Ladies First Spotlight: The Story Behind Cocoa Queens

This story is part of a blog series for the launch of Ladies First, the Dingman Center’s commitment to increase the number of women involved in entrepreneurship at UMD.

by: Nadia Laniyan

graduation-head-shot

Nadia Laniyan ’16

During the fall semester of my senior year at University of Maryland I was taking an English course titled “Writing for Social Entrepreneurship.” This was the second professional writing course I took during undergrad, because unlike most seniors, as a part of my Individual Studies Program requirements I had to take two of these courses instead of one. Needless to say, I was not excited about having to take this extra English class, but it quickly became one of my favorite classes. Social entrepreneurship became this new and intriguing world that opened up an innovative side of me that I did not know existed.

Early in the course the professor gave us an assignment to write a blog post about something we were passionate about and tying it in with entrepreneurship. I chose to write about Public Health Equity because I wanted to focus on my passion for health disparities. After searching online, I stumbled over the statistic that African American women face a 40% higher mortality rate from breast cancer than any other racial or ethnic group in the US, despite the fact that they are not the group that is highest diagnosed. This statistic was startling to me not only because of the high percentage rate, but because this is a group that I identify with. I immediately knew that I needed to find out why the statistic was so high and discovered that it’s due to factors like late detection, improper follow up care and access to that care, and general access to health resources.

I thought that maybe the mortality rate would decrease if more women knew about this statistic and also knew more about early detection breast health measures. How could I find something that black women think about frequently and could serve as an unconventional avenue of exposure? The answer to that question for me was hair care. Hair care products, maintenance, and hairstyles are things that we all think about pretty frequently. From simply washing our hair or thinking about what we will do with our hair for the day to more intricate things like getting extensions installed, hair care is pretty prevalent in our day-to-day lives. So, I thought of using hair care products as a new platform of exposure for breast health information so that women would start to think of their breast health as often as they think of hair care.

cocoaqueensAfter turning in my assignment I talked about this concept with my friend Alexis, a hair enthusiast and self-taught hair stylist. I realized that this could become more than just an idea and together we developed Cocoa Queens. Cocoa Queens officially launched in February of 2016 and is still an important part of both of our lives. We have been involved in many events, especially during the month of October, for breast cancer awareness like the Breast Cancer Awareness Brunch hosted by the UMDCP chapter of NAACP and NCNW and the 8th Annual Wine & Spa Pamper Survivors event to Benefit the Natalie Williams Breast Care Foundation.

I never thought that I would be an entrepreneur because I have never been interested in business. Then I found out about merging social impact with entrepreneurship and that space has made a lot of sense to me. I would tell women interested in entrepreneurship, but hesitant to dive in to definitely go for it! You don’t need any experience at all; Alexis and I had none and look at where we are now! I would also say do not be afraid to make mistakes. You will undoubtedly make mistakes, but you will also learn a lot not only about the business world but also yourself and what you are capable of.


Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Nadia Laniyan is a recent graduate of the University of Maryland. Nadia created her own major titled Public Health Equity and hopes to pursue a career in public health specifically focused on diminishing health disparities in our society.

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