By ERIKA PRITCHARD
KEARNEY – Victoria Nimneh strutted the runway like she owned it.
At the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s recent Cultural Fashion Show, the daughter of African immigrants happily bounced to the music in an off-shoulder dress made of a patchwork of bold red, gold and black prints.
The UNK sophomore moved from playful to serious with a fierce stance at the end of the runway – hands planted on her hips, mouth parted, head tilted and a cool look over her shoulder. The spotlight highlighted her face – dotted with white paint to represent African tribal markings – a wooden beaded necklace and fabric bow-tie earrings.
Before the show, Nimneh sifted through suitcases of clothing her mom Mariama purchased from friends in West Africa over the years. Together, at the Nimneh home in Omaha, they found the right outfit for the fashion show.
Back on stage in Kearney, Nimneh looked cool and confident in her Africana dress. But before the show, Nimneh said she panicked. She used that nervous energy to hype herself and others before the show.
“As we were practicing and people were being nervous, I said, ‘We’re gonna go out there and kill it. We’re gonna walk down the runway like it’s ours,’” she said.
Nimneh, who had never modeled before, seems to be a natural born performer.
“When she enters the room, she brightens it and just flourishes,” Mariama said of her daughter’s personality.
The Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion’s Cultural Fashion Show, which featured 14 countries, was an opportunity for Nimneh to honor Mariama’s home country, Sierra Leone, and her dad Donald’s birthplace, Liberia.
“It meant a lot to me. Since I was born in America, I have a connection to Africa, but I don’t speak the language as much as I want to,” Nimneh said of representing her heritage. “I try to connect. That’s my background. That’s my culture right there. It’s important to be proud of where I come from.”
Nimneh’s parents immigrated to the United States east coast more than 20 years ago with their respective parents and siblings. Nimneh said her grandparents wanted to offer their families better education opportunities. Nimneh, the oldest of three children, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and was raised in Omaha. She is living the family dream at UNK.
An Omaha Mercy High School graduate, Nimneh is majoring in music education and minoring in dance.
“Education is the key in life. People can take so many things from you. But in education, what you learn in life, it goes a long way,” Mariama said.
Nimneh learned to love music at home, where she listened and sang along to a variety of genres in her house. Her dad loves country and has sung in church. Mariama plays a lot of African music. Nimneh has branched out to electronic dance music.
“Music is a connection to my culture. Music is a connection to people around me,” she said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, there’s nothing that we can talk about, but there’s music that we can talk about.’”
Nimneh’s love of music inspired her to major in music education and minor in dance. She hopes to one day teach and direct show choir, which she participated in her senior year of high school. She enjoyed her experience so much that she decided to join Nebraskats at UNK.
“When I go on stage to perform, I feel like I’m embodying something different,” Nimneh said. “I take the emotions from the music that we’re singing or the movement from dancing and put those emotions outward.”
Nimneh also is involved in UNK Women’s Chorus and Harmonix, a student-lead acapella group. Through Harmonix, Nimneh gets the opportunity to be creative.
“We get to put in our ideas for what we want to do. It’s a lot of listening to and being in tune to each other, both metaphorically and literally,” she said.
Nimneh dreams of show choir routines she hopes to one day teach young students.
“I’ve already made shows in my head of what I want to do,” she said.
Aside from music, Nimneh is treasurer of the Black Student Association, which recently hosted a Black History Month Celebration. Nimneh and fellow members Isaiah Mahone and Esther Uma sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at the event, which featured a guest speaker, food and dancing.
Nimneh said BSA has been a good place for her to connect with other Black students.
“I feel like BSA is a good environment for me to be in because we can talk about what is going on in our lives. It’s a unified community and I really like it,” she said.
UNK has helped Nimneh learn more about herself, what she believes in and who she wants to become, she said.
And as a college student, she is setting an example for her younger siblings Donald, 13, and Helen, 9.
“They look up to me. So, what I do reflects on what they need to do,” Nimneh said. “I’m also here because of them and doing things I want to do, for them.”