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This Artist Turned A Messy Divorce Into A Lucrative Opportunity To Land Her Dream Job

Dunnie O blossomed and bossed up to take her life back.

BOSS UP

Just a few years ago, Dunnie Onasanya, affectionately known as Miss Dunnie O, had the perfect winning trio of a roster of amazing clients, a huge online following, and a relationship that was publicly among the coveted, sparking IG comments like "Bae goals." She and her ex launched a popular Los Angeles-based swimwear brand, leading to the further increase of her online following and widening the brand presence of the then mother of one and events producer. But things got messy when the couple separated and subsequently divorced, with details of the split playing out very publicly on social media.


After finalizing the divorce, taking a step back, and getting the support of family and friends, she decided to pursue a passion she'd had since childhood but had never really considered as a viable career choice. She's a Tuskegee University alumna and Delta Sigma Theta member who studied business administration and marketing before starting her path in entrepreneurship.

Today, she's an artist-in-residence at VisArts in Rockville, M.D., and she earns five figures and up for her pieces that reflect her faith and Nigerian heritage. She also recently celebrated the birth of her second daughter, with an internationally famous new bae (one whose identity we will be keeping on the hush hush as to respect our good sis's privacy.)

We caught up with the artist to talk about how she was able to overcome the hurt, heartache and public scrutiny of the past, totally reinvent herself to reclaim her life, and how other women can tap into pursuing their wildest dreams after divorce:

Image by Dunnie O

xoNecole: Any separation or divorce is tough, and it can be even more challenging for a successful businesswoman and mom whose 2018 separation played out online in front of tens of thousands of followers. What was it like for you going through that?

Dunnie O: Well, it was a very toxic situation. I feel like a lot of women will be able to relate in the sense that a lot of women stay in situations because they are trying to keep their families together, even though they probably know deep down inside this is not healthy. And sometimes it takes your friends or people closest to you at the time to help you navigate out of those types of situations. So, I'm grateful for the support system that I did have in L.A. [at the time] because they were able to help me get out of that situation and back to a safe and healthy environment for my daughter and myself.

Our wedding was all over the Internet, and you kind of feel that obligation to your followers or to your family. It's like, 'Oh my gosh, I don't want to let people down or make people upset.' But then are you actually living? That's what's most important. I think the biggest lesson that I learned out of that situation is that perception, you know, people are always going to talk.

"People are always going to have something to say, but at the end of the day, you need to be able to go to sleep at night with peace of mind, knowing that you've made the best decisions for your own wellness—for your mental health and physical health."

It's crazy because sometimes when you're in relationships, you know, things don't start off that way. It's usually a progressive build and there's some kind of breaking point or something to where the other person starts to make poor choices that are now affecting the entire household. And you can either choose to suffer in silence or break away and move on.

xoNecole: That's so true. We have to practice self-care and do what's best for our well-being. So, how did you transition from that and your work in branding, events and PR, to your current work as a full-time artist?

Dunnie O: Art is something I always loved as a child, but it was never something I actually thought I could pursue as a career. And when I came back home and everything, my mom's just like, 'Well, what are you going to do? You want to go back to school?' I was like, no, I really want to try painting. I didn't go to art school, but I just knew I at least wanted to give it a shot. I was like, OK, let me try this for a year and see how it goes. If it doesn't work, then I'll go back to school and maybe pursue something like healthcare, something more stable.

"I'm so blessed because God really allowed for me be fruitful in this endeavor. I started painting and then I just started sharing my work online, just from the platform I already had."

People reached out wanting to purchase my work, which was super encouraging to just keep going with it. Within my first year, I got invited to exhibit in Toronto as an international artist for a big festival out there. Then I got commissioned to do a few different projects in my area and in Canada, too. So, all of that first-year work was the perfect thing that I needed to actually apply to be a resident at an art gallery. I was attending a networking event with a friend and someone at the event told me [about VisArts]. Initially, it felt like, you know, impostor syndrome.

That's what I essentially had because I literally turned my application in the day before the deadline. About a month later, they sent me an email. They're like, "We would love to have you as an artist-in-resident at the gallery." It was a huge accomplishment—a testimony for me—just because it was something that I really wanted. I didn't go to art school, but, you know, it was a personal miracle in the sense that yeah, I got it.

It's amazing [because] as a result of being a studio artist there, I've been able to teach and host artists talks. Even in the pandemic I've had to work from home primarily, but I still have my studio space so I'm able to meet clients for pickups and remain plugged into the community that way. I'm really grateful to be where I am on my journey so far.

Image by Dunnie O

xoNecole: That's amazing. Now, shifting from one lifestyle and career to another can definitely have a major effect on one's finances. What has the journey been like for you in that regard, and how do you find opportunities that allow you to earn well as an artist?

Dunnie O: Well, it starts with putting your work out there and letting people know what's for sale. People need to know that you are offering a service or offering a product that they can readily purchase. I believe I've built a niche for myself in the sense that people now seek me out for custom paintings for their homes or their businesses. I [recently] put out a spring collection of paintings that people can purchase that are readily available to ship.

"I literally built my business around what I love to do, so it's not strenuous and I'm happy in the work that I do."

I have a request form on my site. People can request then it gives me information to generate a quote for them in terms of what it would cost for me to take on their project. I basically applied the same skill set as I would to produce an event. It's the same skills, and I tweaked a few things and made it to apply toward artistry.

So now, my starting prices for an original on the smaller end can start at $500 [per piece], and I've done projects at this point now, like one-offs, starting at $11,000 [each]. And I think the really cool thing about art is that, you know, it's a luxury buy, so it's something that people are also looking to as an investment. As my brand grows and as I continue to grow, so will the value of my work. Art collectors who decide to invest in the early or the potential trajectory of my [art career], the worth of my collection down the line, you know, is pretty substantial.

xoNecole: Yes, many art lovers would agree with that. And we see art value appreciating all the time. So, what have been the biggest lessons about yourself that you've learned overall in the transitions, both personally and career-wise?

Dunnie O: It was definitely challenging, but [it was about] owning my story and knowing that I cannot allow myself to be defined by other people, you know? If I allowed myself to be defined by my divorce [then] that's what I'd be, a 'divorced chick' the rest of my life, you know what I mean? But that's not going to be my story. That was one chapter, [and I'm now] moving along to the next.

"My artistry has been my therapy and brought about so much of my healing. Renewing my faith in God has helped me to start this new chapter of my life and fully transition into my career as a visual artist and muralist."

With consistent prayer, practicing unapologetic self-love, meditating, and affirming myself daily, I've been working consistently to grow spiritually so that I stay in alignment with my purpose and soul mission. As a result of staying in alignment I've learned how to protect my peace of mind. God has blessed the works of my hands with financial success, and I've established consistent income with my artistry and amazing clientele who truly value and appreciate all of the artwork that brings me so much joy to create.

For more of Dunnie O., follow her on Instagram.

Featured image by Pablo Raya

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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