Black Girls Writing Magic

There are few things more fascinating and wonder-filled as the imagination of a Black girl. Teeming with thoughts, images, dreams and possibilities, she creates worlds that Hollywood execs spend millions trying to conjure. Consider the matter of her ancestry and the nuance and magic of Black womanhood being played out all around her, and you realize that the landscape of her mind is a labyrinth of majesty comparable to none.

Earlier this year, for two days, using journaling as an impetus for discovery and exploration, we got a peek into the brilliant minds of some incredible Black girls who decided to join us for this journey. During our time together, we used film, story and experiential learning to consider the importance of values like empathy and conventions of the English language such as simile and metaphor to deepen the way our girls share their voice and perspective with the world. Our refrain for the weekend was to ask ourselves, “When the pen is in my hand, what will I write? How will I leave my mark on the world?”

It was amazing to see the girls bloom under the idea that they had the power to impact the world with their flavor of telling. The staff at TBP present that weekend used positive affirmations, our smiles, hugs, love and good food to scaffold the girls and build their confidence so that they could focus their minds, relax and learn. At the end of the weekend, the girls had been given a spark, having many fires lit on five different modules in the curriculum, that we have stoked throughout the year since that time. They have been working on writing projects that will be published in our next edition of The Journal, later this year. We are so proud to know them and walk hand in hand in with them through this process.

It was an immensely fun, powerful and sweet time, watching the reality of their intelligence and their potential flourish right before our very eyes. These girls are unstoppable. 

Words by Pamela Thompson / Images by Madylin Nixon-Taplet

As a collective of Black women and girls image-makers, our interests are in how we can make use of photography, writing and other artistic tools, as a mechanism for cultivating our power and voice in ways that can disrupt cultural narratives and institutions that normalize and advance our unjust treatment. Towards this end, we explored a set of questions with our girls this spring: What does power look like in our lives? What does it mean for Black girls to hold power? How can Black girls disrupt power dynamics that negatively impact them?

We designed a series of workshops for girls meant to cultivate resiliency and aid in the growth of their voice and power to be able to speak to various issues that affect us. School pushout is one of the topics we explored this spring with the group of girls ages 8-15 who have been learning photography and writing with us over the year. Scholars like Kimberly Crenshaw, Monique W. Morris, Connie Wun and LeConté Dill have pointed to the myriad of ways that Black girls are challenged to navigate educational spaces with stereotypes, bias, and criminalization and institutionalized injustice. Too often interpreted as hostile, uncaring, arrogant and disruptive, the racialized and gendered dimensions of school pushout result in Black girls disproportionately experiencing punitive discipline measures like suspension and expulsion.

During our workshop, we dynamically engaged our voices and used a Theater of the Oppressed (a methodology for using theater for social change) exercise to illustrate and explore power as we experience it, as it can be, and as we will it to be. After defining school pushout, we listened to the stories of young activists with Girls for Gender Equity in NYC and discussed their experiences with school pushout. These stories engendered immediate and emotional responses from the girls. There was clear recognition and firm belief that their stories mattered. Our girls immediately extended sisterhood to these brave storytellers in the film and expressed a desire to stand up for them.

We asked them what they would say to the school administrators or to these girls if a microphone were in their hands. Here are some of their responses:

“I’m triggered about Black girls getting suspended for no reason or stupid reasons.”

“You don’t have to put down anyone to keep things calm and controlled. You should be putting the people up, not down. It’s unfair, some of the things that happen with school people and administration. But we need to continue sticking up for ourselves, each other and our rights and beliefs. Because we do matter, our voice matters, our rights matter. We all matter.”

“We need to change what happens in our schools and the way people look at it. Black people get suspended from the most annoying and stupidest thing. Sometimes Black girls at my school get in trouble for not doing their work, sleeping in class, etc and it’s so stupid.”

“The teachers at school are using their higher status as an advantage. Teachers need to start thinking more carefully about the consequences they give students.”

“We are our own beautiful bodies and we don’t deserve to be treated this way.”

We affirm the messages that the girls issue and encourage them as they continue to develop their own voices and power in expressions of care and justice for other black girls.

 

Journaling as Art Form is a writing workshop designed by The Beautiful Project to help girls build confidence in producing written expression, establish their voice in writing and find greater purpose & stories within their personal insight & experiences. Journaling is a very friendly, personal and accessible form of writing. The hope of such a workshop is to create a space for girls who identify with and enjoy writing, and for those who do not, to stretch out and discover the gems in stream of consciousness and reflective writing practices.

This workshop is comprised of multiple dates in 2019 to include weekly writing studio sessions where girls can collaborate and complete writing projects, once a month Saturday sessions centering care for Black girls combined with concentrated journaling practices to make for a dynamic experience. In late February, girls will experience a 2-day writing intensive. This intensive will take place on Friday, February 22nd 7pm-9pm and Saturday 23rd 9am-3pm.

HOW DO I APPLY? Black girls and young women 8yrs-15yrs old are invited to apply using this form. If you need a printed copy, just let us know and we will get it to you! Continue reading “Journaling as Art Form: A Writing Workshop for Black Girls”

For years, we’ve dreamed of this special moment of placing cameras into the hands of girls and supporting their creativity more extensively as they develop into artists. At the beginning of this year, we shared this dream with our community as we put out a call to girls who would be interested in learning more about making photographs. In April, this dream came into fruition when we launched the Black Girl Image Maker workshop.

 

By Madylin Nixon-Taplet

The workshop was a beautiful and magical experience to witness our girls learn how to tell stories through images. For two days, our spectacular team of photography coaches led our girls on a journey in creating images that reflected and celebrated how they express themselves. In addition to learning how to take photographs, the girls also experienced our surprise exhibit The Wonder of You, which was specifically curated for them to see a small yet mighty example of images of Black women and girls made by Black women and girls.  

Our words cannot express the full gratitude and appreciation that we have for everyone who participated in the workshop and made it special. We would like to thank the girls who responded to our call to become image makers and their families for trusting us. We would also like to thank the women who responded to our call to link arms with us and become photography coaches and artists in our surprise exhibit: Kennedi, Morgan, Amber, Dawn, Cathy, and Jacqueline. To the Ngozi Design Collective, we adore you and you have our gratitude for the stunning coach care packages. Deep thanks to the amazing Wonder of You artists who joined us from afar: Trécii from the Schomburg Center Junior Scholars Program, Danielle & Amaya from A Long Walk Home, Inc & luminary Dr. Deborah Willis. We are forever grateful to Courtney Reid-Eaton and Ambria McNeill for their love and support during our time at the Center for Documentary Studies. Many thanks to Jasmine, Alex, and Aeran for giving us extra hands and assistance during the workshop. Thanks to the NU Community Development Center, Student U, Durham School of the Arts and everyone who helped get the word out to girls! We would like to give a huge thank you and shout out to Courtney and Erika, the women of Piri catering who kept us well fed. And thank you to Madylin and Pasha for being our extended eyes and documenting the workshop through photographs and video, which are featured below.

 

The Black Girl Image Maker workshop was just the gateway to exciting programming and trainings for girls and young women this year. It is our mission to raise a generation of Black girls and young women who are technically trained in photography and writing and can confidently see themselves as image makers. For a fuller glimpse into the workshop, check out our short video directed and filmed by our film fellow Pasha Gray. 

Tis the season to be thankful! This is typically the time of year when most of us get super sentimental and take inventory of our lives, pausing for a moment and becoming careful to choose gratitude for all of the people, things and circumstances that shape our reality daily.

It is, indeed, a beautiful time of year that can also be laden with a bit of sorrow for those of us whose past 365 have not been optimal or have been filled with loss and heartache. Still, the messages all around beckon us to point our hearts and minds toward thankfulness. It can seem like there is no room for anything else. Just thankfulness. And joy. And gladness. As our little girls bounce home with school made artwork reflecting these same sentiments, there is the temptation to be lulled into the season and put every other emotion aside in order to be fully present with the folks around us who seem to have drank every cup of the thankfulness tea they were offered. I’d just like to offer one small edit to all of this merriment.

We have had a YEAR, y’all.

It has certainly been FULL of so many opportunities to witness the awesome moments and achievements of Black women and girls all around the world, even noting the strides seen as recently as in the election that took place earlier this month. We have so many reasons to celebrate and be thankful for ourselves; our perseverance, determination, tenacity, boldness– all attributes that have led us to some noteworthy and incredible victories. But, we have had a YEAR, y’all. The frustrations and ignorance represented in the present administration, protests (spanning from Charlottesville and the NFL to the women’s marches and other gatherings both well known and little known), the recent upsurge of attention to the sexual violence and harassment done to women in Hollywood and Capitol Hill (and the response to said claims in comparison to how cases centering Black women have been handled. Yea. It’s a thing) . . . the list goes on.

There seems to be an undertone coming from critics of folks who have decided to seek change and activate, that we should just be . . .thankful. So much progress has been made, so many folks fought for us, even being told that it is disrespectful to want more equity, or to want change and that we should just be happy that things have progressed to the point where they are . . . . BULL. We want more and that has nothing to do with our gratitude for the good, no matter how small, that we have experienced thus far.

So, this Thanksgiving season, know that you can be thankful and unsatisfied. You can look across the room at your family or friends and you can see the gaps in your reality and theirs and you don’t have to quiet that voice that tells you there is more, go get it. Black women are a mighty people group with sizzling blood coursing through our veins. We are ever thinking, ever resolving, ever planning, ever caring, ever activists prepared to pave a new road for ourselves or the ones we love. We cannot help it. We have to be intentional about taking time to care for ourselves because our autopilot is set to make sure everyone else is good. A mind like that always sees the gaps! So you decide. You can choose to take a break from caring and just choose thankfulness. We get to do that. You can choose to think about how you’ll continue to push for better circumstances for yourself and your people. Or, you can do both. Just know that a thankful heart can also be an unsatisfied one . . and that can lead to great things . . .

 

Photo Credit: Pirkle Jones, found on the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture

“I do believe in an everyday sort of magic. – the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we’re alone.” 

 — Charles de Lint

September 10th, Durham’s own Village of Wisdom hosted its 2017 Black Genius Fest in the heart of the city’s Northgate park. A myriad of local organizations – all of which promote the political, social and educational advancement of black youth – were invited as an outreach and resource to black families across the Triangle. The Beautiful Project set up stage creating an interactive #dearblackgirl experience that allowed families of black girls and boys alike to both receive and contribute nodes of positive thought to their sisters, daughters, mothers, friends, and selves.

 

“If you were able, what would you say to a black girl that you know and love?” This simple question proposed a creative platform of amity and inspiration to the young minds who visited the booth, and challenge these same brilliant minds to explore the magic and care in their hearts.

After reading the #dearblackgirl letters of so many other genuine souls around the world, and composing their own works of prose, they were each given the opportunity to have their imaginative excitement documented as a keepsake photograph.

While the experience was a sure way for The Beautiful Project to collaborate with so many amazing souls young and old, it also extended a dais to these same creatives for their own declaration of black girl magic and black boy joy.

We invite all who attended and even those who could not to continue the work of #dearblackgirl in their own rite. As the saying goes, “be the change you wish to see in the world,” –  be the voice that brings light and love to black girls everywhere! 

 

Written by Madylin Nixon-Taplet for TBP

Photography team: Alexis Dennis, Kaci Kennedy, Alexandria Miller, Natalie Wiggins, Madylin Nixon-Taplet, Jamaica Gilmer & Tamara Gibbs 

We’ve been dreaming of new places, occupying new spaces, linking arms with new partners, and taking our art out and before more audiences in the world. They say dreaming is like planning . . . they say the more you dream, the more in touch you remain with all of the possibilities . . . good thing we never stopped dreaming. . . because now we get to experience what it feels like when they come true.

As part of an unprecedented $6 million program launched by the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust, The Met, NYU, and 19 New York City organizations will explore how arts-based organizations can serve as positive, relevant, and inspiring forces in the daily lives of diverse communities. While the North Carolina-based Kenan Trust has a history of supporting New York City, this funding marks its first investment of this kind and is a significant expansion of its path-breaking work to be a catalyst for cultural organizations to increase their relationship with individual communities.”

We are elated to share that The Beautiful Project is one of 19 organizations linking arms with a host of diverse image and space makers invested in voice.

The Kenan Trust invited The Metropolitan Museum of Art to serve as an anchor organization alongside New York University’s Tisch School of Arts. Representing a wide range of groups—from the National Dance Institute to the Weeksville Heritage Center, to Sadie Nash Leadership Project, to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater—these organizations, together, exemplify a broad scope of engagement and artistic exploration. The Met and NYU will document the group’s practices and discussions in an effort to share lessons, outcomes, and tools with communities and the field. The project will culminate in a conference and Publication.

“Philanthropic efforts in the arts must make a fundamental shift from charitable gifts that exclude to justice-oriented giving that creates equitable access for all. We believe the arts are core to giving creative voice to individuals to combat broken systems while building bridges across lines of difference,” said Dr. Dorian Burton, Assistant Executive Director of the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust. “These 21 organizations range in size, scope, and history, but were all selected for funding because they have the ability, leadership, and platforms to  build networks that ensure the arts are not just an add-on or an optional budget line item waiting to be cut. The arts have long been a vehicle for social change and are the heartbeat of the American consciousness.”

To learn more, click here.
Photo Credit:  Khayla Deans for The Beautiful Project

Maya Corneille is a writer, professor, scholar and most importantly — a mother. In today’s sisterhood story, Maya shares a personal story about the love and support she receives from her sister-friend while raising her daughter.

 

Weeks after my daughter turned two, I started hearing progressively scary words, “Autism like behaviors” turned into “high risk for autism” and then finally “autism spectrum disorder.”

Appointments full of descriptions of deficits in this area or that area had me submerged more deeply in my anxious thoughts about her future. My daughter, M, was content to spin and dance and laugh by herself, but I knew that part of her learning to communicate meant I needed to be present for her.

Maya Corneille imgWe hired a speech therapist and occupational therapist. But our days were still filled with her falling on the floor kicking and screaming when we couldn’t figure out what food she was asking for. Autism can look many ways, for us it looked like reading sight words at age 2 and spelling the days of the week at age 3. It also looked like screaming and fighting and crying whenever we were near fluorescent lights or in a room with people talking loudly. The times she scratched our faces, her face, or her teachers’ faces when we spoke loudly, she looked like a cat clawing its way out of a water filled tub. But to some of her teachers, especially the one who said, “maybe if you put her around more children of other different races,” M looked like a little Black girl existing in the teacher’s stereotype of Black children.

At 3AM, while trying to occupy my restless mind, I scrolled through my Facebook feed terrified by the articles that activist friends posted about how Black children are being suspended at a rate many times the rate of white children for minor infractions and as early as preschool. I feared her teachers wouldn’t understand that for her everyday noises were deafening and fluorescent lights were blinding, and that not responding is not the same as not knowing.

But most of all, I was terrified because everything I know about teaching a Black, Haitian, African girl to survive in this world has to do with teaching her to fearlessly use your voice.

Autism made me question if I was equipped to do this for her.

I described all of the appointments with doctors and evaluators and therapists in nauseating detail to my sister, a speech therapist at an autism clinic, hoping she would say, you can’t trust these doctors.

And at first, she did say this. But after she came to visit us and saw our challenges for herself, she said, “we’ll just have to use a different strategy to teach her to talk.” Even when she could hear the pull in my voice for her to say just ignore the doctors, she skillfully turned the conversation to get me to talk about the new thing M was doing.

Because a sisterhood of healing does not lie to make you feel better in the moment, a sisterhood of healing works to help you be better.

When my sister returned home she asked, “What’s M’s favorite food?” She sent me these Powerpoint slides that had pictures of M next to the words “I want” and pictures of her favorite foods with words by them that she could use to ask for food. And she sent us videos to show us how to use them. She must’ve heard my thought, this is way too complex for M, because my sister said,

“She can do this. You can do this. And don’t be surprised when soon she can just read the words.”

My sister reminded me of what I had already known but forgotten in the haze of hearing about deficits. She reminded me to expect brilliance and that today’s struggle does not define who you are and can become.

She kept sending us pictures and activities, ones that said “hi mommy” and “bye daddy,” and giving us suggestions of things to do, like putting a hammock in our house so that it didn’t take her three hours to fall asleep. On the day, I was trying to move M from her hammock to her bed, M shouted, “No mom, I don’t want that, okay.” I was so stunned I turned my body into a hammock and rocked her against my chest that moved up and down slowly for the first time in months.

Even though we had a lot of work ahead of us, M showed me that her powerful voice was in there waiting for us to help her find it. And I had a sisterhood full of women that would help us get there. And most importantly, one sister who did all of these amazing things without us asking.

Because a sisterhood of healing doesn’t wait to be asked, it comes when it hears the call in your spirit.

The Sisterhood Storytelling Series is live on our site right now. As part of this campaign we will be featuring or highlighting stories from the exhibit. Today, we are excited to share Anika’s story.

Anika is a thirteen year old student at the Central Park School for Children. Here, she shares a charming story about how she has experienced the Sisterhood of Joy with her dear friend, Genevieve. Anika’s story reminds us that girls and women of all ages have experienced the sisterhood that is true and organic in the culture created by Black women. To hear more stories, check us out on The Sisterhood Storytelling Series page in the gallery!

My name is Anika Hall. One of my really good friends is Genevieve.

I have known her since we were two years old. We used to spend most days together either at her house or mine playing dress up or having tea parties. We would make forts that took up the whole living room.

No one could tell us we were not the best of friends.

After first grade we went to different schools and we didn’t see each other as much. However, we continued to go to the beach together every summer and we make Christmas cookies every year together. When we see each other it feels like only a few hours have gone by since the last time we hung out. We still laugh like we were two again.

Growing up is not easy and at times it is kind of scary, but it’s a lot easier when you have someone who has your back and doesn’t forget you.

Now that we have cell phones we talk and text everyday about almost everything. I hope our friendship lasts for a long time.

 

Interested in adding your voice to the storytelling? Know someone who should share their story of sisterhood? Come check us out!

 

 

Photo Credit: Jamaica Gilmer for The Beautiful Project

#DearBlackGirl was conceived with the goal to engage a multitude of Black women in imagining and articulating the full range of possibilities for Black girls. We were excited and amazed to see such a simple idea become a movement through the pens of countless of Black women.

We released a portion of those letters online and witnessed the powerful impact those letters had. However, the vision has always been that once written and collected, the #DearBlackGirl letters would be directly shared with Black girls. We know some of you have shared the letters with girls you know- subscribing your daughters to our blog, printing copies for your nieces, tagging friends on Facebook and otherwise sharing letters with Black girls in your life. So far we have had the opportunity to share letters with girls in Durham, NC, a group of high school teens in Washington, DC, and a room full of black girls and women in New York City during the Black Girls Movement conference.

DBG letter reading and responding

 

After reading one letter, one 17 year old girl wrote:

When reading this letter, I feel motivated and appreciated. I believe every word she said, about myself and all young black women. I am worthy of love, respect, my dreams, health, education, the world, friendship, my beauty, and my life, not because I am a black girl, but because I am a human being and I deserve everything I am willing to work for.

Another wrote in response to a different letter:

There are times when you’re just feeling so alone as an individual soul that you can’t help but want to feel acceptance from what the public overall wants. You think that maybe if I look like this and this represents me then I could be more positive about myself. But, that’s not how it works and it’s not how it should work. It makes me feel as if I don’t need to compare myself to anyone or anything to feel loved or to be powerful. A positive radiant soul then creates a lovely being and although the world may not make it prevalent, we are beautifully powerful individuals with untold stories.

During our workshop at the Black Girls Movement conference a group of girls of various ages collectively penned their own letter in response.

Thank you for opening our eyes to our deeper feelings that we share with other beautiful women of color! Thank you for reminding us that we are worthy. Thank you for reminding us that we are not alone in our struggles as Black girls and women. We are aware that the world isn’t always fair, but it is important for us to keep fighting for equality and peace… Because you rock, we do too! [We] hope that whenever you fall into insecurity or anything you outlined in your letter remember what you said. May you experience the comfort we did.

These letters — so simply formatted, yet so full of wisdom, hardships, joys, hopes and dreams– have brought light, love and laughter into the hearts of black girls and women around the world. As we wrap up our online #DearBlackGirl exhibit we say to our authors, with deep gratitude, thank you. And to those of you who have been inspired by these amazing love letters, we aren’t finished with them yet! We will continue to share them with Black girls and women. Stay tuned to our blog to see what will come next!

Group Response to DBG Letter