If we aren’t shattering the glass ceiling ourselves, every opportunity we have is the result of someone paving the way before us.
During Black History month, the accomplishments of nationally recognized men and women like Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman - and perhaps thanks to recent movies like Hidden Figures- Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Gobels Johnson are celebrated.
We’d also like to honor some of the trailblazing black women that have roots in the Pittsburgh area.
The Post Gazette highlights a few notable women in this article:
• Catherine Delany- abolitionist who assisted her husband Martin with the founding and success of Pittsburgh newspaper “The Mystery”, which advocated equality for blacks
• Madame C.J. Walker- a successful entrepreneur who created her own haircare line and became one of the country’s first women to become a self made millionaire
• Jean Hamilton Walls, Ph. D. - the first black woman to earn a Bachelors degree and a Ph. D. from University of Pittsburgh
• Mary Caldwell Dawson- founded the Cardwell School of Music in Homewood, and the first black opera company
• Selma Burke- artist whose sculpture of Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the model used for the dime
• Helen Faison- the first Black female principal of a school in the city
• Gwendolyn Elliott- the city’s first Black female police commander, and the founder of Gwen’s Girls, a nonprofit dedicated to helping girls living in poverty
To that list, we wanted to add:
• Pianist Patricia Prattis Jennings, who performed for decades with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and in 1966 became the first Black woman signed to a full contract with a major American symphony orchestra
• Hazel B. Garland, the first African-American woman to serve as editor-in-chief of a nationally circulated newspaper chain (the New Pittsburgh Courier)
• Mary Lou Williams, acclaimed East Liberty jazz pianist
Those amazing women made significant historic contributions, but we’d also like to highlight another woman who is currently doing great things in Pittsburgh. Here at Levana Bratique, we are all about loving yourself, empowerment, and communities of women who inspire, encourage, and uplift other women. When we think of all those traits, one local woman who gracefully embodies them all comes to mind.
Tamiah Bridgett is an inventor, entrepreneur, and champion for the natural hair movement. She encourages women to love themselves as they are, including learning to embrace their natural hair.
She started It’s a Natural Thang (IANT) in 2010, which has become Pittsburgh’s premiere natural hair meet up group and natural hair event hosts. With the help of AlphaLab Gear, she founded Diversame, working to bring a hair drying tool designed specifically for women with wavy, textured, curly, or coiled hair. Tamiah recently took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for us:
What inspired you to start IANT?
I was inspired to start IANT because I noticed a growing trend of women returning to natural hair and needing to have a safe space to have meaningful discussions about natural hair and the way we interface with the world, our families, spouses/romantic partners, places of employment etc.
Other cities had “meetup groups” and instead of continuing the narrative of Pittsburgh “not having anything,” I wanted to create the change that I felt the natural hair community deserved. I did a quick survey online and asked if women would like to get together to learn about natural hair, and the rest is history. We had our first meetup in June of 2010 with 12 people and we weren’t on social media yet. By October of the same year I started a Facebook group out of a suggestion at one of the meetups. We started with 18 people and now have over 7,000. Our meetups now have approximately 200 guests!
Once I kept the group exclusively for black women returning to natural hair for a few years, I knew that I also wanted to open the group up to include white foster and adoptive parents of black children. Trans-racial foster/adoption hair care had been my second mission to assist. I wanted everyone to have a safe community to learn about their children’s hair. Although the group is primarily centered around the safety and support of black women returning natural, I thought it was also important to be a safe haven and community of support for parents who were not black, but raising black/multi-racial children and looking for a resource and support for natural haircare.
I also opened up the group to men who were embracing their natural hair and looking to support women returning natural. I initially kept it a female only space because women tend to inhibit their true feelings if they know men are listening/watching. I wanted everyone to get their footing before I opened it up.
What fears or anxieties have you had to overcome to get to this point?
Initially, the greatest fear/anxiety I had was taking the meetup group to social media. I immediately thought about the safety of the group and how I would have to maintain it, moderate it and possibly have to confront “mean people.” Interestingly, once I started the group and made the settings private/invitation only, I became very protective. I watched the group day and night for signs of negativity or unsafe conversations. I set rules in place before they were a setting in groups. Today, I have additional moderators to make sure that my vision stays as pure as possible.
I also received some push back when I opened the group to TRA (transracial/interracial adoptive) families. I understood having the sanctity of safe spaces that are for black people, especially black women. However, in this case, I had to make the decision to follow my spirit about the direction I wanted the group to go and what my personal mission is and I don’t regret it.
Who has been your support network, and how have they encouraged you?
My mother has been my greatest support from the very beginning. I also have a circle of sister-friends and close acquaintances that have supported me, prayed for me, made connections for me and at times, even fed me and made sure I was caring for myself.
What do you do for self care?
I make sure I am in therapy every other week! I also have centered physical fitness and healthy eating into my life. Yes, taking the time to cook and eat food is self care for me.
What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome with your businesses?
My biggest obstacle of founding both Diversame and IANT is that I am the first in my family to take on entrepreneurship in this capacity. There are independent contractors in my family but no one has ever taken it on full time, so there was no one to learn from and at times not a supportive ear as difficulties as an entrepreneur are viewed as something “I brought on myself” for leaving the “security” of my 9-5. That’s also another area, spiritually, if I could have made both work at the time, I absolutely would have. However, I was literally called out of the old life to create a new one. So remaining patient and empathetic as other’s may or may not be is an interesting dynamic.
With Diversame, entering the world of Tech from human services and cosmetology was a huge shift and as I get closer to bringing my first product to market, there has been a lot of educating that I’ve had to do while simultaneously learning. That can be quite challenging!
What drives you or keeps you going?
Each component of one side will drive and influence the other. Diversame was born from IANT, yet is very different as it is bringing hardware to the market. I have a very niche demographic that I am targeting and every time I see a post on IANT about needing quality blow dryers and combs that are suitable for our hair, it keeps me grounded, knowing I am on the right path. When I host meetups, I feel encouraged to continue wanting to create safe spaces where natural hair is magnified and celebrated!
You really champion women loving themselves, and with IANT have formed such a great community of women supporting and encouraging one another. Do you have any tips for helping women learn self love?
I’m still on the path myself, you know? But I know without a shadow of a doubt that my mission is to make women feel beautiful and loved. The biggest tip to women I can give is find your voice and don’t swallow it. We tend to minimize our wants, feelings and needs to tend to everyone else. Also, instead of looking at yourself in the mirror and finding something to criticize, gaze into your own eyes lovingly and repeat, “I am enough.”
What is on the horizon for you?
This year will hold so many exciting things! I’ll be hosting a spring braiding series for adults who never learned this March at A Peace of Mind in Wilkinsburg. I’ll also be hosting a series of classes at CKV Suites in Homewood that will be held throughout the year. These classes will be on haircare, makeup application and learning to be comfortable in front of the camera. Each class extends out of facets of the beauty industry I love!
The Diversame Drying Tool will also be hitting the market! So it looks like 2019 will be quite eventful!
Thanks Tamiah! We can't wait to see what the future holds for you!