Lotions, Potions, & So Much More:
An Interview with Rasheda Likely (Part One)
By Shereá Denise
To hear her tell it, Rasheda Likely (aka @ShedaBeda) is just a mixture of Baptist hymns, UGK beats, and your college Biology textbook. As great as that mixture is, Rasheda is so much more. The soon-to-be Dr. Likely is currently a student at Drexel University working on completing her doctorate degree in Science Education. She is the creator of the "Lotions and Potions": Science through Hair Care Curriculum and she also makes and sells a variety of products ranging from lip scrubs to body butters to room sprays.
In Rasheda’s own words, her “background is in Biology and her future is in decolonizing science education.”
As part of her dissertation project Rasheda created the curriculum for an after-school program for middle school Black girls ages 10 to 13 in the Philadelphia area. The goal of the after-school program is to create a science experience for Black girls that centers Black hair and affirms activities outside of the classroom, such as identifying the scientific practices of DIY product making. As an assessment of what the girls have learned, Rasheda has implemented the creation of a DIY video as an assessment instrument instead of the typical written test and quiz.
In her spare time, Rasheda is involved in several organizations, events, and projects. She is a fan of all things Black girl/woman/femme. She loves to laugh, make friends, and cultivate spaces for happiness. She also credits herself with having the gift of giving the best worst advice.
Lotions & Potions: The Products
A proud Pensacola/North Florida native (Shout out to Roy Jones!), Rasheda’s beloved product line began after her first bout with a true Philadelphia winter. She described this experience as brutal, noting that her move from a humid, warm place to a dry, cold place caused cracked, bleeding lips and knuckles. Rasheda recalls that her hair and sinuses also suffered despite buying a variety of “extra moisturizing” products Rasheda called a friend (who happens to be the creative, talented, entrepreneurial genius behind Bel Nouvo Products) and asked for some advice on what to do for her skin and hair. She learned that she should exfoliate at least twice a week and use a heavy cream to seal in that moisture. She had given up on the store-bought products for a variety of reasons, so she got on YouTube and started looking up DIY scrubs and body butters. After watching the process and doing some more reading, Rasheda made a trip to the grocery store and ended up spending about $12 for items to begin making scrubs and lotions. She got home and turned her kitchen into her lab bench.
ThisWomansWords: How does your product line reflect your interests? What do you enjoy most about making your own products?
Rasheda: My products were initially made out of necessity. Then, because I like abundance and diversity, I don’t tell myself “no” too often, I started to try my hand at a whole lot of things. I enjoy pretty things so exploring loose flowers and herbs in products was really invigorating. Also, I became really good at making scents. I don’t know how or why I mix certain scents and notes very well. It’s a hidden talent. In that experimentation, I have made some really disgusting scents as well. But failure is part of the process. It’s another piece of data that can inform the next attempt. I science everything. I enjoy making my own products because I get to be curious and play. The process is very low stakes. No one cares about my product. It’s for me. When I make something great, I really want to share it with people. I want them to experience the body butter or oil or room spray the same way I did.
ThisWomansWords: What ingredients do you enjoy working with most?
Rasheda: Cocoa butter. It smells so good. Loose flowers have been fun too because they’re so pretty! So, as I’m making a product, I’m brewing some herbal tea with loose flowers. I make the entire process an experience.
ThisWomansWords: What have been some of your best #LotionsAndPotions experiences?
Rasheda: The first one was in the summer of 2019. I presented the soap and lotion making lessons to 20 high school girls. We were halfway through the soap making process and I had an unbeliever. Let’s call her Demetri. She said, “I don’t think this is going to work. Like why we adding all this in there? It doesn’t even look like my soap at home. How is this going to clean anything?” So I said, “Demetri, can you continue to work with your partner. Gather all of your questions. I’ll show you something when we get to step 8.” I think step 8 was when they added scent to their soap. I gathered everyone around Demetri’s table. I brought 1 empty bowl, 1 big cup of water, and asked to hold her soap. As she repeated all of her questions, the girls took turns around the room attempting to answer them. Some of Demetri’s questions, like “how is this going to clean anything?” were answered in the worksheet already, so one of the other girls, Angel, said, “Well, the detergent is what will remove dirt. We just watched the video.” Another student said, “Demitri is always extra like this.” It was pretty funny. Demitri stood there, still a non-believer. I told her to put her hands over the empty bowl and I poured water in her hands. She was obviously annoyed. “What’s this supposed to do?” I asked her if the soap I was holding was the one she just made? She said yes and I poured a little of her soap in her hands. As she rubbed her hands together, the soap began to lather up and she was shocked. “Wait, I just made that? And it feels so good, y'all!” I poured the water over her hands to rinse them and she was so amazed at how moisturized her hands felt knowing they just had suds on them. She began to jump around exclaiming, “Ya’ll, we just made soap for real for real. My hands mad soft! Probably because of the oils we added…” and I said, “What were our moisturizing oils?”. She rattled off the 4 oils we added to the soap. I was like, “See, you made a soap, it works, and you know what’s in it and why.” She said, “Alright, alright, let’s finish this up. I want to show my mama later.”
The next one comes from the dissertation class. We made a body and hair oil. One of the students, let’s call her Kayla, started using the oil immediately. Like she was oiling her scalp between her straight-backs with her lab goggles still on. It was so good for my heart to see her excited about what she made and using it. Plus, when’s the last time you got to use something you made in science class immediately and practically? It was such a great moment to witness.
Rasheda’s stories about her experiences making science practical for so many different people - especially Black girls - are never lost on me. As I am sure is quite obvious, Rasheda is quite excited about #LotionsAndPotions. In the next portion of our interview she will go into greater detail about her after-school program and her long-term goals for her products.