(ABC4) – When Thelma Boulos first moved to Utah County from Orange County, California, she had a typical, and perhaps expected, experience as a Black person new to Utah.
“It was a culture shock,” the 28-year-old Southern California native explains to ABC4.com.
One of the biggest problems she faced while navigating her new home was finding a place to get her hair done. Boulos jokes she had to “stalk people” with hair like hers to figure out where they got it braided. It wasn’t until she spotted another young Black woman at her work that she was finally able to find a braider.
“I went up to her and said, ‘I know this might be weird, but where do you get your hair done?’” Boulos recalls. “So she gave me her number, and I called her and she ended up being right there in Orem.”
Not long afterward, Boulos realized that she probably wasn’t the only person in such a predicament. In an effort to help others like her in the community she started an Instagram page to highlight Utah-based Black hairstylists called @blackowned801. The page has since grown to highlight Black-owned businesses of all types.
Boulos made her first post on @blackowned801 in Feb. 2020. Just a few months later, the murder of George Floyd sparked a national reckoning on race relations and increased awareness and appreciation for Black culture throughout the country.
That, she says, is when things took off for Black-owned businesses in Utah.
“Because I have this page, I see all these businesses now and I do think it’s gotten better,” Boulos says of the increase in local Black-owned companies that include restaurants with interesting and unique cuisine, clothing brands, culturally-inspired artists, and more, in addition to beauty stylists. “A lot of it has to do with everything that occurred in 2020. I feel like it definitely brought a lot more light to the black community in Utah.”
Rashaad “Shaadie” Nunnally knows exactly what Boulos is talking about. You’ve probably seen Nunnally on ABC4’s Good Things Utah, promoting a different Black-owned, up-and-coming business every other Tuesday in a segment called “A Shot with Shaadie.”
Nunnally believes Black people and other minority groups in all walks of life are enjoying a Golden Era in Utah that can only get bigger and better for business owners and creatives based in the state, which according to the latest U.S. Census estimates, has a majority white population of 90.6%.
“I think the future is very bright, just because we’re kind of like the ‘in’ thing now, Black Lives Matter, Black companies and Black businesses, and then especially in a place like Utah, that is so white and so known for being white,” Nunnally explains.
Nunnally knows what it’s like to be on the outside looking in at Utah, as well what it’s like to be an Utahn himself, after moving to the Beehive State with his family in 2016. Throughout his life, he’s lived in the Bay Area of Northern California, as well as Southern and East Coast states such as Georgia and North Carolina.
He’s found the best of the places he’s been in Utah. While folks in the predominantly white community may not have much experience with Black culture, Nunnally notes that the kindness and interest from his neighbors seems genuine.
“People here aren’t really racist or prejudiced, they’re more ignorant and that’s not a bad thing because they don’t know about Blacks, they haven’t been around us,” he explains. “They’re very intrigued by Black people when they come here and are very helpful and everything. It’s a lot like Southern hospitality. I think the future is very bright being Black here in Utah.”