Editor’s Note — This is from a student conversation series highlighted as part on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Medium page. The series feature students and alumni who are making impacts on campus, in their outreach work and via careers.
In this first week of the 2024 series, meet Zainab-Marie Funnah, a psychology major from Lincoln, who in 2020 launched BlackisBeautifulNE, an award-winning project that provides a slice of positivity by photographing young Black women. The project has grown into a non-profit through which she is building community and giving back to others.
Talk about BlackisBeautifulNE and turning it from a project to a nonprofit.
BlackisBeautifulNE did start out as a project. In the summer of 2020, when the George Floyd protests were going on and there was a lot of negativity and conflict in the community, I wanted to do something positive. I saw a picture of Black women together posing and thought it was gorgeous and decided I could do that here. I put together a photoshoot of young Black women ranging from 9th to 12th grade and college aged. The photoshoot got picked up by the Lincoln Journal Star, which ended in an article being published about it. In September 2020, due to the article, I was nominated for the Lincoln Journal Star Women’s Inspire Awards — Founder’s Award and went on to be the youngest to have won it being only 16 years old. With that award, I also received a $500 donation from Hudl and decided to start the nonprofit and get 501(c)(3) certified.
You’ve already accomplished a lot with the organization, hosting art exhibitions, providing scholarships and more. Is there anything you’re working toward for the future?
Our goals are to continue raising our scholarships each year in order to give back more to the Black community in Nebraska. In 2021 we awarded one $500 scholarship, in 2022 $2,250 and last year were able to give out $4,000. We are currently putting together an event for the end of Black History Month that will be a mixer for community members, entrepreneurs, students, leaders, business owners, etc. to come together and network.
We will also be hosting our annual Juneteenth event in June at the Railyard partnering with the Lincoln Arts Council and their Lincoln Arts Festival.
You’ve talked about choosing Nebraska because it’s a Big Ten school — with good opportunities for academics and athletics. Can you speak more about that?
I am currently a psychology major, and at Nebraska, we have one of the best programs not just in our conference, but in the country. That is one really big reason why I chose Nebraska. I have been able to be involved in research programs being a research assistant which will bring so many opportunities in the future. Athletically, Nebraska is just a great place to create connections and a chosen family. The university supports its athletes so much not only in the sport but in growing into being good humans too, which was one of the main reasons I chose to be here.
Being a student-athlete at Nebraska provides a big platform. Why is being a positive role model and/or making an impact so important for you?
So I have actually transitioned from the role of an athlete to being a student-manager on the track and field team. During my time as a student-athlete, I did experience that and my own personal experiences have given me a unique perspective that has allowed me to continue to have an impact and support within that platform — It is so important because you have so many people watching you from all areas. With a platform as a student-athlete not only can you impact the younger generation, but also those older than you who watch and support you as an athlete. Showing who you are as a person with that platform can create a bigger change than some people think. People who support and love watching you in your sport will begin to love and support all the positive things you are doing outside of the sport too.
Is there anything you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
Honestly, if I can just inspire a small group of people, or even just one person to be kind and serve their community, that would be enough for me. Creating change and impacting those who will come after me is so important because I want change and impact to keep following in the years to come. Career-wise I would love to go into Sports Psychology and eventually be a sports psychologist for a pro sports team. Mental health in sports is really impactful to how athletes perform and handle all the life challenges with a sport being added to them.
What or who inspires you?
There are so many things that inspire me. I would say my family like my parents and brother inspire me the most. Growing up I have been able to see the things that they’re doing and the journeys that they have gone down and how they faced challenges and grew from them. I would also say that young people inspire me. I have seen so many people my age and even younger do so many great things in their lives and communities and that pushes me to continue all the work that I do.
What is your advice to other students looking to make an impact on campus?
There are so many ways to get involved. I think it’s very important to get involved with things and ideas that you are passionate about. Not only will it make you want to create a bigger impact, but it will put you around other people who are also wanting to spark the same change as you. If you are debating joining a club or doing community service, I say just go for it; You will not regret it. Once you find something you are passionate about and enjoy creating change within, you will want to grow that passion to others, which is truly how you make the most impactful changes around you.
diversity and inclusion, Journalism and Mass Communications, Journalism, advertising and public relations, Odelia Amenyah, Black History Month, Black History Month 2023, BHM Feature