Watch Common Ground: A Conversation with Shawnda Chapman, Jamaica Gilmer, Miguel Luciano and Nico Wheadon

Last month, our founder Jamaica Gilmer was invited to speak on an insightful panel by friend and colleague Nico Wheadon. Jamaica and Nico were also joined by Shawnda Chapman, Director of the Girls Fund Initiative of the Ms. Foundation, and visual artist Miguel Luciano. As a curator, arts administrator, and writer, Nico facilitated this conversation in support of her forthcoming book about civic engagement within, through, and beyond museum spaces. The panel was hosted by The Brooklyn Rail  and is available to view. The conversation was rich and full of wisdom about art, activism, and movement building within and outside of institutions. Check it out!  

 

 

More more information, visit here: https://brooklynrail.org/events/2021/02/25/nico-wheadon-and-friends/

In 2020, we spent the time documenting how Black women and girls in NC have been impacted by this global pandemic. As storytellers, we wanted to write Black women and girls into this moment and gather testimonies, not just in the struggle, but also in our resilience and creative adaptation. Last week, our program director, Erin Stephens, and one of our apprentices, Noire Meyers, spoke to WRAL News about how the duel pandemics of COVID-19 and civil unrest are impacting our lives. We’re very grateful for the WRAL team, particularly to Lora Lavigne and Lena Tillet for lifting up our work. Watch below or here.

Also, the launch of TBP’s first cohort of youth apprentices last year was made possible by Grantmakers for Girls of Color’s Love Is Healing Fund. Thank you G4GC! We are grateful for all of the individuals and foundations that invest in the lives of Black girls and women. If you would like to support us with a monetary gift so that we can continue to do this work, visit here: https://bit.ly/DonateToTBP.

 

Thank you all for showing us love & support with our campaign on our instagram page. As we bring our #ReflectiveRevelations to a close, we offer the gift of poetry from our own Deja Palmer-Reese. Deja crafted this poem in response to what we learned & experienced during our apprenticeship. May these words inspire & carry you as you step into the new year. 

🧡 Noire, Deja, Chalina, & Aniya


Black queens

Let’s take off and fly above the

occasion. 

Focus on the things that physically

keep us grounded, but mentally place us in a superior 

elevation. 

And find a deeper passion and love for ourselves

as a form of meditation,

to ensure unadulterated positivity like a spiritual

ventilation.

Then use that halcyon mindset to reflect on your

spiritual revelations.  

***

Understand that you are unquestionably

strong. 

Became an entrepreneur when things around you

went wrong. 

And they transfix themselves on how you

the caged bird

finds strength to still sing your song.

Because you have hope.

Heart as pure as bullion gold.

And just like our alluring melanated skin,

that hope never grows old.

***

However 

If you do find it faltering 

and it leaves your light dwindling cold,

your community is there to be a backbone

and remind you that there is no need to impose

yourself into any societal mold.

Because we believe in you.

***

Stand statuesque tall,

and wipe your eyes because we see it

in you.

Do you see it in you?

Do you see

that you flourished so much

that now work has become less stressful and more healing?

Do you see how you have found new hobbies and ways

to express who you are, 

and in yourself?

You found a deeper meaning

Of beauty

Because beauty is you,

and that is something you uncontrollably

embody. 

***

Never let them tell you

Your bamboo hoops and diamond

studded acrylics are too gaudy. 

Never let anyone

strip away the time and dedication you apply

to your wellbeing.

Never let wavering friendships make you

hide your opinions and feelings.

Never let your fear of change and what it

may hold distance you from your manifestations

and the future you’re seeing. 

And most important of all, and queen

listen when I say this.

Never be silenced or afraid of speaking your

truths and being your genuine self.

Because no matter what, you as a black girl,

Without fear or harm,

are able to freely express yourself.

A few months back, we introduced our first cohort of youth apprentices: Aniya, Chalina, Deja, and Noire. We’re excited to share what they have gathered, learned, and created during their apprenticeship at TBP. In their own words, you will find a glimpse of their journey and introduction of their new campaign for Black girls. 

Photo by Winnie Okwakol

This year has significantly impacted how we think, feel, and interact with the world around us. We’ve heard a plethora of feel good stories, and not-so-good stories, but what about Black girls’ stories? Through this campaign, we explore the complexities of the Black girl experience during this time, and how isolation has taught them about themselves and the world around them. These are their reflective revelations.

The extension of the Her Testimony campaign hosted by The Beautiful Project has been led by us; TBP’s four newest youth apprentices, since the beginning of September. We’ve each combined our unique skills and talents including art, poetry, graphic design, and networking to accurately tell the stories of the Black girl experience in the Triangle Area.

The development of this campaign began with the assistance of TBP staff and special guests who trained us in a number of areas, namely interviewing and storytelling, which prepared us for conducting focus groups with other Black girls. From the many conversations we had with our peers, we’ve discovered one of the main impacts of the pandemic is the ability to adapt and respond to continuous change and losses. 

Our campaign, Reflective Revelations, illustrates the discoveries and personal growth Black girls have made during this heightened period of isolation and social injustices. Through reflections and affirmations, we celebrate the growth and discoveries that Black girls have made about themselves over the last few months. In response, we hope to create a safe and open space for Black girls, from Black girls. Over the course of this week, we will showcase the components of our campaign on TBP’s instagram page. Check us out on @thebeautifulprj!

In the short film below, we shared our own reflections and revelations about our inner journeys this year. Our hope is for others, especially our fellow Black girls, to share what they’ve learned about themselves this year. 

Don’t Worry, We’ll Hold Hands Again is a hopeful sentiment that has been stated and felt many times during the COVID-19 global pandemic. In fact, you may come across a large billboard or banner with these words in a city or town near you. In a black and white photograph, there is a small group of people holding hands as they stand together while facing the camera. Underneath their photo, you can read the aforementioned promise in bold text alongside a directive in red that reads, “Resist COVID / Take 6!” 

A RESIST COVID / TAKE 6! banner at the Nasher Museum. Courtesy of Carrie Mae Weems. Photo by Robert Zimmerman.

This image is one of many visual messages that is a part of a national public awareness campaign by artist and MacArthur Genius award winner Carrie Mae Weems. The campaign, Resist COVID: Take Six consists of large billboards, banners, and posters with messaging that seeks to enlighten and educate communities about the disproportionate impact of the virus on the lives of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.  In a statement released by Weems about the intention behind her campaign, she wrote, “We have indisputable evidence that people of colour have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19. The death toll in these communities is staggering. This fact affords the nation an unprecedented opportunity to address the impact of social and economic inequality in real time.” 

Posters from Resist Covid / Take 6! are on view at Golden Belt in Durham, NC. Courtesy of Carrie Mae Weems.
Resist Covid / Take 6! street pole banner lining Campus Drive connecting Duke’s east and west campuses. Courtesy of Carrie Mae Weems. Photo by Wendy Hower.

As a result, Resist COVID: Take Six is just as much of an art exhibition as a public health campaign. Other messaging presented in the campaign includes important calls to action such as “Stop the Spread: MASK-UP, BACK-UP, WASH-UP.” There are also images that express gratitude to all of the frontline workers that risk their lives daily while working in this pandemic. 

A RESIST COVID / TAKE 6! banner on the Nasher Museum faces a pair of RESIST COVID / TAKE 6! street pole banners on Anderson Street. Courtesy of Carrie Mae Weems. Photo by J Caldwell.

Over the last few months, Weems partnered with art institutions across the country to bring forth this mixed media public art campaign to communities, including the city of Durham. The campaign is currently on view at Duke University, co-sponsored by Nasher Museum and Duke Arts. It is an outdoor exhibition that takes the route of Campus Drive throughout Duke’s campus so visitors can experience the artwork in person safely by car or on foot. To see it in person, head to the Nasher Museum at Duke University now through January. Here is an interactive map to see the images. Wear your masks and maintain your distance, of course. More information about the exhibition, Resist COVID-19: Take 6 can be found here.

 

2020 casted Black people as characters in the play we never asked for. 

Somehow, as the twists and turns threatened our sheer will to survive, you stood with us

You cheered from afar. 

You sent so much love our way it was (IS) impossible for us to give up on ourselves. 

We are still here.  And we know full well, we couldn’t have gotten this far without your support. We are grateful. 

On this Giving Tuesday, you can continue to support our work with a tax deductible donation.  

Our mission is to cultivate voice and power, encouraging Black women and girls to participate in the conversations that so often happen about us, without us. With your gift, we are able to create brave spaces where Black girls and women can claim our own narratives that elicit freedom and hope. The Beautiful Project is an independent 501c3. You can make a donation here: http://www.thebeautifulproject.org/give/

 

With love and solidarity,

Jamaica

Founder & Executive Director 

A couple of months ago, we announced the launching of our youth apprenticeship, a program that will provide training in research, analysis, and storytelling for Black girls in North Carolina. This apprenticeship will build upon the the work of the Her Testimony campaign, which lifted up the experiences of Black women in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the extension of this campaign, we are positioning our apprentices to be witnesses, storytellers, and champions of Black girl wellness amidst the converging threats of the pandemic and racial injustices.

At the start of the apprenticeship, we briefly met everyone in a park to officially welcome the apprentices into TBP with gifts and portraits taken by our very own Winnie Okwakol.

Since mid-September, we have been virtually meeting with our four dynamic apprentices. Led by Erin, our Program Director, each of our apprentices are learning how to bear witness with Black girls and women through dialogue, create narratives that heal and affirm, and take ownership of our voices and power. Along the way, our apprentices are connecting with Black women storytellers, such as our friends Janelle Harris Dixon and Shanelle Gabriel, who created space to sharpen our apprentices’ skills in bearing witness through interviews and crafting stories. 

A recent guest workshop on techniques to create a good story led by poet Shanelle Gabriel.

After facilitating listening sessions with other Black girls to gain insight on how the pandemic has impacted their lives, our apprentices will create a creative resource of wellness strategies for Black girls to focus on their well-being in light of intense and stressful times.

We are excited to officially introduce the Her Testimony Youth Apprentices: Aniya, Chalina, Deja, and Noire. Get to know them below.


Aniya Arnold

How do you want to impact the world?
I want to impact the world by creating screenplays that evolve into films about an array of experiences that introduce people to new perspectives that they haven’t come in contact with before.

What do you want to accomplish or take away as a result of your participation in this program?
I want to become better at finding my voice and using it effectively to make real change, and improve my collaboration skills.

 

Chalina Morgan-Lopez

How do you want to impact the world?
I want to be able to use my skills and knowledge to enact social justice in our communities, and to be a voice and amplify the voices of those who are most silenced.

What do you want to accomplish or take away as a result of your participation in this program?
I want to take away more connections that can further my success in the future, and a long-lasting sisterhood with those who I’ve connected with, as well as valuable skills and new perspectives through helping develop the #Hertestimony campaign with Beautiful.

 

Deja Palmer-Reese

How do you want to impact the world?
I want to impact the world by bringing light and putting the spotlight on the underdog stories in any way possible. I enjoy doing this by writing my poetry in different perspectives with different subjects being addressed. By writing, I am also able to let people know that someone connects with them and understands what they go through; thus making them feel comfortable and less lonely. I want to have a career in the medical field as well because I enjoy helping people and making people feel safe. After joining this apprenticeship, I realize how much more I want to do for the community. This is my first time contributing and I feel and know I could help much more.

What do you want to accomplish or take away as a result of your participation in this program?
I plan to accomplish bringing awareness to the struggle that Black women and girls face during the rise of COVID along with the steady uprising of police brutality. Stories like theirs can easily be brushed away or looked over, so to be able to make a campaign and interview people really makes me happy. I want to take away a new knowledge on their situations because I was unaware of the risk that black women/ people face dealing with COVID. I also want to take away a new knowledge when it comes to writing as well. Conducting interviews, writing and listening to reports, and learning about the new lenses that the program uses may help me in future writing situations.

 

Noire Meyers

How do you want to impact the world?
Short answer: I want to bring more representation to us Black girls in the media, and create more safe spaces. Long answer: I want to use my writing and artistic skills to bring diversity to the types of Black girls we see in the media. Yes, there are Black girls who are loud and outgoing and there’s nothing wrong with that, but they are not a monolith. And not to mention the extreme lack of diversity in fantasy/sci-fi like stories. I want to make my own stories, my own games, with girls we can all relate to on a personal level, not just a skin-deep level. I want to bring awareness to mental illness through these stories, an elephant in the room we’ve been ignoring for way too long, and provide access to effective resources that even girls from different nations can access.

What do you want to accomplish or take away as a result of your participation in this program?
I want to walk away with the ability to create my own campaigns that’ll reach people inside and outside my intended audience. I want to be able to organize interviews and projects properly with little procrastination. I want to know how to properly use people’s testimonies in my campaign along with how to properly manage data for said project/campaign and how to properly interview someone.


Khayla, our creative director, leads the group in a quick icebreaker.
Bria, our project coordinator, posing with Deja, Aniya, Chalina and Noire.

In our orientation a few weeks ago, we asked each apprentice this question: What would it look like if all Black girls were valued, respected, and free? After ten minutes of imagining what freedom looks like for themselves and each other, a vision statement of freedom and hope was developed. This is the intention and declaration that we have been holding on to throughout the apprenticeship.

“We as Black girls are able to freely express ourselves without fear of harm or being silenced for speaking our truth and being our genuine selves.”

On Wednesday, October 14, at 10:15 AM ET, our founder and executive director Jamaica Gilmer will be speaking  about the importance of Black photographers and their roles in social justice movements. Hosted by the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University, this virtual panel is free and open to the public with a zoom registration. The discussion will be moderated by independent curator and art historian Anita Bateman and Jamaica will be in conversation with fellow photographers Dare Kumolu-Johnson and Jay Simple.

To learn more about the virtual panel and to register, visit here: https://fsp.duke.edu/events/practices-black-photographers/

Black women: we see you, we love to hear your voice, and we’re grateful for the privilege of holding and sharing your stories, especially over the past several months.

In June 2020, The Beautiful Project launched #HerTestimony: A Campaign About Black Women’s Experiences of COVID-19 in North Carolina. Throughout this campaign, we’ve been listening to Black women and their experiences throughout the coronavirus pandemic over the past several months. We conducted interviews, have an online survey where women in North Carolina can anonymously share their experiences during COVID-19, we created a guide, and a downloadable gift accessible to all on our website. For a more in-depth overview of what the campaign entailed, please be sure to check out the “What We Did” section below.

WHAT WE’VE BEEN LEARNING:

Throughout the past two months, many Black women in North Carolina have anonymously shared their stories with us through an online survey. We are thankful for and moved by each response. Here are a few things we’ve been hearing:

    • Significant concern around work.
      Navigating unemployment, job uncertainties, or the changes in schedule and structure around working from home while caring for family.
    • Challenges with mental health.
      Heightened levels of anxiety and stress, concern for family’s financial future.
    • Changes in relationship dynamics.
      Navigating feelings of loneliness among those who live alone; or families figuring out the balance between spending quality time together and still getting necessary alone time.
    • Changes to self-care practices.
      Whether worship and faith-based, or physical; many women have had to face changes and different dynamics in how they feed their souls, bodies, and minds.
    • Concern for community.
      Many women expressed deep concern for the Black community: for access to resources, housing support, employment opportunity, and wanting our Black community to have a pathway to thrive. Women highlighted needs in their direct communities as well the Black community at-large.
    • Sources of joy.
      Women defined finding their joy in: spending time in nature, connecting with family and friends, laughter, their faith practices, music and dancing, spending time in solitude, and even intentional practices like having fresh flowers.

This is just a snapshot of some responses we received during our survey.

WHAT WILL COME NEXT:

We aim to continue building on the foundation of #HerTestimony and serve our communities with the information we had the opportunity to gather.

Sharing our Findings.

Our goal with this campaign has always been to document how this pandemic specifically impacts Black women so that our experiences and insights can be best positioned to serve us, our loved ones and our families not just right now, but in the year ahead. We will analyze the data and stories collected over the past two months and develop a report. This report will be freely available on our website, and will be shared with partners, organizations, and community members so that as organizations seek to serve Black women and their families, they will be able to serve according to the needs that Black people themselves state they have.

Her Testimony Virtual Youth Apprenticeship

We will also continue this work by supporting the growth and development of Black girls, via our first virtual youth apprenticeship. Black girls, ages 14-18, who live in the Triangle area of North Carolina are invited to apply to this program that will provide experience-based education to train them in The Beautiful Project’s methodology of centering and uplifting the narratives of Black girls and women. The program will run from September-December 2020 and apprentices will be trained in storytelling, research, and analysis by Black women mentors. 

Four girls will be selected to participate in this paid apprenticeship. Applications are due on Friday, August 28th, so we invite you to share this with Black girls you know who may be interested! You can learn more here.

 

THANK YOU.

With hearts full of gratitude, we thank Doretha, Jasmine, Derria, Melissa, Erika, Brianna, and Angela for granting us the honor of telling you their stories. 

We also thank each woman who took the time to complete the #HerTestimony online survey. Your responses are helping to shape the understanding of what Black families need in North Carolina as the pandemic evolves.

Thank you to each person who shared, forwarded, and reposted our campaign in any way. Many hands make light work.

Thank you to you – for your partnership and support of The Beautiful Project, and your value for lifting up the voices of Black women.

 


 

#HERTESTIMONY: WHAT WE DID.

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted Black communities in significant ways – among the precious lives lost, there have also been significant economic impacts, changes in relationship dynamics, and clear highlight of need. As a collective of Black women storytellers, we are passionate about creating space for Black women’s voices to be heard. Historically, Black voices have often been overlooked during crises, but The Beautiful Project – like many other Black-affirming organizations – has been committed to ensuring that Black women and their families will be seen and heard during this time.

The #HerTestimony campaign has been a response to the need to raise Black voices – for the community to get the support needed, Black voices must be heard. 

Our campaign had several components.

Sharing Your Testimony: The Online Survey.

Beginning in June, we launched an online survey designed to collect stories anonymously from self-identified Black women 18 and older, across intersecting identities, living in North Carolina. They answered questions around their needs, challenges, ways that COVID has impacted various aspects of their lives from employment to family, to physical and mental health, and beyond. Participants also took time to share the hopes that they have in the midst of these difficult times, and hopes for their future after we emerge from this crisis. The survey closes in two days on August 28, so if you’d like to share your testimony, you still have the opportunity to do so.

Read #HerTestimony: The Narrative Project

Throughout the months of April and May, several Black women across North Carolina conducted interviews with The Beautiful Project during which they expressed their personal stories and experiences during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pains, challenges, hopes, and learnings they discussed resonated deeply. In their stories, we saw themes of faith, healing, purpose, peace, village and community, worth, and worship. Many thanks to Doretha, Jasmine, Derria, Melissa, Erika, Brianna, and Angela for taking time to bravely and vulnerably share their testimonies with us. Please take a few moments to read their stories on our blog.

#HerTestimony Giveaway: The Raffle

In support of Black-women owned businesses, we raffled off five $50 giftcards to: Semicolon Bookstore (Chicago), The ZEN Succulent (Durham), Jeddah’s Tea (Durham), and Cafe Con Libros (Brooklyn). 

Foster Community in Testifying: The Guide

We believe in the power of storytelling to provide a place for community, a channel for healing, and serve as a tool for change. We created a guide to give you a way to extend the Her Testimony project to your own community, be it in North Carolina or beyond. This guide provides the list of interview questions that we asked for our narrative project. It also includes several ideas on how to engage people in conversations about how their lives have been impacted during this period of time. The guide is available to download for free.

Affirm the Truth of Your Testimony: The Gift

We created a gift of affirmations that were inspired by the testimonies that have been collected. These affirmations are available to download as digital wallpaper for phones and tablets. We believe in the power of surrounding ourselves with truth and affirmations. During a time where so many messages have been harming our spirits, let us hold tightly to the truth that uplifts and strengthens. You can download the gift on our website.