Nneka Brown Helps Students Go B(l)ack to School in Style

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Nneka Brown is on her way to becoming a high school history teacher, but the 27-year-old CEO, single mom and army veteran is also busy making history of her own.

By now, you probably heard all about the collection of Black-themed school supplies that sold out in 24 hours.

Innovative Supplies is the company that’s shaking up things in online retail and Nneka Brown is the woman behind it.

When Jetmag.com caught up with Nneka Brown recently, she and her small-but-dedicated team were in the middle of shipping out more than 8,500 notebooks to customers who were anxiously awaiting their orders.

A self-proclaimed history buff, Brown says the idea came as she was gearing up for her first semester at Columbus State University in Columbus, Ga. after spending nine years in the military and being deployed overseas twice.

“I always liked back to school supplies and now that I’m going to school, I felt it was important to get the right tools that would help me throughout the semester. One of the tools would be notebooks, but when you go into the store, there’s not much to choose from,” Brown says. “So, I created a couple concepts in my mind and I had them produced and I was blown away by how good they looked. I knew this was something that other people would love as well.”

And she was right.

So many orders came pouring in that Brown had to press pause after just 24 hours.

In case you missed it: The notebooks depicted iconic Civil Rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., along with the #BlackLivesMatter movement featuring the late rapper Tupac Shakur rocking an “I Am Sandra Bland” T-shirt with a sprinkle of pop culture, including the hilarious Michael Jordan crying meme.

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The “Be Unique” and “Higher and Higher” notebooks instantly became customer favorites, selling 4,600 units combined.

Read more of my latest piece for Jetmag.com [here].

Review: The Mane Choice Soft As Can Be Revitalize & Refresh 3-in-1 Co-Wash, Leave In, Detangler

When a PR rep emailed me and asked to send The Mane Choice’s Soft As Can Be Revitalize & Refresh 3-in-1 Co-Wash, Leave In, Detangler for my review, I was excited but hesistant. I had heard a lot about The Mane Choice over the years, but never felt compelled to purchase anything for whatever reason. Tbh, I think I was just frustrated after trying so many “natural hair” products that never seemed to work or do anything special. But then I thought, “Ahh, what the heck?” So, I decided to give it a test drive….

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A couple notes before I share my thoughts:

–My hair in its natural state is somewhere around 3B, see “Hair Types” chart below.

–I don’t chemically alter my hair and I don’t go overboard with the flat iron, so I’d say my hair is pretty healthy overall.

–I’ve used this product for about a month now.

What I was looking for in the product: My hair blown out hits the middle of my chest, but I’d like to grow it another three inches at least. Also, my hair dries fast, so I’m always searching for something that retains moisture and reduces frizz — and because my hair tangles easily, I need a product that makes it easy to comb through when wet.

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Source: curlcentric.com

OFFICIAL PRODUCT DETAILS: A 3-in-1 conditioner formulated to revitalize and refresh the hair instantly. An advanced conditioner that can be used as a Co-Wash, Leave In, and Detangler. Adds shine, softness and manageability. Stops breakage during the detangling process. Leaves the hair softer and more elastic.

The nutrient contents of this conditioner makes the hair less dry and less prone to breakage by allowing the hair to hold in more moisture for longer periods of time. When used a Co-Wash this unique formula gently rinses away impurities and product build up. Infused with Biotin and Tea Tree to promote growth and retention. No Mineral Oil, No Petrolatum, No Parabens, No Sulfates, No Formaldehydes.

My thoughts: The product itself smells lovely and the consistency feels like a lightweight lotion and that’s because purified water is one of the ingredients, so this won’t weigh your hair down.

After using this as a co-wash, my hair felt velvety but still clean. According to the packaging, it removes impurities and product buildup, but it’s gentle enough for daily use, which is awesome. Even better, it’s an amazing detangler and my hair was super easy to comb through afterward. The results had me feeing like:

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Can’t say that I noticed any extra hair growth since using The Mane Choice, but I don’t think it’s fair for me to make any claims about this since some of its other products seem to lean more toward hair growth, such as the Manetabolism Plus Vitamins and Multi-Vitamin Scalp Nourishing Growth Oil. However, the 3-in-1 is infused with biotin and tea tree — both promote healthy hair growth. Side note: I spotted this fun Length Check T-shirt.🙂

The Verdict: The Mane Choice exceeded my expectations. It made my natural hair incredibly easy to manage. Detangling was a breeze and my curls never looked or felt better. The only downside? I wish the bottle was slightly bigger. Eight ounces goes by fast when you’re using it as a co-wash, leave-in and detangler throughout the week. Although this product was provided to me by The Mane Choice, I would definitely purchase with my own money. There already several other products I’d love to try like the Crystal Orchid Biotin Infused Styling Gel and the vitamins, of course. Psssst…they even have a Comb Infused Talking Flat Iron! *Sounds like something straight outta The Twilight Zone!*

Price and where to buy: The Mane Choice Soft As Can Be Revitalize & Refresh 3-in-1 Co-Wash, Leave In, Detangler retails for $13.99 (8 ounces) and is available at www.themanechoice.com or at select Rite Aid, Sally Beauty and Target stores.

Disclosure: I was not compensated for this post. The opinions expressed in this post are mine only.

Don’t Play Yourself: Social Media Tips from Luvvie Ajayi

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Want to get the most out of social media? Follow these five basic rules…

Growing up, we were told to “never judge a book by its cover.” Right?

Well, forget what your mama told you because award-winning writer Luvvie Ajayi is doing plenty of that in her new book, I’m Judging You: The Do Better Manual. But she insists it’s for our [and her] own good.

“I called the book, ‘I’m Judging You’ because it’s true, I am judging everyone, but I’m also judging myself,” Ajayi says. “We all can and should do better.”

The truth is we all could use a little tough love, and when it comes to throwing some necessary shade, Ajayi doesn’t disappoint.

Ajayi’s debut book is packed with hilarious essays that tackle everything from race and culture to downright bad behavior, i.e. posting casket pictures. Oh, and hashtag abusers and over sharers? She’s coming for y’all, too!

Learning to communicate effectively on social media is key in this digital age—which is why Ajayi dedicated an entire section of the book to proper social media etiquette. A simple tweet or Facebook post can spark a movement, i.e. #BlackLivesMatter. As someone who was an early adopter of Facebook and Twitter and started blogging before it became everyone’s dream job, Ajayi understands this.

Want to get the most out of social media? Follow these five basic rules from the technology connoisseur herself.

1) Make sure your online persona matches who you are in real life.

If you’re not sarcastic and witty on a regular basis, don’t pretend to be online. “However you come across on social media should be pretty authentic of who you are in real life unless you have a satire account,” Ajayi says. In the words of Lauryn Hill, “It could all be so simple.” In other words: Do you boo boo.

2) Don’t randomly tweet people links to your work.

A little self-promotion never hurt anyone, but sending strangers links to your work is a no-no. “It’s like walking into a conference room and stuffing your business card into somebody’s hand before you even say ‘Hi’ and introduce yourself,” Ajayi says. Don’t be that person. If your goal is to get on someone’s radar by continuously tweeting them, you could end up on their blocked list instead. Is that what you want? We didn’t think so.

Read more of my latest piece for Jetmag.com [here].

All that jazz

Photo by Steve Kuzma

Photo by Steve Kuzma

Word of mouth travels fast.

That’s how Washtenaw Community College’s Jazz Combo established itself as a staple at nearly every event and celebration around campus.

The college has John E. Lawrence, former director of WCC’s Music Performance program, to thank for that. But, interestingly enough, the band sort of came together by accident.

The year was 2013 when Lawrence’s jazz combo class was scheduled to perform at the Honors Convocation—an event that recognizes WCC students who achieve a GPA of 3.5 or higher. But when the drummer didn’t show, Lawrence rolled out plan B.

“Johnny called to see if I could sit in for his drummer,” explained Arnett Chisholm, Dean of Student Diversity and Inclusion at WCC. “He later discovered that (history instructor) Thornton Perkins played the bass guitar, so he also drafted him to come and play.

“Then, communications instructor Jennifer Jackson informed Johnny that she would be interested in singing from time to time,” Chisholm continued. “Shortly after that, (business instructor) Maurice Stovall joined on the rhythm guitar and (pharmacy technology director) Kiela Samuels joined as lead singer.”

Pretty soon, there were enough people to form a real band. But when Lawrence retired last year, the remaining band members didn’t know if they’d continue without him. After consulting with Lawrence’s replacement, Steve Somers, who currently serves as the band’s leader, they decided to keep going—and now they’re stronger than ever.

“Our passion for music and learning has brought and kept us together,” Somers said.

The band performs at annual events throughout the year, including WCC’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, the WCC Foundation Mardi Gras fundraiser, and Free College Day. If there’s an event on campus, they are almost always there.

“I love performing and seeing the smiles on people’s faces and connecting with the audience,” Samuels said.

Band members come together at least once a week to practice and rehearse the music. The genre performed depends on the venue, but they specialize in jazz-style music due to Morris Lawrence’s musical legacy at the college.

For those who don’t know, Lawrence (no relation to John E. Lawrence) was a renowned jazz musician who helped propel WCC’s jazz orchestra to national and international acclaim. Under his direction, the band performed at the White House, Carnegie Hall, and the Montreux/Detroit Jazz Festival, among many others. He died in 1994, but continues to inspire others through his music, which resulted in his name on a campus building.

Samuels says the growing demand for the band to perform at upcoming events is more proof that music brings people together in ways that only music can.

“We just have a good time when we’re up there,” she said.

Although the WCC Jazz Combo consists of WCC faculty and staff from various departments, current music students and alumni are encouraged to show off their musical talents as well due to their open-door policy.

“Performing with the band really allowed me to get to know the professors on a more personal note,” said community member Claudia Young, who completed two Jazz Combo and Improvisation courses. “Sharing the common ground of jazz definitely builds bridges between students and professors.”

Spoken like a true musician.

Whether it’s brushing up on old skills or playing for the pure enjoyment, every member of the band seems to have their own unique reason why they perform.

“Playing with the WCC Jazz Combo, I get an opportunity to work with some great individuals, and I feel like it’s a form of giving back to the college—being able to do something fun and upbeat that’s outside of my job duties,” Chisholm said. “Playing the drums relaxes me and it’s a form of self-expression. When I’m playing, I don’t have a care in the world; it’s all about the beat.”

This story originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of On The Record.

‘Everything gets easier after the first class’

WCC graduate Marcel Henderson (left) works with Chris Young, a member of the group study session Henderson runs for new computer programming students. (Photo by CJ South)

WCC graduate Marcel Henderson (left) works with Chris Young, a member of the group study session Henderson runs for new computer programming students. (Photo by CJ South)

Henderson goes from dropout to graduate to small business owner

Washtenaw Community College alumnus and soon-to-be Eastern Michigan University graduate Marcel Henderson has come a long way.

In between completing his final semester at EMU and developing web applications and running a group study session at WCC for new computer programming students, it’s hard to imagine how Henderson finds the time to operate his new business, Go Time! Technologies.

Even harder to imagine is a time when Henderson didn’t take his studies or future seriously.

Henderson first enrolled at WCC eight years ago but soon dropped out. He tried his hand at nursing and plumbing careers but quickly found that neither field suited him.

“I didn’t do well my first semester,” he said. “Right after I graduated from high school, my father died and I think that was a big part of why I wasn’t focused. I just wasn’t ready. I always liked computers, but I still didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

After taking a few years off, his 4-year-old daughter, Natalie, inspired him to give school another chance in 2012.

“My family grew up without a lot of money, and I didn’t want my daughter going through that,” Henderson said. “I knew the only way to do that was to go back to school and find a career I was passionate about.”

At 26, Henderson came back more determined than before. The first thing he did upon returning? Sign up for the same computer science course he failed the first time around.

“I didn’t have any problems the second time I took the class,” he said with a smile.

Seeing how passionate his instructors were about computer science was all Henderson needed to know he was heading in the right direction.

“The professors at WCC are unmatched. They over-prepared me in many ways,” Henderson said. “The smaller classes and hands-on learning gave me a jumpstart that other students didn’t have.”

Henderson earned an associate degree in computer science with a concentration in Java programming and graduated from WCC with an impressive 3.9 GPA. Now he’s on track to graduate from EMU this year with a bachelor’s degree in computer science.

He looks forward to growing his business, Go Time! Technologies, with his business partner Matt Bolin and building a solid clientele that will eventually allow him to work from any-where, including the beach.

Go Time! Technologies has a device that uses a thermometer that’s able to send data readings on medical tissue samples from the thermometer through the internet to the website they’re designing.

Many departments around campus played an integral role in Henderson’s success, including the Entrepreneurship Center.

Like many new business owners, Henderson had no idea where to begin, but through one of the Center’s free workshops, he was able to establish a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC).

“I know a lot about computer science; I know nothing about business,” he added with a laugh. “It’s great to have people who are willing to help you.”

Henderson’s story is a classic example of “it’s how you finish that counts.” Nevertheless, he’s grateful to have started his educational journey at WCC and wishes more students under-stood the value of a community college education.

He also had some encouraging words for other non-traditional students: “It’s never too late to follow your passion. Everything gets easier after the first class. Don’t give up.”

This story originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of On The Record.

Non-credit courses recognized for high quality

Accredited_ProviderWashtenaw Community College has been approved by the International Association of Continuing Education and Training (IACET) for its non-credit area of training.

The IACET represents the highest level of quality for instructional design, delivery and evaluation that sets provider colleges and institutions, including WCC, apart from others.

The accreditation allows the college to provide stronger programming that meets the needs of its students and community members.

“Accreditation is equivalent to the Good Housekeeping seal of approval for education,” said Dr. Michelle K. Mueller, WCC’s vice president of Economic, Community and College Development. “It provides the public and employers with the assurance that the classes they enroll in and complete for training, through WCC’s Division of Economic & Community Development, have met the highest standard of quality available.”

Total noncredit headcount for the 2015-16 academic year was 6,959.

Community Enrichment classes include “Build a Business Facebook Page,” “Basic Video Production” and “Bookkeeping: Practical Skills for Business.”

Topic areas for Workforce Development classes range from accounting and finance to business writing to stress management.

To view more classes, visit wccnet.edu/economic-development.

This story originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of On The Record.

The History of Box Braids

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[Detangling Our Roots] Stop the co-opt. In a new series exploring Black hair origins, we trace this form of braiding back thousands of years to the Nile Valley

Do you remember when syndicated radio host Don Imus referred to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hoes” back in 2007? Sure, this happened nearly a decade ago, but derogatory statements like these are exactly thr reason why the phrase “it’s just hair” is often dismissed by many Black women.

For us, it’s never been just hair mainly because our hair has never solely been ours to begin with. Black women have been told our natural kinks, coils, curls, waves and everything in between aren’t beautiful and should be changed to meet European beauty standards. Yet, when the Kardashian-Jenner clan or anyone non-Black wears hairstyles that first appeared on Black women, such as cornrows, Bantu knots or a Yaki-textured ponytail, it’s considered “new” and “chic” in the mainstream media and renamed in many instances. However, these same hairstyles are often deemed as “ghetto” and “unprofessional” when the person is Black.

From strangers wanting to pet our heads to the cultural appropriation and “columbusing” of some of our most beloved styles, the hair that sits on Black women’s heads has always evoked plenty of fascination and conversation.

Recently, I came across this tweet:

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Are Black women notorious for switching up our ‘dos constantly? Absolutely, but that’s part of what makes us us. Let’s own it.

From bountiful afros to bold cornrows and Bantu knots, Black women have rocked some dope hairstyles over the years. Many came and went, but a popular ‘90s hairstyle reemerged a few years ago when Beyoncé and Solange started rocking it again.

We’re talking about box braids, and though Bey may have revived the hairstyle for the masses, Janet Jackson first set the trend in 1993 with her film debut, Poetic Justice. The minute the credits started rolling, nearly every Black woman and girl in America wanted box braids, so they could throw them in a high ponytail, dress them up with a white turban, or simply rock them under a floppy newsboy hat just like Janet.

Read more of my latest piece for EBONY.com [here].

NEW COVER ALERT: China Anne McClain Slays Sesi Magazine’s Fall Issue!

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Meet Sesi magazine’s fall cover star, China Anne McClain, as she shares deets about upcoming movies and possible new music. Also, you’ll find my byline inside the mag. For this issue, I penned a piece about the different ways Black teens can cope with witnessing race-based traumas in the #BlackLivesMatter era we’re living in at the moment.

Shipping starts next month, but reserve your copy now before they sell out: sesimag.com/subscribe.

Goin’ for the gold!

 

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Tierney Isaac, a Broadcast Arts major at Washtenaw Community College, served as an intern on the production staff that produced the broadcast of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials in Omaha, Neb. (Photo Courtesy of Tierney Isaac)

WCC student scores an internship at U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials

Calling camera angles and shots, spotting athletes, running in and out of production meetings, researching, and fact-checking was all in a day’s work last month for Washtenaw Community College student Tierney Isaac.

The Broadcast Arts major recently returned from completing an internship at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials in Omaha, Nebraska. A match made in heaven considering Isaac swam her way through high school and comes from a family of swimmers.

While working as production staff for nearly two weeks, Isaac rubbed elbows with several high-profile people, including the legendary sportscaster Bob Costas, and even witnessed 22-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps complete his final Olympic challenge. Once again, Phelps made the team.

“There’s a lot of relaying back and forth, which can be stressful, and there’s definitely a sense of urgency at all times, but it’s also exciting,” Isaac said. “One of my proudest moments was hearing the production manager tell the director, ‘It’s OK. I trust her.’”

Luckily for Isaac though, it wasn’t her first time doing something of this magnitude. In 2012, she worked as a production runner at the U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials. And for the past three years, she’s spent her summers working at the Phillips 66 National Championships. That meant Isaac became used to working 14-hour days. But she points out that her most-recent trip wasn’t “all work, no play” all the time.

“After each day came to a close, all the staff and crew would just hang out and let loose,” she said. “It’s weird because we were all exhausted by that point, but the adrenaline keeps you awake.”

But the fun didn’t end there.

Members of the media competed in a swim race for the chance to win an Omega watch. Though Isaac didn’t win, she received some sound advice: Hustle and smile.

“That’s true for anybody,” she said. “Knowing your stuff is important and if you don’t know something, you better find someone who can help. Things go by so fast in production, so you can’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s takes true collaboration to successfully pull off a live event.”

Since classes cannot fully prepare anyone for the unpredictable world of production, Isaac plans to take advantage of every opportunity before transferring to Marymount Manhattan College in New York City next year. She already has another internship lined up this December at the Short Course World Championships in Windsor, Ontario.

Interestingly enough, Isaac almost didn’t go into production. She started off her college journey as an architecture major at Washington University in St. Louis but quickly realized it wasn’t for her.

“I always worked on production events during the summer,” she said. “It started out as just something fun to do until I realized it could actually be a career.”

Isaac’s passion for television is now in full mode thanks to WCC. She says the college’s affordability gave her the freedom to explore all options before deciding on the one that was best for her.

“What I will miss most about WCC is the people. The teachers I’ve had have played a huge role in shaping my career. Without their passion for the subjects they teach, I probably wouldn’t be so passionate about the field myself,” she said. “The environment WCC fosters of collaboration and support among the students is amazing and I’m so thankful for it.”

This story originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of On The Record.

The greater the struggle, the greater the victory

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Journey from standing in line for bread to becoming a bank vice president included a stop at WCC

Washtenaw Community College alumna Alina Verdiyan grew up in Azerbaijan and enjoyed what started out as a typical childhood. It wasn’t long, though, when her life was one of much travel and, eventually, not knowing where her next meal was coming from.

“I just remember being in music class and my mother came in to excuse me and we drove straight to an airplane that was waiting for us,” she said.

At age eight, Verdiyan was too young to understand that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was worsening. She did, however, notice the drastic changes in her family’s lifestyle from that moment on.

Barely two months after fleeing to Armenia, the 1988 Armenian Earthquake struck, measuring 6.8 on the surface wave magnitude scale.

“It was devastating. We had no electricity, no heat and no hot water,” Verdiyan said. “We used to stand in line for hours just to get bread, and when we finally received it, it was covered with lice that we picked out before eating.”

Several years later, Verdiyan’s family immigrated to Moscow—where the living conditions were better—and resided there five years before eventually settling in Ann Arbor when she was 17. Her mother, who was a chief economist, and her father, who was an entrepreneur, had only $1,000 to their names when they immigrated to the U.S.

“It was hard and I don’t know how we did it,” Verdiyan said. “Aside from not speaking English and being unable to communicate with anyone, it was also a culture shock.”

Verdiyan admits she didn’t understand why everyone seemed to smile all the time.

“I thought they were off their rockers until I realized this is just a happy country. People here are happy,” she said.

When it came time to take ESL courses, Verdiyan’s then boss suggested WCC.

“The professors I had were just as good as the ones you’d find at a university,” she said.

Between juggling three jobs and going to school fulltime, Verdiyan remained focused, eventually transferring to and graduating from Eastern Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in computer information services.

But, crunching numbers and handling money interested her the most, so she continued working at her local TCF Bank as a teller following graduation.

It wasn’t long before others noticed Verdiyan’s strong work ethic and at 22, she became the bank’s youngest branch manager. At 25, the bank promoted her to bank officer and senior investment specialist. She went on to start her own award-winning financial services practice and sold a share of it a few years ago.

Today, she serves as a vice president and client advisor for Old National’s wealth management group.

“WCC was so good to me. I received a quality education and paid almost nothing for it,” she said. “It’s a great college, and if it wasn’t for all the patient counselors, financial aid staff and professors, I wouldn’t have made it.”

Although Verdiyan’s road to success was a rocky one, she’s grateful for it and firmly believes the greater the struggle, the greater the victory.

“If I can do it, anyone can do it,” she said.

This story originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of On The Record.