Miami - A Microcosm of the World: Video Transcript

Aziza Nicholson (BA Black World Studies and Urban & Regional Planning, Miami, 2001) [owner of a hair-styling business called A II Z Naturals LTD and the executive director for a global nonprofit organization called the Women Empowerment Project]: I started off in the Black World Studies department and stayed in the department all the way through, of course. But I added Urban and Regional Planning my sophomore year at Miami. During that time of transitioning into Urban and Regional Planning, I was given an opportunity to do an internship, a study abroad program, with Dr. Ian Yeboah, and I spent some time in Ghana, West Africa. I did an internship inside of the Kumasi Central Marketplace, which was awesome. It's one of West Africa's largest open-air markets. And during my time navigating the market, I stumbled upon an area where women were braiding and styling hair. There were literally hundreds of women styling hair, it was just a beautification process, and I found that the women came from all over Ghana. They've traveled as far as ten hours from the northern tip of Ghana into the southern region just to have hairstyles created. So, it really resonated with me because I grew up styling hair.

The styling of hair in Ghana was culturally different, at that time very different from what is typical here in the United States. The natural hair industry was just really budding, and what I'd found is that the styling techniques, really the methodology behind the styling in general in Ghana, was completely different from here in the States. I felt like, you know, black women in America should know about these traditional techniques, and I think that those techniques are healthier overall, which is why I wanted to embrace that and bring it here into the States and educate women about the techniques.

The Women Empowerment Project, we've been around for about two years, and we are looking to branch out globally, beyond Africa. Again, we're in the Virgin Islands, but we want to go into Europe, we want to go into parts of the Middle East, and Asia as well, helping to educate women, particularly, like I said before, in the field of natural hair care.

I would say that my degree from Miami prepared me for my career by giving me a liberal base for my current direction, the project that I am working with. The Black World Studies department particularly afforded me the opportunity, of course, to go to West Africa but also to understand and engage in African world studies, taking theory, and taking that theory and creating a practice from the theory.

I decided that what I really wanted to do ultimately was bridge the gap between the Africans and African Americans. I felt like my Miami University education ultimately gave me that foundation. It sparked, piqued my interest first of all, but then it also gave me enough information through my coursework to understand what it is I would need to do in order to accomplish the goal of doing business in West Africa, you know, of bridging that gap.

I believe having a liberal education gives a person, a student, a well-rounded view of the world. There is so much in the world to see, obviously, and Miami is sort of a microcosm, you know, of what the world is ultimately like. You know, so having that liberal education gives you an opportunity to engage with the different cultures, the different techniques, or styles of learning, various professors here from all over the world giving you a multitude of perspectives with regard to the culture, language, obviously traveling over, study abroad, there's just a number of opportunities, so the liberal arts education is just phenomenal, and it's something that anyone can embrace and appreciate and two, ultimately, develop and create a career that is ultimately a reflection of who they are or who they have become in this learning environment.

[April 2014]