Cover Muse: Naila Best, Living Abroad and Reclaiming Afrikan Culture

Photography by Vanessa Mwingira | Blouse by Shanira Msale’s RAHISI

There’s so much beauty in being Black. In essence, we are the beginning of everything, the most powerful people on earth. In every way, we not only prove to be resilient people, but loving, beautiful, and thriving people as well. I hesitated using “resilient.” I think of The Nap Bishop, Tricia Hersey, who said this language of “resiliency” should not be a part of our liberation practice. In fact, Hersey reminds us every day, rest IS resistance. How do you rest from a society that begs—no demands your attention for its constant human rights atrocities against your people? The Best family did what most of us aim to do once we learn the truth about America’s ugliness—they left.

They made liberation a reality, saying that “America is irredeemable.” To be honest, many of us are not far behind them after viewing the temper tantrum white people made at the Capitol, only to find our people cleaning up their mess. The ex-pat lifestyle has many benefits, including tapping into our Afrikan heritage. Christopher DeWolf says that an ex-pat is “anyone with roots in a western country.” As the stolen & kidnapped future generations of enslaved Afrikans, are our roots truly in the West? Over 60 years have passed since Black icons such as James Baldwin & Josephine Baker emigrated due to racial persecution, and now we see movements, especially in the last few years, like “Blaxit” of us Black folx saying we’ve had enough. Yet, instead of fleeing to Europe, there’s been an uptick in going back to the motherland—Afrika.

So what makes our muse family so special? Naila Best makes it plain that the world we build will include Afrikan teachings with Afrikan people. Her love of family and community drew her back home, no matter how much America demands her attention, her focus stays on the creativity divined to her by our Creator. If you get a chance, you too can find the stillness and tap into it.

Cover Photography by Vanessa Mwingira

Q: Who is Naila Best? Give us A little history— paint a picture of your life in Atlanta, GA as a young girl. What do you remember about your interests as a child that have shaped who you are today?

Naila: As a child, I was always creative. I used to make stuff, I was always dancing, and I was always into something. I used to cut my clothes up all the time and I would get in trouble because you’re not supposed to cut up new clothes, apparently. But I was always creative, even as a child. And I was in different activities that shaped me into this creative person today.

Q: You are Black Girl Magic! Just 3 years ago, you were a single mother transitioning from corporate work to full-time freelance work and entrepreneurship. You’re now a married woman who is living in Tanzania with her family. Tell us about your journey as a creative and entrepreneur in Atlanta before marriage.

Naila: Before marriage, [being] a creative entrepreneur was a struggle. But it all worked out in the end. Of course being a single mom in America is not easy. We definitely had our ups and downs. Overall it was definitely a learning experience, it worked out in the end.

Transitioning from corporate to entrepreneurship was forced because I got fired from a job because I wasn’t on time [laughs]. I was kind of forced into entrepreneurship, but like I said it worked out in the end. I could never ever work for any corporate company ever again in my life. So it all worked out. Yeah, at the time it didn’t feel good. It was a transition period. It was a struggle to keep bills paid and things like that, but like I said, the creator made sure that that process and that time that I had of isolation molded me into a whole new person. The person I was before being an entrepreneur is a completely different person today.

So I am very very thankful for that job for firing me. I appreciate it A LOT. I am always reminded of how things may seem bad while you’re in it or they may seem frustrating or whatever you may call it at the time. But if you stay the course and you believe in yourself and if you believe in God, you’re going to end up where you need to be regardless. So it worked out.

Q: As a single mom, how did you make things happen for you and your son while navigating business endeavors? Were there times you felt like going back to working a 9 to 5? Why or why not?

Naila: There were definitely times when I told myself I would go back to work. Only because I was struggling to pay bills and I was struggling to keep things afloat as a single mother. So at the time, if you had asked me, I would be like, “Of course I would go back!” But now, looking back, I would absolutely NOT go back [laughs]. I would continue the course even though it seemed very stressful at the time because ultimately it taught, not only myself, but it taught my son the importance of sovereignty. Making sure that you are in control of what’s coming in and what’s going out and you’re not waiting for somebody to feed you or clothe you or make sure you have a roof over your head.

So although, at the time, for me it was stressful, I think, in the long run, I can always look back at that and show him, yes it was hard at this time but sovereignty comes at a price. I think that was the price I was willing to pay now looking back at it. I would not go back now—absolutely not.

Q: Your work is exceptional and extremely unique. What inspires the content you create?

Naila: It’s kind of hard to say. I’m inspired by everything and anything. I’m inspired by things I don’t even see. I’m inspired by things I hear. I’m inspired by thoughts that don’t really have an image to it…so it’s kind of hard to say what exactly inspires me. But I know that it’s something outside of myself. Meaning, I feel like, the only thing that allows me to be creative is my Creator. I really don’t have a formula or a specific thing that I can say inspires me because I make myself available and then ideas just come. I don’t even really know if that’s considered creative? When people ask me, “what inspires me,” or “what I do to be creative?” I just start doing stuff. You can even ask my husband because he’ll literally be like, “How did you do that?” And I’ll be like, “I don’t know.” And he’ll be sitting there watching me do it, even my son. He’ll sit and watch me create things. And even me, I’ll be like, “This is really cool! I don’t really know how I did it, but it works.” So I always allowed myself to be present, and be available, and be open.

It seems like—it feels like something outside of me or really maybe it’s the God within me—which is in all of us—just kind of takes the lead and makes things happen. Makes them look really sometimes unique and sometimes not so unique. I don’t know, I feel like part of being creative is stepping back and being open to things and ideas and not being so in control. I’m not a control freak…like some people may say. Or somebody that needs to be in control at all times. I think that’s kind of what allows me to be creative, on top of me being very in tune—more in tune than I’ve ever been in my life—with God, and with my Creator. And with my family too because they inspire me at all times. I create things with them in the room and I feel like just just them being in there helps me create better and helps me to focus more. They just give me this sense of meaning that I didn’t really have before. So I think if I had to pinpoint something I would probably say it would be my family and God.

Photography by Vanessa Mwingira | Blouse by Shanira Msale’s RAHISI

Q: Did you go to school for videography and video editing?

Naila: I went to school for videography and editing but I was already doing it, so I didn’t finish because, to me, it a waste of money and a waste of time. I was actually making very good grades…but once I got my equipment I’m like, “What I need y’all for?” Like, really, to be honest…what do I need y’all for? So, yeah, I think sometimes we put a lot of emphasis on school and degrees—not beating anyone that has a degree cause I know it is a lot of work to get it. But I also think that the degree is what’s in. It really is. I don’t think that you have to have something concrete to show people like, “Hey, I’m qualified for this.” Unless you’re working for somebody and I don’t intend to work for anybody. 

So, I think that—at the time I didn’t know I was going to work for other people. But something in me just…it didn’t—I couldn’t bring myself to continue. I don’t know if that’s…some people might say that that’s a bad thing, but for me, it was a blessing because I just took it upon myself. And I’m like, “I can make do with what I have. I already know how to shoot, I already know how to edit and I don’t really need someone to give me a certificate that says that I can do so. So, yeah. I didn’t finish but yeah, that’s a good thing [laughs.]

Q: Celebrate your wins! Brag, sis! What are you most proud of?

Naila: So, the biggest win for me is definitely being out of America. I mean, that’s the biggest win. What bigger win is that? I don’t think there is one…so. I definitely think that…that’s the biggest win and that my family is with me, of course. And being a wife, being a mother, like, to me, those are the biggest wins in life that you can have. Those are positions in life that not everybody gets to experience and that the people sometimes that do experience them, don’t take them seriously. So, I felt like that’s something that I really, really—now that I know who I am and I know my purpose or know more of what my purpose is—I take those roles very seriously and that was another part of the reason coming here to the continent was so important.

For me, my biggest wins are: being a wife, being a mother, and being free and on the continent of Africa. That’s a huge win for me and those are things that, if you would’ve told me ten years ago that I would be in this space, I wouldn’t have believed you. So for me, that’s huge.

Photography by Vanessa Mwingira

Q: It is important to us to nurture a community of black women that share, learn, and thrive together. Please share a story of failure that taught you a valuable lesson.

Naila: I guess for me, we don’t really meditate on failure, so I don’t really keep a track record of all the times in life that I fail. But, I guess we could call them…more so…learning lessons. I guess a learning lesson for me was when (as I stated earlier when I lost my job) to me that was the first time I had ever been fired from anything. So it was very confusing, I was like, “Are y’all really firing me?”

But…it was definitely a time in my life where I grew the most and I learned the most about myself. I learned the most about the world I was living in. I did so much research, so much studying, so much reading, so much listening to other people—being teachable. So…I can’t really consider that a failure like, I really can’t. I honestly think that it was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. And most people don’t consider failures to be that. So, like I said, I don’t really think of all the negative things that have happened in my life. Like those are just learning lessons. So, I think for me, the thing I learned most during that time was stillness and isolation and time to…analyze things is so important. And I think that in a society like America it’s, I don’t want to say impossible, but it’s very hard to get that stillness and get that isolation that you really need to cultivate and learn about the world you live in, learn who you are, learn so much about the world and yourself and your family and your children. I don’t think they allow that time—intentionally—purposely, don’t allow that time cause when you get that time, you start making decisions like leaving. Or you start asking questions that you shouldn’t be asking.

So I think that time period was so important in my life and in my son’s life and in my future husband’s life. It changed who I was, so it was definitely a learning lesson. I know I said that early but it was a great “failure,” if that’s what you want to call it [laughs.]

Photography by Vanessa Mwingira

Q: How did you and your husband meet?

Naila: I met my amazing husband through an app. And I’m not gonna say the app because we’re not doing free advertising over here [laughs.] But, we met through an app and we met within like a week of talking to each other and it was great. We met at the Civil Rights Center in Atlanta and it was great. Obviously, it was great because now he’s my husband [laughs.]

Q: How did you manage dating, single motherhood, and freelance work?

Naila: It was just all one, it was never really separate. Like, I used to bring my husband (at the time, my boyfriend) and my son to my shoots. We kinda were like, always together. So, for me, thankfully I met somebody who valued me and valued my son and valued what I was doing and allowed me to do those things without being like…I don’t know, irritated at the fact that we were going to shoots. Or the fact that I was editing late at night. He stayed up with me editing or he would go with me to shoots. Or he would keep Mikey for me if I needed him if I needed to go somewhere and he couldn’t come. Otherwise, we were together.

So, it was beautiful for me because I was able to do projects and have my family there with me and have my son there with me. And thankfully, it worked out that way and I’m very thankful, like I said, for me, creativity and my family are just one. And it’s hard for me to separate the two. So I always like to incorporate them if I can in my projects and when I’m editing, or if I’m going on a shoot. So, I didn’t separate ‘em. That’s how it worked. So, I kept the dating and the motherhood, and the freelance work altogether. Same time. It was great [laughs.]

Photography by Vanessa Mwingira | Blouse by Shanira Msale’s RAHISI

Q: Are you still working in your field of video editing in Tanzania?

Naila: I definitely still do video editing while I’m here. Yeah, so there’s definitely a demand and a market for editors and video people out here as well. They have film and the same thing that they have in the States. It’s perfect because I’m in paradise while I’m doing it—it’s perfect.

Q: Did you have dreams of living in Afrika before marriage?

Naila: I did not. I never thought I would leave the United States, I never had a desire to, I had never traveled outside of the United States until 2019 when we went to Cuba. So up until that point, I had been in the United States my whole life and I didn’t know much about anything else in the world. So no, I didn’t have a desire to live in Afrika. So that was just part of the growing, learning process for me. That was just a gradual next stage. I was like, “Alright, I know all these things about where I’m living. The people I’m around, the society that I’m living in, the future of that society.” It was kinda just something that was part of the learning process. So no, at the time, I would’ve never thought I would live outside America. So yeah…very different.

Q: How did you and your husband decide to move to Tanzania? Tell us a bit about your journey to Afrika.

Naila: We decided to move to Tanzania because…it’s a lot of reasons. One of the main reasons is because we are raising an Afrikan child and doing that in America—raising a healthy, Afrikan child in America is very very difficult. Like, I don’t like to say impossible, but it’s very hard. And it’s dangerous and, like, the things that we knew, the things that we saw, the things we were learning, it kinda made it impossible for us to wrap our minds around raising and rearing a healthy, whole individual in that society. So, for us it was like, “We want these things for our son. We want him to understand these things, and we want him to be safe while doing it. We want him to know who he is.” We didn’t see that happening in America. So that was the main reason.

There were other reasons as well. I have a laundry list of reasons, honestly. But that was the main one. As a family we knew we wanted to cultivate something deeper and more meaningful. We knew that there was a blockage there—a spiritual blockage there—that wasn’t allowing us and wouldn’t allow us to do it in the way we wanted to do it. So, yeah. We decided to come to Tanzania because it’s home. Like, all of Afrika is our home. We’re indigenous to the whole world, but we originated in Afrika. It was only right for us to return back here.

And part of the reason why we chose Tanzania specifically is because they weren’t abiding by any covid restrictions. So we were able to easily enter the country without any vaccines or any paperwork talking about covid. So that was also very easy for us. Very, very, still so glad that we chose Tanzania to this day. We love it here.

Q: What is life like in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania?

Naila: Life in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, is peace. It’s abundance. It’s family-oriented—truly, family-oriented. It’s just…I don’t really have words to describe it. Like those are just…things that I’ve experienced, but to describe how I feel or what it’s really like to live here, it’s kinda hard to put into words. I guess the only thing I can think of to say is, it’s life in its purest form. Or life at its simplest form and it’s indescribable, honestly. Like, you kinda have to experience it for yourself. But, coming from somebody who had never lived or who had never really travelled outside of the States, it’s a life that I never knew existed. Like, I didn’t know that life was this fulfilling, but you didn’t need so many things to fulfill the life. You don’t need a lot here. You literally just need your family and food.

It’s just life in its purest form. It’s very simple. The people are—I don’t have a word for them either. They’re the kindest, most gentlest people, most nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. Like they do things for people that you would be like, “You would do that for me? You don’t even know me?” But, yeah, so I think I don’t really have a word to describe it, but our family has grown so much being here. So for us, it’s just life in its purest most simplest form. A very balanced life that doesn’t need much, honestly.

Q: Your family’s journey to Afrika has inspired other families to move abroad, and one single mother has made the journey with her kids just a few months after you arrived. How does this make you feel?

Naila: It makes me feel…I don’t know if there’s anything else that could make me happier. Like, for people to—and that was part of the reason why we did it. Because honestly, so, we would see people on YouTube do it but it’s different when you see somebody that you know, that you’ve talked to, that you’re cool with actually be able to pick up their family and move to another country. And for reasons outside of jobs, like it wasn’t job-related, no. We believe that where we’re living is not a healthy place for us and our family, so we’re moving ourselves. And for most people it’s like, that’s a foreign thing. So I think it’s beautiful and it’s so inspiring to us to keep going and to keep showing how fulfilling life can really be outside of America.

And how much we’re missing by being there. And when people can see that, and people can see what we’ve done and automatically resonate and be like, “I get it now.” That is just, it’s an amazing feeling because we literally feel like we’re saving people, in a way. And you feel like they get it. You also don’t—not that we ever thought we were crazy—but people like to make you feel like you’re crazy for moving to Afrika. So when other people see it and it resonates and they act on it and they start planning on it, it shows that we’re not crazy. We just take what we believe very seriously and we take our environment very seriously. Like your environment shapes everything about you, it literally does. So removing yourself from unhealthy spaces is very important.

We talk about it all the time with “self-love” and “leaving toxic relationships,” and “leaving toxic people” and “toxic jobs”—well America was a toxic relationship, it is extremely toxic. So, it always makes us feel really good to see people understand that and it clicks for them like, “Dang, this is a toxic relationship. Why am I still here? Why am I still being abused by this society, by this country?” And so, it’s an amazing feeling to see people, especially people with children, take it seriously enough to get out. So it’s a great feeling, honestly.

Q: What advice do you have for other families that are on this journey considering a life in Afrika?

Naila: Don’t tell anybody what you’re doing! Just book the ticket, tell them right before you ‘bout to go [laughs], literally. I mean like you can maybe tell, like, people who you’re very close with who would understand, but even that, it’s kinda iffy. Just be very cautious of who you tell because people will talk you out of something that they feel is foreign to them. If they don’t understand it, or if they feel like it’s impossible or you’re crazy to do it, they’re gonna make sure to say those things to you. And it’s not like, if you tell these same people you’re moving to Paris for a job opportunity they’ll congratulate you. But tell them you’re moving to Afrika to save your family and to raise your child in a healthy environment—they not gon’ tell you congratulations. They gon’ tell you, “You crazy!” All of these things.

So if you are easily influenced by what people have to say, keep what you’re doing to yourself. It’s not something that most people will understand, so it’s something where you kind of have to move in silence and keep it to yourself until you have everything in place and you’re ready to go. That’s my advice.

Q: Your family is taking a different approach to education for your son. Can you tell us about what led to this decision?

Naila: Of course, the school system in America is a joke—let’s be honest. It’s the biggest joke. And now that they’re doing virtual, it’s even a bigger joke now. I honestly had found myself laughing at it numerous times out of the day [laughs]. So we understood that it was a joke and we understood that it was not just mis-educating our children it was de-educating our children. Meaning it was taking steps backwards, it was, the mind of an Afrikan child is so valuable and it can contain and hold so much that when I look back at the things that they were teaching, it’s like, it’s blasphemous. Like, how dare you? Why are you teaching him this, like no.

He does things now that high schoolers are working on. So, it was just something for us that we felt very passionate about and we could see firsthand how detrimental it was to not just our child, not just our Black child, but all Afrikan children. And we were like, when we got here, we were just going to do it on our own. Thankfully, my husband, he teaches, he always wanted to teach. So, it was the perfect opportunity for him because now he gets to do something that he loves and Mikey, our son, gets to benefit from that. So, it was kinda a no-brainer. At first we were kinda going back and forth with whether we wanted to put him in public school here, but eventually we decided that, no, we would just teach ourselves. It was a great decision, because now we have other things coming out of that decision, and people are starting to see how easy it is or how doable it is to take teaching into your own hands. Like, you’re a parent, you’re the first teacher. So, it’s only right for you to take that position seriously and teach yourself.

That’s just kinda what we did and now that we have the time and the space and the mental capacity and the mental clarity being here to do that, it was like, “why not?”

Q: You got married and moved abroad all in 2020! How has the pandemic and “the Rona” affected your family, friends, and your business?

Naila: Honestly, Corona…”the Rona” [laughs] it didn’t…it kinda made things easier in a way. Because, of course, you got extra money that you weren’t looking to get initially and you know, it’s not a lot of people coming here through tourism and stuff because of Corona. As far as Corona’s concerned, for us, we didn’t really look at it as a problem or as a setback or as an obstacle, or anything. Because we don’t have fear. Like, we don’t walk around in a panic, we don’t walk around in fear no matter what’s going on in the world because we are operating out of something higher than ourselves. We’re much more internal…when it comes to the things that we value. Meaning, we understand that God was in us. So we don’t really fear or partake in the antics that are going on in the world.

So for us it was like, “Let’s just get away from it.” Like, it wasn’t like, this is a setback or this is scary. It was kinda just like, we know…we kinda already knew what it was because we understood the society we were living in. So it wasn’t surprising that it was happening, it was more so, this is just more confirmation for us to get away, because it’s unhealthy here—there. So it didn’t really set us back. If anything, it just kinda urged us more to get out.

Q: What’s next for the Best family?

Naila: Growing as a family, which is something we’re always going to do no matter where we are. And second is focusing on educating and focusing on knowing the importance of learning as a family, and not just making it so that the parents are learning separate from the children and everything is kind of isolated. We really want to show parents and show children too how amazing and fulfilling it is to learn as a family, together. And how much it brings you closer together.

So, for us, what’s next for us is just continuing our journey here and showing others how to learn together as a family and we have projects that we’re working on now that will further that. So that’s kinda where we’re at right now. We’re just focusing on sharing the importance of learning together as a family and how it can transform and take your family relationships to the next level.

Q: If you go back and speak to your 20-something self, what advice would you give?

Naila: I would tell her to analyze and question everything and take pride in studying. Take pride in learning and be teachable because I don’t think I was…I wasn’t hostile to learning or being taught things, but I didn’t really see value in it. Because school kinda makes you feel like learning and studying it’s a job and it’s something that you are forced to do and you never wanna do it. So I would tell myself to embrace learning, embrace teaching, embrace being taught and listening and analyzing the world, because I didn’t do a lot of that, at all in my early twenties.

So, I think, that’s what I would tell myself—is to embrace teaching and embrace learning, full fledged, and your life will change [laughs].

Q: How does it feel to be selected as our cover muse? And, what impact do you want your story to have on a young girl today?

Naila: Honestly, it’s a huge honor because who doesn’t wanna be on a magazine cover with their amazing family. Like, for me, it’s such an honor because my family is a part of it. And anytime I can incorporate my family in things that I do, it just makes it just ten times better than it ever could be if it was just me by myself. So, I think that it’s an honor because they’re highlighting and showing the Afrikan family and I think that it is something that we need to see so much more of.

For me, it’s an honor and I would like for young girls to see that the Black family is where it’s at, ok?! The Afrikan family is where it’s at, it doesn’t get any better than this, you understand? There is no higher position you can be in than being an Afrikan wife and an Afrikan mother. Like, those are things to aspire to and those are things that are devalued in most societies. I just feel like if I can tell any young girl anything, it’s, “embrace and value being a mother and being a wife and make that your life’s mission.” Because anything else I do is just a product of the fact that I’m a mother and I’m a wife and it’s just a product of the fact that I take those roles very seriously. If I didn’t take those roles seriously, I don’t think I could be where I am today. I don’t think I could be as creative as I am. So I think that if we start really teaching our young daughters and our young sons the value of that Afrikan family, that nucleus, that unit, that unbreakable unit, I think that that’s the biggest takeaway I want anybody to take from me. Knowing how important it is to embrace those roles.

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Written By

Torrie Shepard

Torrie is a writer and melanin muse's Editor-In-Charge.