Maryam Basir has had a long and successful career as a model and actress, featuring in films, runway shows, music videos, and national print ads. Now she continues to translate her beauty into new mediums with Noir Diamonds, an Ann Arbor-based non-profit organization whose goal is to teach girls poise, peace, and proper manners in business and social interactions.
Basir says etiquette lessons and social-behavior training learned from her mother are the key ingredients to her professional success. Those lessons taught by her mother are the same lessons she hopes to instill in the underserved youth of Metro Detroit. Currently, there are 17 girls ranging from 8-14 currently enrolled in the Noir Diamonds etiquette course. The second round of applications opens January 2017.
The Detroit native talks to BLAC about her influence for starting Noir Diamonds and the future of the etiquette non-profit organization.
BLAC: How did the idea for Noir Diamonds come about?
Basir: The idea for Noir Diamonds came from the fact while growing up, my mother always sat us down and talked to us about etiquette and how we should behave. [Noir Diamonds] was inspired by my mother teaching my brothers, sisters and I about social behavior. I just want to help the kids out here who are behaving any type of way. I’ve always had the desire to do an etiquette school since I was younger. When I came back to Michigan from New York two years ago I said, “Why not now?”
So, last year I started the nonprofit process. I’ve seen girls with privilege have more opportunities and know certain things that people who are underserved don’t know. I wanted to give these girls a leg-up and the same opportunities. Not only does Noir Diamonds teach about social etiquette and social graces, it also talks about loving yourself and presenting yourself in a certain way. How to introduce yourself, how to walk into a room, how to be a social butterfly. These are all the things I want these young girls to have that little extra to build them up from a young age.
BLAC: How do you go about selecting the girls that will be apart of the program?
Basir: Basically, we had a sign up and took all of the girls that signed up through Facebook, our site, and I had a couple of friends who wanted to sign their kids up as well. We pretty much took everyone this time around. I didn’t want it to be over ten girls per class so we have seven girls for one class and 10 girls for the second class, which is split into two groups with [Little Princesses], ages 8-11 in one class and [Little Lady] ages 11-14 in another.
In the future, we are going to have more of a selection process. The next wave of classes is in January and we’ve been getting a lot of interest from people who want to be involved with that. We want to bring in girls who actually need it, want to be in it, and want to improve themselves. We want to be able to help as many girls as possible. We will have a selection process, but it’s going to be based on need and those who are underserved. Not people who can afford to walk out and go to an etiquette class.
BLAC: Who are the teachers of Noir Diamonds and how are they selected?
Basir: We went through a lengthy interview process for the instructor. Her name is Marsha L. Thompson and she is an amazing woman. She shares a lot of my vision for these young girls and helping them better themselves. So, she is a very strong character and a stellar person.
The classes started three weeks ago, this will be our fourth week in the six-week program. She’s the one that teaches them and I’m there in the classes and talk to the girls about what they’ll get out of it. We created the lesson plan together, we created the curriculum together, well actually I created the curriculum a while ago and we revised it together and came up with what will be done in the class. She does it and I just step in if I feel the need.
BLAC: What can youth expect while attending the six-week program?
Basir: We broke it down into parts. Week one is greetings and introduction. You learn about first impressions, hand-shaking, eye contact, how to enter into a room. We physically give them examples and show them how to walk into a room; it’s very interactive. Week two, we talked about getting social and gaining social skills. It was all about social media and technical etiquette and how your presence online affects your future, along with how to be a social butterfly, how to attend an event or a party, and how to be a lady. Week three, they will learn about table manners. We are going to teach them how to set a table, the rules of dining, how to excuse yourself from a table, how to use the utensils, how to sit and stand.
Week four is about image and body. We teach them about self-preservation about poise and posture, also grooming. We also go on the inside and teach how to have a positive body image and eating to live, exercise, how to present your image and dress appropriately. Week five, we go into inner beauty and bringing out your personality. We talk about self-esteem, confidence, being a girl that matters, giving back, tolerance, and politeness. The last week is a full review where we do vision boards and they’re having a mission statement for their lives. During the graduation ceremony they will present to their parents and whoever comes to the graduation.
BLAC: Do you believe millennials lack proper etiquette skills?
Basir: I think a lot of the problem when kids act out and things like that, it may be an issue with self esteem, bullying, etcetera; resulting in them to act out. I know how important it is at a young age to instill in them how important they are. I think etiquette is so important, etiquette is how you answer the phone, etiquette is how you introduce yourself to somebody, it’s how you enter a room.
These are the things that these kids are going to measured on when they’re interviewing for schools and for jobs. We go over social media, how they should present themselves on social media in order to marketable individuals. So, I think it just helps them with their future and with things they may not know or things they aren’t getting they’re going to get them there. The thing is they have schools, which are academic, and you learn mathematics, physics, English, but you don’t learn social behaviors.
BLAC: What’s next for Noir Diamonds?
Basir: In the future, I would like to have a etiquette program for people who are younger and for people who are older. We have something in the works with Jack and Jill, where younger kids are going to come in and we’re going to work with them a bit. I would love to have as many girls in the program as possible and have facilities to be able to let all of them be involved.
Register for Noir Diamonds’ next round of etiquette classes in January 2017 at noirdiamonds.org/classes.