Nadirah Pierre is warm fuzzies personified! That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it! The moment we met for our interview, it felt like a giant warm hug. And, her smile is so infectious! What can I say, I’m a big fan of this amazing, intelligent, and loving spirit named Nadirah P.!
Fresh from her appearance in my hometown, Baltimore for the ICNA-MAS conference, and before that performing in Minneapolis, at The Al-Madinah Cultural Center’s Comedy Night, alongside Ramy Youssef and Ahamed Weinberg, AND before that, performing in Chicago at the Muslim Women’s Alliance, Celebrate Muslim Women Gala, PLUS did I mention she appeared in a commercial for Muslim Girl Majic’s “Muslimah Box?” I’m telling you, this sister is busy!
Through the magic of technology and her generosity with her time, we connected online for a video conference spanning several time zones with me in Los Angeles, and she in Newark. As a college student, an internet phenom, and a highly sought after public personality, she rarely has free time, so it was my honor to have an hour to talk with her all about her #BlackMuslimGirlFly. Alhamdulillah, here’s what she had to say.
TeamBMGFly: #BlackMuslimGirlFly is defined as that “it” factor Black Muslim Girls & Women have that makes them amazing, dope, & fresh-to-death awesome. How would you describe your #BlackMuslimGirlFly?
Nadirah Pierre: I would definitely say, as far as my #BlackMuslimGirlFly, it’s my very strong and very vibrant energy. That thing that draws you to me.
TeamBMGFly: How did you grow into your Muslim identity? And, how does being a Black girl impact that? (Or, if you’re bi-racial, or of multi-ethnic heritage, how does that impact your Muslim identity?)
Nadirah: I’m half-Haitian, my father is Haitian, by the way. I think growing into my identity was always much easier because, coming from a Muslim family, I was always surrounded by Black Muslim women who were great examples, to say the least. So, it was very easy. I didn’t have a hard transitional period to covering, or to praying or learning Islam and things like that. I didn’t begin to see how my Blackness, not affected my Islam personally, but affected how everyone else saw my Islam, until I was probably about twelve years old, eleven or twelve. And, that’s when I went to an Islamic school that was predominately Arab and Desi, and I began to see how differently, whether implicitly or explicitly, how they addressed me or approached me. And, I tried everything to convince myself that it wasn’t because I’m Black, but at the end of the day when you look at the facts, and you look at what’s right in front of you, that was the reason. Internally, at that time, the way that they were making me feel, I kind of felt like a, so to speak, like a “second-hand Muslim.” It was like I didn’t feel like it was something that belonged to me, something that was as much a blessing to me as it was to everyone else. I felt like everyone else was fortunate enough to have it. You know, everyone else, it was given to them, but they made me feel like it was something I didn’t deserve. It was kind of like you’re sneaking into something, you know, and you don’t really deserve a place here. And, so I think that kind of made me question, “did I really deserve this, or should I really be you know, Muslim, and things like that?” And that’s the way I internalized it at first. To combat that, I started to learn more. That was the only real combat for it. When I went to eighth grade, I transferred to a predominantly African-American Islamic school, and there the curriculum and the knowledge that you were given was totally different from what I was given in the prior school. They taught about the very prominent Black figures that were huge parts of Islamic history, and how the first group of Muslims to come into this country, and really establishing were Black people. So, once you learn that history, it definitely allowed me to transition into “okay this is nothing that’s new to my people, this isn’t something that I don’t rightfully deserve. This is my rightful place.”
TeamBMGFly: How do you maneuver college life as a Black Muslim Woman?
Nadirah: The upside of it, being a Black Muslim Woman, it kind of makes you like a shining star. The teacher won’t remember anybody else’s name in the class, but because I’m the Black Muslim Woman, they notice when I’m absent, or they notice when I didn’t make it or when I’m not paying attention. So, to that degree, it helps. Especially to stay noticed with things like extra credit, because they see me there every day. Things like that. But, on the downside, since there are so many misconceptions concerning Black Muslim Women, and our intellect, our work ethic, and things like that. It kind of makes it difficult for me to reach certain heights, or for me to be taken seriously, in certain circumstances. Because then everyone is questioning what I really know about what, and you know, “Is she even allowed to talk in her religion?” in front of the class, and things like that. So, it can be nice to be noticed, but it’s somewhat frustrating to not to be heard.
TeamBMGFly: What made you decide to pursue a degree in psychology?
Nadirah: I always knew from a young age that I wanted to do something in the service of people, and you know everybody starts out with the whole the doctor thing, and I was like, “I don’t even like needles, so no.” Then, I thought, “Okay, I think maybe I can be a nurse. And, then I quickly found out in high school years, that I didn’t have much interest in the medical field whatsoever. But, I was a good talker. And, I was a good listener. And, maybe I can do something with that. I think it was around seventh grade that I was introduced to the first psychologist I’d ever met. From there, I began to do research, and then, by my freshman year, I had decided that psychology was what I wanted to go into. You know, having witnessed, going through life, and seeing peers, or seeing family member, or family friends, and to watch their mental illness essentially eat them alive, because nobody wanted to be seen as “crazy,” or nobody really wanted to let it out and talk about it as a ways to move on. So, after that, I decided that “Okay, psychology is definitely what I want to do, what I want to get into.” I have a minor in African-American Studies. I would like to work in a prison, and eventually also own my own therapeutic facility, somewhere in Newark, as I’m from Newark, to delve into the stigma of mental health in the urban African-American community.
TeamBMGFly: What were your steps to making that goal a reality?
Nadirah: It was in high school that I researched it. And, my parents told me for a fact that I had to go to college, so I knew I had to do that. So I started researching the top colleges in my field. I still lived in the fairy tale that I was going to leave the state. That did not happen. So, I started to research it. I started to see what would be necessary, like what different classes and everything like that. So, I worked through high school, and then, my freshman year, I settled on Montclair State, which was my top choice. Once I realized how expensive it was to go out of state, I thought, “Okay, I need something a little bit closer to home, and Rutgers didn’t have the same rating with psychology as much as Montclair State University did. And, I knew people who went, and they said they liked their program, so I thought this is the one for me. I applied early in the year and got my decision pretty early. So, you know, the senioritis really set in. Then, after that, I did apply for financial aid. I applied for so many scholarships, but I think that the email that I had, I think I got locked out of it. I don’t really know what happened to it. But, luckily the state aid was able to cover all of it, so I was fortunate for that. And, I ended up moving, so I don’t know if they sent anything to the old house. If you go on FAFSA.gov, that is the way that I was able to apply. You essentially put in your information, and your parent or guardian’s tax information and your own. Even if you did not file taxes, they need something stating that you didn’t file taxes. Based on your income, and your parents’ income they’ll determine how much state aid you’ll receive. Something a lot of people don’t know is that there’s a period after the semester starts that you can apply for more, during the add/drop period. If you go to the FAFSA website it’s great. They give you instructions and it’s easy.
TeamBMGFly: With your educational pursuits, what would you say is the biggest challenge?
Nadirah: The biggest challenge was probably, I think learning the true kind of, I don’t want to say “game,” to downplay it, but learning how college really works. Because once you get into things like general education courses, and the workload, and everything like that. You have to learn how to be tactical, in order to get through this. You know, and I was still with the high school mindset, where you really have to take in information, and you really have to retain it. But, in my opinion, things like general education classes, you really have to learn how to play the “game.” When it comes to your core classes, if it’s something you really want to do, you’re going to be excited, you’re going to retain it, and going to take it in. But, from my standpoint, when it comes to gen ed courses, and when it comes to time management, and getting your schedule together, and everything like that, you have to be very tactical. And, in order to be that, you have to really learn yourself. And, I think I was thrown into it, fresh out of high school, right into college, without really knowing much about my study skills, about how I best retained information, about what best works best for my schedule, and everything like that. So that was was probably the most difficult part, just learning myself and learning how to be tactical. Sophomore year I ended up having to transfer because I had to move, so I had to transfer to Middlesex County that was closer to my house. I made the decision that if I’m going to do this, then I have to do it for myself. And, it has to be something that I really want. Because at the end of the day, nobody is going to be as disappointed as me, if it doesn’t work out. And, nobody is going to be as happy as me if it works out. So, I think Sophomore year was when it really clicked. And, I was like, “Okay, I really want this.” Now, I know myself a little bit more, and now I know how it works.
TeamBMGFly: How did you come up with the idea for your Instagram videos? What inspired you to make it into a brand?
Nadirah: The first video was a skit, the first one that really popped. It was very comical. It was a joke. And, I made that one, you know just to make a couple of my 600 followers laugh. It was no big deal. But then, once that one caught wind, I thought, “Okay, well, let’s talk about something else.” Then progressively, before you know it, there were all these issues that were popping up, that I had wanted to talk about for so long. And, I finally had an audience so I thought, let’s get into it. “I ain’t never been scared, so let’s go.” And, this was not planned. It was something that happened like overnight, to the point that I still can’t believe it. Even now, I’m still very shocked when I go places and people know me. Or, you know, I get emails from people like yourself. And, I think, “Wow, okay!” I never even thought that anything even close to this would be possible.
TeamBMGFly: When did you realize you were funny? Did you ever see yourself pursuing a public life as a comedian?
Nadirah: It happened so quickly. I think it’s been a little bit over a year since I recorded that first video that kind of like popped. It’s been very different, and it came very quickly. People are surprised to find out that none of this was planned. I didn’t put it out there thinking it would pop. It was one of those things where, like a storybook, where you wake up the next day, and “Here it is!” Now, I’m just trying to find my space and my place in that, and just trying to uphold what’s expected of me now that I have a voice. And, to realize the level of responsibility that I have now that I have it. Now, I’m just trying to get a hold of things, while I’m navigating my collegiate career, as well as Instagram, figuring out where am I going to take it.
TeamBMGFly: What’s the number one thing you hope people will gain from your videos and your presence online?
Nadirah: I think the most important thing that I would like for them is to look within themselves. Because, when I say things, even if it applies to you, I don’t want you to become angry. I don’t want you to become defensive. I want you to really see these improper or these toxic qualities in yourself, and I want you to really think about how that is, not only affecting you but affecting those around you. And, then I hope that you would change it. But before changing, at the least, I would like you to be aware of it. I think the message that I always try to send is that there’s nothing wrong if you have anything going on internally, there’s nothing wrong and there’s no shame, in seeking help. And, don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re crazy because you want to talk about something, because you want to express something. The most essential part of living your life, and of going through things, is to make sure that you’re healing from things. That’s the thing that’s really going to help you excel, and take you to new places when you’re able to let go of dead weight. We have a tendency in the black community, or even the Muslim community to say “You just got to pray more, and then you’ll be better.” and that’s not everyone’s case. You know, some people can make a prayer and feel better. Some people can do certain acts of worship and feel better. But, to those of us who feel like we need a little bit more. It’s not shameful, Contrary to popular belief it’s not haraam. Allah doesn’t speak out against it. There’s nothing wrong with it.
TeamBMGFly: Who did you look up to while growing up? Who inspires you now?
Nadirah: My grandmother, actually my grandparents, and my mother, actually my whole family, are very big givers. My grandmother is always in some sort of service. Like I said she’s a teacher and she’s been teaching for years. And growing up around that, you’re always naturally taught to be a giver. To give things, no matter what area of life you choose, in some way, shape, form or fashion you have the ability to give something that is of benefit to someone else. So, I think always being around people who showed me that it was an honorable thing to be in service was what inspired me, to you know to just fall in line. Just as a whole, Black Muslim Women are so strong, and so amazing, and constantly evolving. Those are the number one people who keep me on my toes. Like when something isn’t right, I’m always going to have a Black Muslim Woman pull me aside. When something goes right, there’s always a Black Muslim Woman who’s first in line to congratulate me. Whether it’s being on social media, or the ones I know personally, or the ones that I come into contact with every day, they are the biggest inspiration. @SheIsAbroad, @SaudahInteriors, @JannahNaimah, @MalikaBilal, and @KamRashad, are some on social media who inspire me. I’m still on cloud nine from Kameelah Rashad’s Black Muslim Psychology Conference. Also, it would be lovely to meet Malika Bilal. And, also, @DoctaSuad. So many Black Muslim Women are coming out of the woodwork, and I’m like, “How have I never heard of you?”
TeamBMGFly: Can you describe a moment where you felt defeated, and how did you overcome that?
Nadirah: My college experience. Freshman year was a rough ride. After that first year, it was so rocky, and it was so difficult. It made me question a lot, about myself, and about my abilities, and about what I was really and truthfully capable of. And, I’ve always been a fan of, you know, no matter what it is, to live in and to walk in your truth. So, that year was rock bottom for me, and I think that summer off did a lot for me in terms of me being more introspective, and me really looking at who I was and who I wanted to be. After that rocky, just horrible year, I was like, “Okay, we can’t have another one of these.” Even as I go through a hard time, or go through difficult things, I have to find a way or create a way within myself, to make sure that I’m maintaining a certain level of health; mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, as well as, finding that saving grace within myself. And, if nobody is going to be there to applaud me, or to pick me up, then I have to find a way to do it myself. So, I think just first and foremost, relying on Allah to be that guiding light that I truly needed. And, realizing that I had to allow my spirituality to be the leading and the number one force within my life. We make the mistake in cutting out parts of Islam in order to fit our lives when really you have to cut out parts of your life in order to fit into Islam. That was the time where it was like rock bottom, and I had to find a way out, and thankfully to Allah, I did.
TeamBMGFly: Can you describe a moment where you felt like you defied odds or broke barriers?
Nadirah: I think my social media gives me a lot of those moments, you know. Because to be a Black Muslim Woman, young, very outspoken, very loud, very strong, very powerful, and to be given that respect that a lot of people told me I wouldn’t be, I think has been amazing to me. And to be given that admiration, and to be given the credit, you know, to be given the proper credit. And, to just be loved and to be respected, despite all of the prejudices that were held against me and people like me. So, I think that’s, every day, that’s like something new for me on social media.
TeamBMGFly: What would you cite as the foundation of your success?
Nadirah: I think Islam is definitely the foundation of it. I always attribute who I am to Islam. And, I tell people, just be so thankful that I’m a Muslim because if I wasn’t I would probably be a completely different person, leading a completely different life. There are a lot of things that I don’t do, and a lot of things that I don’t say. And, I feel the urge, and I’m human and it’s there, but, because I’m a Muslim, I’m gonna let it go. So, to my many successes, I always attribute it to Islam, and to everything else that Allah has blessed me with.
TeamBMGFly: #BlackMuslimGirlFly is an empowerment brand created to uplift and remind Black girls that they are FLY in many ways. What advice would you give all the Black Muslim girls out there, worldwide, to cultivate their own individual #BlackMuslimGirlFly?
Nadirah: I would definitely say to realize that it’s not your responsibility to make anyone comfortable with you, and who you are in all of your truth. And, don’t feel the need, or don’t feel pressured, or don’t feel like you have to conform to society’s standards in order to be loved, in order to be respected, in order to be heard. It’s not necessary. And, I know sometimes, you want to be seen as the “I’m not a terrorist type of Muslim,” so you try to do things to make people comfortable with you. And, then when you look back on the things that you’ve done, and you realize how foolish they were. You’ll feel this blanket shame because they’re still going see you as who they see you as. And, they’re still going to have something to say. So to live in, and to truly be in your truth, is to know that it’s not your job to make anyone comfortable with you. It’s not your job to explain yourself. It’s not your job to make anyone at ease. Their “uncomfortability,” or their hate toward you is not your problem.
TeamBMGFly: What’s something you haven’t done yet, but would like to do next?
Nadirah: I’m not the model type, but I think it would be really fun to be one of the faces of a clothing brand. That would be very enjoyable.
Thanks again, Nadirah, for sharing your story with us and the rest of the world! I believe it’s very important for us, Black Muslim Girls and Women, to stand up and speak up and let the world know we are here and we’re making things happen. For far too long, we’ve been made to be invisible. #BlackMuslimGirlFly is working to change that!
#FridayFeatures, April 13, 2018
Interviewed by Nia Malika Dixon