The Beautiful Project Speaks to WRAL News About Experiences of Black Girls and Women in Pandemic

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. 

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