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

Iconic American photographer Carrie Mae Weems comes to University of Carolina-Chapel Hill on Wednesday, April 10 to present Past Tense, a striking lecture-style performance in which she examines the right to justice and peace through the lens of the classic play Antigone. Accompanied by startling imagery projected onscreen behind her, Weems explores themes of social justice, escalating violence, gender relations, politics, and personal identity within the context of contemporary history—recurrent subjects in her practice as a visual artist. Learn more about the performance and the artist’s motivation for creating this work.

We are excited and honored to partner with Carolina Performing Arts in a pre-performance workshop event before Carrie Mae Weems’ performance of Past Tense. Join us as we explore the impact of Weems’ art and celebrate the revolutionary power of words and images.

Our creative workshop, free and open to the public, will take place on April 10th at 6:00pm at Gerrard Hall, which is located right next door to UNC’s Memorial Hall. Also, friends of TBP who plan to attend Weems’ performance (and you should!) can receive discounted tickets ($15) by using our promo code:

TBPFRIEND can be redeemed online, by phone (919.843.3333), or in person at the CPA Box Office at Memorial Hall (M-F, 10 AM-5 PM). To redeem online: Select desired date on performance page. On next page, you must enter the code in the top right corner of the page before selecting desired number of tickets for the code to work properly.

Creative Workshop
April 10, 6pm
UNC’s Gerrard Hall
226-234 E Cameron Ave, Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Past Tense
April 10, 7:30pm
UNC’s Memorial Hall
114 E Cameron Ave, Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Today marks the release of the third issue of The Beautiful Project Journal, a biannual publication that gives insight on the inner workings of our collective of Black girls and women. Our first issue, Activating Sisterhood, served as our re-introduction to the world as a collective of image makers and explored how we cultivate sisterhood with each other. Our second issue, Doing The Work, went deeper into what it means for us, as Black women and girls, to do this type of work that is before us. This current Journal focuses on the notion of wellness and healing for Black women and girls.

We are interrogating the nuances of self-care, exploring the necessity of collective care, and sharing tools and strategies on how to pursue wellness and healing for ourselves and each other. You will find articles and images that capture the themes of sisterhood, liberation, healing, and transformation. We hope you enjoy!

Thank you to the wonderful women who contributed to this issue and made it happen:

Editors: Khayla Deans and Pamela Thompson 

Designer: Winnie Okwakol

Images & Text Contributors: Frances Adomako, Ahmadie Bowles, Zoey Bowles, Jade Clauden, Morgan Crutchfield, Dawn Downey, Pasha Gray, Jamaica Gilmer, Alexandria Miller, Cecilia Moore, Della Mosley, Madylin Nixon-Taplet, Avery Patterson, Sydney Patterson, AlineSitoe A. Sy

Our love to Timisha, Lacquen, Margaret, Lisa, Nadia, Ashley, Krystyn, Shyla, Alex, April, Najauna, and Joan for blessing us with your presence.

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. 

This exhibition was curated as a surprise and affirmation for the girls participating in our 2018 Black Girl Image Maker Workshop at Center for Documentary Studies. Eleven stunning photographers answered our call, sharing images of Black girls and women they adore. Together, we created a space where girls could see reflections of themselves in both the beloved people in the images and the girls and women behind the lens.

This exhibition was curated with love by Jamaica Gilmer, TBP Founder/Executive Director and Khayla Deans, TBP Multi-Media Strategist with tremendous and laughter-filled support from Courtney Reid-Eaton, CDS Exhibitions Director and Ambria McNeill, 2017-18 CDS Exhibitions Intern. The exhibit will be on view at the Center for Documentary Studies through the end of the summer. The image featured above is by Jacqueline Perry, one of the artists in the exhibit and a Black Girl Image Maker Coach.

Featuring work by:

Kennedi Carter

Age: 19

Hometown: Durham, NC

Favorite Food: Mac n Cheese

Why do you love photography? I love photography because it gives me the ability to capture the beauty in people.

Why are Black girls beautiful? Black girls are beautiful. We are resilient, we are loving, and we are creative.


Trécii P. Cheeseboro

Age: 15

Hometown: Harlem / Manhattan NYC

Favorite Food: Thiebou Jen and Jasmine rice (African fish, with grilled onions and raw onions and rice)

Why do you love photography? I love photography, it helps one see beauty in the smallest of things. Photography teaches appreciation of the little things. You’re able to capture moments that could be long forgotten. You’re creating a time warp as well as freezing time.

Why are Black girls beautiful? Black girls are beautiful. Black girls are beautiful because of our strength, courage, passion, drive, motivation, and wisdom. Black girls are beautiful because we are warriors, champions, fighters,heroes, and soldiers. Black girls are beautiful because of our minds, because of our love, because of our hearts, because of our souls, and because of the skin we live in.

Morgan Crutchfield

Age: 28

Hometown: Durham, NC

Favorite Food: Pancakes

Why do you love photography? I love photography because it has brought so many people into my life. I have formed lifelong friends because I love photography. People let me into the most intimate moments in their lives and trust me to capture keepsakes that friends and family years from now will be able to relive; through a photo. Photography is kind of like art and magic at the same time. I can call myself a magician if I’m really in the mood and some do consider me an artist. I love what I do, it never feels like work.

Why are Black girls beautiful? We, black girls, are so beautiful because life is tough but we crush it with grace and humility. We are resilient, stay strong in our paths and lift one another up. The beauty of being a black woman is knowing the power you hold. Don’t ever forget about your power.

Dawn Michelle Downey

Age: 38

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

Favorite Food: Pizza

Why do you love photography? I love photography because you can capture the essence of the subject, person or a still, and it will remain long after they’re gone.

Why are Black girls beautiful? Black girls are beautiful in all of our complexity. From the many different textures of our hair, down to the many different ways that we handle being out in the marketplace. From all of our different shades and complexions, to all of the different places from which we descended. There is beauty in all of our jambalaya!

Cathy Foreman

Age: 45

Hometown: Tillery, NC

Favorite Food: Linguine Vongole

Why do you love photography? Photography provides a physical and tangible means to a time that maybe your memory alone simply can’t reach.

Why are Black girls beautiful? Black girls are much more than beautiful. We are strong, innovative, adventurous, full of life and love and much more. We are made in all different shades which makes us rich unto ourselves. We are beautiful because of all we are and do.


Danielle Nolen

Age: 17

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Favorite Food: Cornbread

Why do you love photography? I love photography because it allows you to view things from someone else’s perspective.

Why are Black girls beautiful? Black girls are beautiful because we are so diverse! We are different shades, different sizes and shapes. We are unique and can do anything we put our mind to.

Jacqueline Perry

Age: 41

Hometown: originally from Salisbury, NC – but have lived in Raleigh for 20+ years

Favorite Food: doesn’t have a favorite food!

Why do you love photography? I love photography because it gives me the opportunity to capture a moment in time for someone. I feel like the right photo at the right time can tell a very powerful story.

Why are Black girls beautiful? Black girls are beautiful because of their joy, their strength, their ability to make the most of almost any situation. Black girls are beautiful because in them you can see a wide spectrum of skin tones, hair styles, emotions and personalities.

Courtney Reid-Eaton

Age: 59

Hometown: New York City, but lives in Durham

Favorite Food: Seafood – baked, broiled, grilled, fried or raw

Why do you love photography? Because it stops time.

Why are Black girls beautiful? Because they were made in the image of GOD.




Amber Carroll Santibanez

Age: 30

Hometown: Durham, NC

Favorite Food: Cereal

Why do you love photography? I found my voice through photography in the 9th grade after I was introduced to the book “Reflections in Black.” I fell in love with my skin and my hair after seeing the work of Lorna Simpson and Chester Higgins. The darkroom was a magical place. I would spend hours watching images appear. It was a powerful experience to know that I could manipulate images to show others how I saw the world.

Why are Black girls beautiful? Black girls are beautiful because they are powerful. They are the mothers of the human race. They are diverse. Their skin is smooth and rich. Their hair is magical, it has the ability to shape shift. They are resilient, nurturing, and strong.

Amaya Sam

Age: 14

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Favorite Food: Spaghetti

Why do you love photography? I love photography because it conveys your thoughts through images instead of words.

Why are Black girls beautiful? Black girls are beautiful because there isn’t one thing we haven’t done. I admire all the wonderful things that black girls have contributed to our society.


Dr. Deborah Willis

Age: over 60

Hometown: New York City

Favorite Food: North Carolina BBQ

Why do you love photography? The ability to tell visual stories excites me.

Why are Black girls beautiful? Maya is fun and curious and focused. I met her over three years ago and she captured my attention because of her excitement for talking about a range of topics and taking the photograph of her next to her books showed me the joy of reading is central to her.


Special thanks to the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, A Long Walk Home, Inc, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Junior Scholars Program, Southern Documentary Fund, NoVo Foundation, and William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust.

This Saturday and Sunday we will be launching our first Black Girl Image Maker Workshop so it’s a very exciting time for The Beautiful Project this week! We selected our group of girls and together they will learn how to take up their cameras in support of themselves and each other. To assist with this journey, we enlisted six amazing Black women photographers who will coach the girls in photography. Get to know our amazing coaches below.


Kennedi Carter is nineteen years old and is originally from Durham, NC. She loves photography because it gives her the ability to capture the beauty in people. Kennedi specializes in portrait and fashion editorial photography. View Kennedi’s work via Instagram (@internetbby) and


Morgan Crutchfield is twenty-eight years old and is a Durham native. For her, photography has brought many people into her life. In her own words, “People let me into the most intimate moments in their lives and trust me to capture keepsakes that friends and family years from now will be able to relive; through a photo.”  Morgan specializes in portrait photography. View Morgan’s work via Instagram (@daffodyl) or


Dawn Michelle Downey is a thirty-eight years old Brooklyn, NY native and is now based in Raleigh NC. She is drawn to photography because it allows her to capture the essence of the subject, person or still, that will remain long after that subject is gone. Dawn specializes in wedding photography. View her work via Instagram (@chroniclesphoto) and


Cathy Foreman is from Tillery, NC, currently based in Raleigh, and is forty-five years old. She loves photography because it provides a physical and tangible means to a time that a memory alone simply can’t reach. Cathy specializes in concert and portrait photography. View her work via Instagram (@reflectionsxcf)  and


Jacqueline Perry is forty-one years old and is originally from Salisbury, NC. She is currently based in Raleigh, NC.  Her favorite thing about photography is that it gives her the opportunity to capture a moment in time for someone. Jacqueline specializes in photography and graphic design. View her work on


Amber Carroll Santibanez is a thirty years old Durham, NC native. Amber fell in love with photography in the ninth grade when she was introduced to the book Reflections in Black by Deborah Willis. In her words, “I fell in love with my skin and my hair after seeing the work of Lorna Simpson and Chester Higgins.” Amber is an Arts Educator at the Durham School of the Arts.

This spring we are excited to launch a new workshop for Black girls in the Durham area who are between the ages of 8 through 15 years old. For two days, we will teach the girls how to become image makers through photography and writing. By the end of the workshop, they will each create images and words that celebrate their wonder.


DAY 1/Saturday, April 28 9:30am-3:30pm & DAY 2/SUNDAY, April 29 9:30am-3:30pm
On Day 2, parents are invited to join us for lunch & viewing of your girls’ work!

WHERE IS IT? The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University 1317 W Pettigrew St, Durham, NC 27705

HOW DO I APPLY?  Black girls and young women 8yrs-15yrs old are invited to apply at 

COST? $30

DEADLINE: March 25, 2018 *We will announce the finalists on March 30!*


*We have TWELVE spots for girls and young women ages 8yrs-15 yrs old. Applicants will be considered based on fully completed applications and age requirements.*

If you are interested in donating to the workshop, check out our wish list: *All in-kind gifts are tax deductible. Please include your email or mailing address to receive your acknowledgment letter*


Lena sat at the table contentedly flipping through the latest issue of her favorite magazine while her sister, Mone, turned out dough for the pizzas she had been promising Lena she’d make for the past month. This was their ritual; spending Friday nights together doing any assortment of things they enjoyed doing together.

“I remember hearing a saying once that went something like, ‘The mighty know when to celebrate.’ What you think about that?” Lena asked her sister without looking up from her magazine.

“I disagree. The mighty don’t have time to celebrate, or rest, for that matter. They have too much going on. They’ve got to keep going, keep being mighty.” Mone replied.

Lena, now, fully engaged in the conversation, flipped her magazine over so that the spine faced upward, the pages and covers lazily laid out to the sides, creating am elegant triangle of the periodical.  “No, girl. You’re not talking about the mighty. You’re talking about the busy. I can’t remember who said it and I don’t know the full philosophy behind it but I agree. I can imagine that you have to be aware of your victories in order to stay encouraged to keep reaching for more victories, or to have hope that you’ll be victorious even once more. I imagine that if you take time to celebrate those wins, no matter the caliber of the celebration, all the more encouraged you’d be! I’m with it. I’m pouring a glass for all my victories, because I am mighty. Gotta be to make it out here in these streets.”

“I hear you. Just sounds contradictory and a little contrary to what I imagine mighty personas to be like.”

“That’s just it. You know what a mighty woman looks like. The mighty women around us have worked themselves to the bone. Mama, Grandma, Auntie, all of ’em go all out for everyone else and forget to take care of themselves,” Lena said, growing more annoyed with each breath. “They know how to throw a party to celebrate everyone else’s accomplishments, but we are hard pressed to get them to even recognize their own successes. Maybe it’s the generation. Maybe it’s just them. I don’t know, but what I do know is I don’t aspire to be that. I love ’em. I do. But, I want to know I’m dope, first, not be surprised or have to convince myself that it’s true when someone else tells me I am.”

Mone took a moment of silence to think about these ideas. As the older sister, she had taken responsibility for her little sister for as long as she could remember. It was the same at work and even in instances when she didn’t have to such as with her friends. She didn’t feel free to celebrate her wins because she was always so preoccupied with working toward the win. And she could see her mother’s handprint all over this habit that she had learned how to execute so well. She admired Lena. And she wanted to be able to speak as confidently and boldly as her little sister.

“Alright. I hear you,” she remarked, beginning to be convinced.

There are twenty seven days left in 2017. As you prepare to make mighty moves in 2018, don’t forget to take some time to celebrate the mighty moves you’ve already made in 2017.


Onward, sisters!

Gabourey Sidibe takes on Nina Simone’s Four Women in her directorial debut of the film adaptation of the song which she has named, The Tale of Four. We’ve seen the likes of Jill Scott, Ledisi and other greats take on the song with their pounding and commanding vocals but never have we seen it iterated like this. In an interview on ABC’s The View, Sidibe talks candidly about her reasons for getting behind the camera and about her choice to depict this story in  particular. Take a look and ponder her perspective of how these four women’s stories play out on the screen. Regardless to whatever critiques, good or bad, it is very good to see more black women’s stories added to the conversation.


Photo Credit: Slate.Com

co-curated by Deborah Willis and Melissa Harris

Exhibition runs through January 13, 2018 at the Gulf + Western Gallery, 721 Broadway, Lobby and 8th Floor. 

“Re-imagining A Safe Space will explore critical questions regarding the idea of a safe space. Through text and image, the exhibition will include the perspectives of artists, activists, and students who have confronted some of these issues in their respective circumstances and work.”

Congrats to the amazing TBP image makers included in this show!!! 

Kaci Kennedy, Arielle Jean Pierre, Pamela Thompson and Jamaica Gilmer


More information about the exhibition: