“Know you, then be you.”
Somewhere between laughter, fangirling over Issa Rae, black girl magic, and sisterhood, attorney and blogger Simply Cyn said these words to me. Simple, profound and yet totally doable.
“Know you, then be you.”
I sat staring at my laptop, post-interview, the all-too-familiar Skype jingle still echoing throughout my apartment. However, more presently and more personally was the warm feeling of laughter shared and sisterhood formed. To meet someone virtually with all the intentions of a formal interview and for all those constructs to be organically broken and rebuilt into a rich and genuine conversation, is rejuvenating. I laughed at myself, remembering how I debated earlier for almost 20 minutes, which of the four beige walls in my apartment would be most appropriately beige to conduct the interview and whether or not I remembered to iron my shirt (I did).
Voice Memo app on the ready, our interview was scheduled for around 9 pm EST. Feeling fabulously professional, I had my first question neatly written down in my suede Chapters journal. Naturally, I was a little nervous being that I was about to interview a modern day renaissance woman. Attorney by day and famous traveler, fashion and food Blogger by night.
Multitalented and multifaceted but still Simply Cyn.
Cyn started, “Well…I was born in Maryland but I grew up in Cameroon.” She shared how her parents moved back to Cameroon when she was 5 and she grew up there until her early teens before deciding to move back to New York. She explained how she skipped some of high school and dove straight into taking her SAT’s before moving to London during her gap year to try and figure out her life. Deciding that Law was the path to take, she went to law school and became a lawyer.
“Somewhere along the way, I felt like I was just going through the motions…I wanted more authentic life experiences, so I started blogging as a hobby”, Cyn added. [Blogging about] affordable fashion, travel, food…basically whatever I found interesting and it’s crazy how it’s developed into a real thing!”
We continued by unpacking the identity of ‘Africanness’, “I’ve always felt African”, she said. “It’s so much in me, it’s in the music I listen too, the food I eat”, she reflected lovingly on how she enjoys cooking big pots of eru and okra soup with fufu. We took a brief moment to discuss the importance of holding the fufu correctly in order to enjoy the full potential of the meal.
Resuming, she pointed out that in her teens when she moved back to New York, there existed a heightened awareness of her Africanness. “You are reminded of this in almost all your experiences. When people ask me ‘Where are you from?’ I almost never say I’m from New York, I always say I’m originally from Cameroon…it’s who I am.”
The conversation transitioned onto the topic of being a woman of colour in different professional spheres.
“I started out practicing Elder Law, which happens to deal with a lot trust and estate litigation”, Cyn began.
“Are you the social worker? Are you the secretary?” These are a few of the questions Cyn would get asked when she appeared in court. “ No, I’m the attorney on the case”, she would answer.
I listened intently as she explained how in the early days of her career she did everything she could to physically look and feel like a ‘professional’. No braids, no natural hair, basically silencing authentic pieces of her identity, an internal conflict that too frequently narrates the experiences of black women in their professional spheres.
“I had to work extra hard to be taken seriously…and it’s weird because I kind of found myself when I started blogging.”
“Are there connections to your life as a style and travel blogger and your work as an attorney?” I asked.
Quite simply and quite unapologetically she said, “No. The only thing that has transferred is my level of confidence and organization. I never do both at the same time. Work is work and blogging is blogging and there is a time for both. I love each one and I want to respect each one. Even though it means that I’m tired all the time…I love it and I’m happy.”
“Everyone sees this magic and everyone wants to touch it”
By meeting and connecting with other people and perspectives through social media Cyn started to feel empowered by the positive feedback she was receiving. She started taking small steps towards rediscovering herself. First step, out with the relaxer, second step, in with the kinks and coils!
Naturally, she encountered some shock, disapproval and even resistance but Cyn explained how she centered her focus on her confidence, working intentionally, specifically and unwaveringly to improve her self-esteem and by appreciating herself and her worth.
“It’s interesting…the more I embraced myself and my individuality, I’ve only seen my career go leaps and bounds.”
I asked her how she saw herself represented in the media and how it felt to have a lot of black women and girls look up to her. She admitted, “Growing up I never really saw myself…and if I did see myself, I clung on to that image for dear life”.
She pauses, “Although, right now there is a black love that I have never felt or seen before”. I knew exactly what she was talking about and for some perfect and appropriate reason, a lemon emoji came to mind. An online revolution clothed in #blackgirlmagic #melaninqueen and #melaninonfleek has and is galvanizing black women to come together in the most beautiful way. We are seeing a not-so-secret society of self-love, self-acceptance and self-confidence. For the first time, we are seeing, feeling and tasting the deliciousness of something created by us and for us.
“I don’t think any of this started on TV or music videos, it started with regular girls saying that I want people to know that I’m here”, Cyn continued, excitement in her hands and gratitude in her eyes. “Everyone sees this magic and everyone wants to touch it.”
What advice would she give young women of African descent? She answered, “It’s not just okay to be true to yourself, it’s necessary to be happy. Know you, then be you.”
“When I started blogging, you can imagine the reception. My family is in the church and it’s not that they weren’t supportive, they just didn’t understand. While the African experience gives you structure and discipline, you have to also learn to experience different things. It’s important.”
“You have one life, and you have to ask yourself, ‘if I died what are the things I would have wanted to do with my time?’”
We ended this part of the conversation giggling at how her mother is always leaving the cutest comments on her blog. (Hi, Mama Cyn!)
To conclude, I asked, “What does Homeland mean to you?” “Homeland is in you. I don’t think it’s something that has to exist on a map. You carry it with you. I can watch Yemi on Youtube, my African food store isn’t too far from here, I can Spotify all my music…home is everywhere!”
Continuing on the topic of homeland, Cyn shared her curiosity and experience in exploring other cultures outside her own and the importance of immersing yourself in diversity in all aspects. I mentioned how I noticed she featured very niche artists on her blog, musicians I had never heard of before.
“I also like to live in a world where we appreciate each other’s culture as well, by embracing other people’s diversity, does not mean you love yours any less.”
Seeing and meeting an African woman who is successfully navigating traditionally saturated spaces, by authentically creating space for herself in both her career as a lawyer and a blogger, is both cathartic and motivating. I was extremely humbled to listen and receive, thank you to Cyn for sharing, laughing and being.
Photos of Simply Cyn provided by instagram.com/simplycyn.