, travel to the next town, state, country or continent to be inspired. If you can’t physically travel, read, books can take you from New York to Thailand. While some say everything we need is already within us, sometimes it takes outside forces to jolt us awake. Tomi stumbled upon local artistic interpretations of Orisha Gods while studying Yoruba mythology in Brazil then she conceived the idea for her book!

Are there any other Yoruba women on YOUR radar?