Let the Ethiopian Maereg “Mimo” Haile Inspire You With Her Story, Her Activism, and Her Smile
In such trying times, I am always searching for the good in the world as we can all benefit from getting involved in our communities. Through the process, I came across Maereg “Mimo” Haile. How beautiful is her name? And from there, I did a bit of digging.
Mimo grew up in Ethiopia and moved to the United States when she was only a teenager. Her life was filled with challenges at such a delicate age. She had to go through adjustments and pains most adults cannot even imagine, yet she never let it break her spirit. Mimo took those hardships and turned them into a fire that burned bright within her and continues to glisten with everything she does. Mimo is exceptionally successful with her career and education while spending most of her free time working for organizations that make a true difference for women.
Samantha: Please introduce yourself to the OpenLetr readers. Tell us a bit about your background and how you got to where you are today.
Mimo: My name is Maereg "Mimo" Haile. I was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and moved to the US when I was 13 with my mom. I have diverse professional experiences across broad subject areas such as public health, grants management, and community outreach. I received a Bachelor of Science in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior from UC, Davis, and a Masters in Public Health from the University of San Francisco. My 9-5 includes being a program manager for HIV research and prevention projects in West and Central Africa. And my 5-9, aka passion projects, includes my involvement in various women-led organizations in the Bay Area.
Samantha: What first inspired your passion for activism?
Mimo: When I was in the 6th grade, I saw a documentary about an arranged child marriage, and its harmful practices in Ethiopia. It was about a young girl that was 13 or 14 years old who was abducted and forced into a marriage. She then had a complicated pregnancy and died while giving birth. I still remember it vividly as it was a practice that was common, and in hindsight, I wonder how it even made it on our national TV almost weekly. That same year, I had the opportunity to present and debate something that interested me. The first thing that came to my mind was the girl that I saw in the documentary. I immediately wrote about what I had learned about arranged marriages of younger girls and debated against. My essay won and got chosen, and was read at the women's association of Addis Ababa. I was so ecstatic. And that's when I knew I had to continue in the journey of activism.
Samantha: You co-founded Coco Coalition. What is it and what does it mean to you?
Mimo: Coco Coalition, lovingly called Coco, is a social enterprise dedicated to curating holistic, safe, and empowering opportunities for women of the African Diaspora to connect, grow, and thrive. As a social enterprise, Coco is focused on creating opportunities for Black women, and sowing in the well being of black teen girls by supporting projects that remove barriers to a healthy and secure future. We started with a brunch event in 2015 that was held in Oakland, CA. We selfishly wanted a safe space to dialogue about the recent death of Sandra Bland at that time. We felt that there weren't enough outlets for black women to discuss their fears, microaggressions, and collection of racisms experienced in current times. We had 35 women who showed up to openly share their real experiences and feelings, freely, as they should. The next was in 2016, when we focused on dismantling the superhuman persona black women carry around in the world. And it kept growing each year and to multiple cities in the US and internationally. We have met over 200 women, and we plan to continue our efforts in reaching more and creating a beautiful network of black women to support their mental, physical, and holistic health.
Samantha: You do so much work for women and female empowerment, it is impressive. How did you first get involved with Her Place Is In and Sol Sisters, and could you tell us more about these organizations?
Mimo: I love both of these organizations so much. I first got involved with Sol Sisters in 2013 when I met the co-founder, Christine Coleman. She had this vision of gathering women from all backgrounds to have a strong network. She also wanted these women to come together to give back to underserved women in the Bay Area. It was a brilliant idea that I loved and wanted to be a part of. Five years later, I am one of the Board Directors, supporting the organization in all ways possible to grow and advance. We put on events every quarter, have internship programs, and so far have reached more than 1,000 women. Our biggest events are our International Women's Fests that showcases 25-30 local women-owned businesses and women artists, musicians and more, as well as our Share the Health event that brings together women of all ages to exercise and get fit.
Regarding Her Place Is In, the beginning and my involvement are such fun stories. We got together for Michelle Singleton's birthday at Miguel's concert. She is a dear friend and the current President at Her Place Is In. While the group was taking a fun picture, everyone around us was drawn to how dynamic we were. You could tell that we visibly came from so many backgrounds and it made people smile! Our other friend and photographer, Brianna Gardner, sent us a message and wanted to take empowering photos of us for her school project. The photoshoot brought in so much positive feedback that we had to make it an official organization. We then did a "Skin" project to celebrate diversity, real beauty, and femininity. That picture we took, with 35 women from all backgrounds, of all shapes and with diverse beauties, made it around the world and has become a form of artivitism. Now, we are working on our third project "Hair," which breaks the ideology of what an acceptable hairstyle is for any profession women wants to do. It's growing, and we are excited to see where it goes next.
Samantha: What makes you feel most beautiful, and how do you incorporate this into your life daily?
Mimo: I feel the most beautiful when I am my most authentic self. That means to me being so comfortable in the way I talk, the way I carry myself, and just all around the joy I exude. I practice being mindful a lot throughout my day, and that includes being reflective and warding off negative thoughts that creep up. It's been a journey, but I love that I have gotten better at it every day.
Samantha: I see you recently worked on a project with Clinique on the Even Better Makeup line. What did that project mean to you?
Mimo: I loved being part of the Even Better Makeup project. I was so pleased as Clinique took the time to hire an agency to create a diverse voice around the products they were marketing. It showed the importance of including the perspective of women of color on what it means to have a wide range of foundation shades to match our unique skin tones and to share our stories of what a beautiful skin means to us. I enjoyed the raw and unfiltered conversation we had with Clinique. I hope that every beauty brand takes the time to hear us even more.
Samantha: How do you make time for your beauty routine or just for yourself with such a full resume?
Mimo: Oh, it's become a work of art to squeeze in some “me time.” I always take 30-45 mins every morning and night to myself. That's when I get to do my beauty routine (cleanse, exfoliate, mask, etc…), workout, journal, schedule my day and take some time to breathe. That's also when I take the time to manifest how my day will go when it's in the morning and reflect in the evening. It's so essential to have this time because it helps to ground me, mainly as I have so many commitments throughout the week. I love what I do, and to pour into my passion, I also have to make sure my cup is full and taken care of.
Samantha: If I'm correct, you moved to the US around 2000. How do you think that transition impacted your life as a whole?
Mimo: Yes, I moved in 1999! I have been reflecting so much on that time since I just made 20 years in the US. That was a tough but rewarding time of my life. I was only 13 when we moved, which was a very pivotal year for a teen. And as we were getting used to the new environment, my father fell ill and passed away. The sudden death took a toll on my body, and I had to get a minor surgery to remove a small abscess filled cyst the same week I found out about his death. Talk about trauma on top of trauma—I felt so defeated and so broken. But as I was going through the grieving and healing process at that age, I just knew I had to continue to live as much as I could. Instead of dying with him, I chose to live. I took this moment and changed it to be my anchor on how I move in this world. This is a form of courage I didn't realize would get me far. I made a conscious decision to stay happy, to be good in school, and to make my mother proud. Looking back, I thank my 13-year-old self so much because that set a precedent for who I am today. It taught me how to be resilient, how to find healing, how to ask for help, and be comfortable with the uncomfortable—that's when interesting begins, and I love it.
Samantha: You are stunning and have such a contagious smile that is full of confidence. What would you say to someone struggling with their self-esteem or insecurities?
Mimo: You are too kind, and thank you! I will take it! Ha, it took time to get here. This goes back to the question earlier of when I feel the most beautiful. I had to work on being mindful about myself and surroundings. I had to work on my emotional intelligence and self-compassion mostly. In today's world, what you see on social media and pretty much everywhere is the idea of perfection. Everything is ‘snatched’ and ‘on fleek.’ But that's an unrealistic goal to have for yourself. Once I separated myself from the expectations of others to focused on my authenticity everything followed.
One of my favorite quotes:
Can I get an amen?!
Samantha: Many want to get involved to positively impact their communities, especially now, but they don't know where to start. What advice would you give to someone looking to make a difference in the world?
Mimo: I get it, it can be hard to insert yourself and support impact-related efforts in the community. One thing I know for sure is that anything anyone is interested in has a nonprofit equivalent. For example, if you like hanging out on the beach, there's a nonprofit that dedicates its efforts in cleaning beaches. If you are an engineer or a computer wizard, you can volunteer your time with organizations needing tutors for coding, especially in disadvantaged communities and the list continues. There's always a need for someone to show up and just support. Just go out there and see what the community is doing, go on Facebook, and find groups related to your interest. You will find a community that needs your support and expertise. And in return, you will have a rewarding year by making a difference, even if it's in a micro way.
Photo courtesy of Maereg “Mimo” Haile, California, USA