Business Natural

Welcome to Business Natural: the collective image of the contemporary Black woman. Powerful & professional, donning her natural hair. This photography & research project was originally executed as an SMU Engaged Learning Fellowship, meant to capture & convey the Black natural hair experience in Corporate America & Academia.
What started as photoshoots and interviews, turned into a one-of-a-kind natural hair exhibition at the Cox School of Business. Both these images, and extended quotes from each woman involved, were displayed for a year in the central Cox School of Business building.

The real-life version of this virtual exhibit is currently displayed in Southern Methodist University’s Diversity & Inclusion Office.

All photos are by talented Annania Tadesse.

Naomi Samuel

3c, Business Natural Director, Marketing & English, SMU ‘19
“I remember sitting in the front row of a business school class, the only black woman there, feeling like my scalp was totally exposed for everyone to see. It took a kind of vulnerability from me that I’d never had the confidence to show before. But after I did that, I knew I could take it further.”

Lydia Samuel

3b, Pre-Nursing Student, Baylor ‘23
“…Overcoming the fear of being different, and inspiring others like me to do the same, has made me feel free. My curls form a crown, in my mind. One that I wear with pride, shrinkage, tangles, and all. The world needs to realize that black women are not pretty in spite of their blackness. We are beautiful because of it.”

Tori Gillum

4a, MBA Candidate, SMU ‘20
“As a black woman in a professional and academic world that is largely occupied by white people, I consistently feel like the black sheep. Yes, my hair automatically causes me to stand out, but accompanied with my hair, is a different way of life, a different thought process all together. And I feel that difference every day.”

India Simmons

3c, Human Rights & Political Science & International Studies, SMU ‘20
“As a black woman in academia, a space largely occupied by white people, I find myself constantly anxious of my personal and professional worth and value. Even though I’m 21, I still struggle to remember that I am just as valuable, just as intelligent, and just as capable as my white peers and instructors. I constantly have to push myself outside of my comfort zone, speak up, and demand that my self-worth and dignity be recognized by those who would otherwise not recognize it.”

N’dea Fleming

4b, Financial Consulting, SMU ’19, Accounting Masters Student, SMU ‘20
“On my first day of an internship at a Big 4, I was panicked because I didn’t know how well received wearing natural hair would be…I wrestled in the weeks prior with the idea of straightening it even though I’ve never straightened my natural hair. I will never forget when a partner walked on stage to speak to us at training and it was a black woman with a lovely natural bun! Seeing someone at such a high level embracing her authentic self put me in the mindset that no one could tell me anything about wearing my hair the way it naturally grows.”

The 2019 release of
was launched at an exhibition at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

The photos were sold to benefit the Black Alumni of SMU scholarhsip.

That evening, the idea of professionalism was not just challenged, but expanded.

Here’s to better understanding the black hair experience in Academia & Corporate America.

Kennedy Woodard

4a/4b, Mechanical Engineering & Mathematics, SMU ‘20
“Being a black woman in professional and academic worlds that are largely occupied by white people (especially in engineering), sometimes makes me feel like I am constantly teaching others about who I am…It forces me to be confident in myself, because I am in these spaces despite all of the forces working against me. Therefore, accomplishing something feels like 10 accomplishments in one.”

Nia Kamau

4b, Human Rights & International Studies, SMU ‘22
“My favorite moments about my natural hair journey will always be the ones where I’m doing hair with my mother and sisters. Sometimes we’ll spend hours braiding or twisting each other’s hair. I love how these experiences connect us. We always have our most serious and heartfelt conversations as we serve and love on each other by taking time to make one another feel beautiful. Doing a loved one’s hair has been a bonding experience for black women for generations and I love seeing that legacy passed on with my family.”

Myca Williamson

3c/4a, MBA Candidate, SMU ‘20
“…I realized the higher up I got in life, the less people looked like me. So now, as a 25-year-old MBA student reflecting on my journey thus far, I realize that rifts and misunderstandings happen over time. Some don’t understand enough about black people because they have not rubbed shoulders, shared enough meals, or had real conversations with black people to know and love and accept our culture, which includes our hair.”

Lezly Murphy

4a/b, SMU Naturals Co-Founder, Electrical Engineering, SMU ‘19
“What makes it challenging is the way that people look at me and the way people study my hair. Sometimes, when your hair is different from those around you, people focus on those differences, and it can feel pretty isolating. I have learned to view other people’s looks and curiosity as a teachable moment, and to have enough pride and confidence within myself to not care.”

Ashley Isles

4c, Software Developer at AT&T, SMU ‘17
“Sometimes I feel invisible and other times I feel like I have a spotlight on me, following my every move. I work as a developer at a tech company so the number of black women in my department is alarmingly small. It’s easy for me to want to disappear, but there’s this nagging sense of responsibility to make myself seen and known—to show everyone that I am what a software developer looks like.”

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