Resilient Splendor

It is interesting. When I reflect on my life, I would have never seen myself as this person.

Beauty can be shocking. It can be breathtaking and mysterious. It can stir things inside a person that have her questioning the standard. Because there is no standard. When true beauty presents itself there is so much more than what is seen. It is layered, complex, and more than likely scarred. Beauty is not simple.

Hanno Riak is beauty.

Everyone has a story, but rarely do people take time to discover what that is. Often it is the visual that is used to tell that story. For Hanno Riak it was this mindset that plagued her. Coming to America from Sudan at the age of 6, Riak became acutely aware that she did not look like, nor was she like, her midwestern peers. She knew little English, and at a time when third-graders were learning how to jump rope and ride bikes, she was learning how to cook and take care of babies. It was a part of her culture that further exemplified how different America was from Sudan. In school, she felt the sting of isolation which was only heightened by teachers who recommend she “stay inside for recess since none of the other children want to play with you.” She was the student no one choose for the sports team, and the student who had to be the teacher’s partner. Adversity quickly became her way of life. She learned, with the help of her brother, how to prep for the grim reality that she was simply a complexion to some people. He would make fun of her skin tone, so she could become comfortable with the fact that others may do the same but that their intentions were not coming from a place of love. It was through this process she learned how to laugh about it.

Despite events that would cause some to shun education, Riak went to college in South Dakota in efforts to discover her purpose. She had proven herself to be a stellar scholar and was also awarded a volleyball scholarship. Even with lofty majors of pre-med and biology, she was again faced with people who could not see past her appearance. At one point she was required to write her essays in class because an educator did not believe she was capable of doing it on her own. This experience (combined with equally horrible ones) led her back to Kansas City.

Riak had lived a life riddled with periods of depression and anxiety within a culture that did not believe in mental illness. She knew she needed to change her skewed view of herself and to let go of toxic relationships. She became involved with a man who encouraged her to grow and who also complimented her on her enlightened path. He challenged her to embrace her beauty and share it with the world. And last December Hanno Riak became a model. She was a natural.

Riak is now choosing to be the person who is comfortable with who she is and is confident in her brand. She has become a comforting ear which assists her in mentoring others to accept their untraditional loveliness. She has turned her hardship into her beautiful life.

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