When Michelle Obama takes a moment from her busy schedule to send you a message of love and support, you start to think you might’ve done something special. That’s exactly the story of little Ariyonna Cotton, and Shabria, a rapper who goes by LilWaveDaddy, whose viral video moved the nation this past week. And the ladies had done something special when they opened up a dialogue about the importance of telling Black children how beautiful they are through Ariyonna’s very real and heartbreaking pain.

Their video touched people across the country including celebrities, and even our forever FLOTUS, who reposted it to her Instagram page, accompanied by a warm message for Ariyonna. This week ESSENCE sat down with the energetic 4-year-old, her mother Ashanti Cotton, and LilWaveDaddy, who couldn’t have imagined that doing something that comes so naturally to her would have garnered this much attention from the nation. We got to hear what Ariyonna’s mother felt when we saw the video and its response, and we cleared up a few minor details.

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LilWaveDaddy is not a hairstylist, she just loves grooming locs. She’s the best friend of Ariyonna’s stepfather and is a big part of the young girl’s life. She’s a rapper who has gone viral on TikTok twice before. This was the first time she’d gone viral as Shabria, in all her auntie realness.

“It humbled me,” she said. “The [former first lady] probably went back to her deep roots where it was like ‘dang that was me. I was once that little girl. I felt like it was amazing.”

Ashanti Cotton said that she was just as shocked and heartbroken as everyone else to see her little girl refer to herself as ugly because she showers her children with so much love. A soft-spoken woman whose child has now been thrust into the spotlight, she’s figuring out how to navigate all this new attention, but she’s grateful for it.

“I was broken because I do have two other boys and they love their sister,” she said. “When [the video] went viral there was a lot of love that I didn’t expect. We did not know that people were really looking at the video like that.”

And now with a new affirmation of “I’m Black and beautiful,” to chant, Ariyonna is influencing little girls and women all over to lead with love. We talk about changing the narrative surrounding the beauty of Black women, and at only 4 years old little Ariyonna is doing just that.


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