The phrase "he says, she says" often refers to conversation between members of the opposite sex who are struggling to understand each another. But for Sharif Salim and Nia Tahani Davis, the "She Says, He Says" title of their recent fashion spread in O magazine was more of a formality, because the father-daughter team already understand each other quite well.
Bowie resident Salim, 51, and his 24-year-old daughter have long had a creative partnership that has kept them close. As they put on fashion shows, write plays and screenplays and aim to start a national youth arts organization, the two don't even need an occasion like Father's Day to talk because they communicate so often by phone and e-mail.
The June issue of O magazine honors fathers, as well as men and women who work together, and Davis's job as a publicist and side job as a model led her and her father to be pictured modeling designer clothes. The two have worked in the fashion realm before, when Salim designed clothes that Davis modeled. Over the years, they have informally collaborated on many projects.
"It's a constant swapping of ideas. It's kind of interesting," said Davis, who left the Washington area after graduating from Benjamin Banneker High School in the District in 1996 and now lives in New York.
"It's always been that way since I was a little girl. He's always wanted my opinion and trusted my opinion," she said. Now that Davis is working as a publicist, the two have high hopes that their idea-swapping might lead to bigger opportunities that include bringing at least two of their scripts to the big screen. Lately, Salim has been doing the bulk of the writing while Davis helps brainstorm, lends ideas and gives his plots a reality check. Not coincidentally, he is currently writing a screenplay about the experiences of a twentysomething African American female working as a publicist in New York.
Salim, a longtime Washington area school administrator, has been writing plays for his students to perform for years. Last month, Salim, vice principal of Bradbury Heights Elementary School in Capitol Heights, was inspired to start the Amazing Children Theater Network after Bradbury Heights third-grader Chelsea Cromartie was fatally shot on May 3.
"She was an amazing child, and I wanted to start a program that would get children involved in acting and writing, to try a creative approach to expanding literacy," he said. "I'm so sick of war, sick of the violence. This is my little way to create positive avenues for children to venture down."
He is trying to get a site where he can hold rehearsals and performances for community children, while Davis is investigating how to get the program going in New York.
Salim has always had ambitions that have kept him working hard. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he tried his hand at designing clothes and shoes after reading extensively about fabrics and design. Davis used to help her father with his fashion shows, modeling his Afrocentric and ethnic designs, which at one time were sold at Nordstrom and Up Against the Wall.
Like many children, even those who are close to their parents, Davis was sometimes embarrassed by her father's propensity to wear bold clothing.
When he wore some of the different fabrics and colors that came from everywhere from Peru to Madagascar, Salim says, Davis would say, " 'You know Dad, this doesn't match.' . . . But then she started seeing what I was doing, that all these fabrics told a story about the places they came from," said the proud father who never fails to brag about his daughter's successes in life.
She paints it similarly: "I was very embarrassed because his prints can be kind of wild. I'd ask, 'Dad, what culture is that?' And it would usually be some sort of African print. And everyone else's dad always wore Polos and suits. . . . But he's just being himself, and I kind of figured that out. And I ended up kind of liking some of the stuff he wears."
However their joint creative aspirations turn out, Davis says her father's example has allowed her to embrace individuality.
"He showed me that it was okay to do what you want to do as long as you're not hurting anyone, and you're being positive and being creative," she said. "That's largely who I am today, other than just plain old genetics."
Sharif Salim and Nia Tahani Davis are pictured on Page 96 of the June issue of O magazine. They might appear on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in August as well.