The Beautiful Project Speaks to WRAL News About Experiences of Black Girls and Women in Pandemic
Tag: the work
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.
For everything, there is a time and a season. And now, it is time to rest.
During the month of July, the women of The Beautiful Project will take some time to realign with ourselves and our purpose, reconnect with our hobbies, our gifts, our people and remember who we are and why we do this work. We are a collective of scholars and artistic activists careful not to leave ourselves out of the work we engage for Black women and girls. We believe in practicing regular rhythms of rest while we work and we also know that there must be times of refreshing, where the focus is the rest.
As we close our doors and our eyes, for just a little while, we challenge you to figure out your rest rhythms. What are the practices you have in place to offer yourself respite in the middle of the fullness of your life? Deeper, how do you intentionally take time away from it all to burrow in simplicity and comfort so that you can experience physical, mental and emotional rest?
Whether you choose to meditate or sit outside in the summer heat with your face to the sun for just a few minutes each day, simple practices like these can offer so much peace and joy for the journey in those moments when walking away is not an option. But please figure out a way to walk away because restoration is its own kind of work and thus needs its own space to be carried out well.
The world moves to a steady hum. Whether we provide instrumentation by way of the contributions we make through our work and other efforts, the hum penetrates consistently, relentlessly. More simply stated, life goes on, with or without us. So, let’s take care of ourselves. It’ll be there when we get back and if it isn’t, it either wasn’t ours or wasn’t time. Identify the “it” that threatens to hinder your ability to rest and reposition the energy it consumes.
Take the time you need to give yourself the love you need.
There’s only one you. Love her well.
See you in August.
Words by Pamela Thompson
Photo by Kaci Kennedy
Two weeks ago, we had the great pleasure of partnering with Carolina Performing Arts in a creative workshop that explored identity and belonging through the powerful work of Carrie Mae Weems.
Using The Kitchen Table Series as an inspirational tool, we led the workshop participants in a reflective journey to think about the tables or structures in their lives that that have been instrumental in shaping their identities and beliefs. Through conversations, writings and illustrations, participants were able to share how these metaphorical tables affirmed, challenged, and shaped who they are today.
After the workshop, we attended Ms. Weems’ lecture, Past Tense, which was a multimedia meditation on culture, power, and identity, fitting perfectly with the theme of our pre-performance workshop. Many thanks to our collective members who came out to participate and support this workshop. We’re grateful for Carolina Performing Arts for the opportunity to bring the work that we do to a wider audience. And we want to send a huge thank you to Carrie Mae Weems for gracing us with her presence, brilliance, and artistry.
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.
The Artist Soapbox is a platform that features local North Carolina artists to discuss their work, processes and journeys as creatives. The podcast was created by Tamara Kissane, a local artist in her own right, who decided to make this podcast with the hope to form a stronger community of artists of all mediums and to give space for artists to share deep insights into their creative lives.
Not too long ago, Tamara reached out to our team to feature The Beautiful Project on an upcoming episode. Two of our core team members, Pamela Thompson and Khayla Deans, had the great opportunity to speak with Tamara about their roles at The Beautiful Project and the impact of our work. Many thanks to Tamara for featuring us on The Artist Soapbox! You can listen to the podcast below or learn more about our episode of Artist Soapbox here.
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.
As a collective of artists, we are drawn to Black women and girls who choose to express themselves through any art medium. Such is the case for Durham-based artist, A.yoni Jeffries. She is a dynamic woman that we had our eyes on for a while due to her presence in the local artist and advocacy community. A.yoni is a multilayered creative, wearing multiple hats. She is an artist, singer, writer, entrepreneur, activist, and more. Her work is just as diverse as her interests. She is passionate about creating and sharing her art, which is often personal. She is also just as passionate about creating space to cultivate the artistry of others, particularly youth. For example, she is the Co-founder of Smooth Organic and Progressive Worldwide Inc., also known as SOAP, which is an organization — rooted in liberation and love — that intersects justice, arts, and agriculture for community advancement.
When A.yoni recently debuted her new song, “Searchin 4,” our team was rooting from the sidelines. The inspirational and honest song comes to life in the music video, co-directed by Monet Marshall and Stephaun Perry, which can be seen below. Our resident music aficionado, Khayla Deans, discussed with A.yoni about the inspiration behind the song, her journey as an artist, and her hopes for the future.
KD: In your own words, how would you describe yourself?
AJ: I am a creator. In all ways. I don’t think I’m done discovering the extent of my creations. I just like to make stuff with my hands, with my voice, with my brain. In every way.
KD: What are some of the things that you make?
AJ: I make music. I’m a singer songwriter. I like making visual art. I love photography. A lot of times I like to make or alter clothes. I like to make skits and little cartoon concepts. I create businesses.
I just want my people to live better lives. But I think that we got it wrong and I feel like that’s why I was created to create. For me as a creative, I always feel so strongly and so passionately and maybe that’s why I create so much. I’m such a passionate person. I look at all of these different industries that I have my hand in and I see people doing it, but they are not doing it from their hearts. They’re not doing it from love. They don’t care. But if I focus on that, I would be upset all day long. I peep it and I’m like, ‘Alright, this is why you are doing what you are doing. So keep going.’
KD: And that brings me to my next question. What do you enjoy most about creating?
AJ: Getting it out. For real. It is getting it out. I create a lot through pain. I’m still learning myself. So I’m not sure yet if I’m actually creating through pain or from the same source that my pain is sourced from. My creativity and my sadness kinda come from the same place. Each time it’s like giving birth.
KD: How did you get into singing?
AJ: My mom told me I’ve been doing it my whole life. She remembers me when I was a baby who hummed songs that she never heard before. I wish she had recorded it. She told me that she remembers me just humming a little song. I started writing when I was four years old. My mom homeschooled me for a little while. I was able to pick up quicker at home in that learning environment. So I was reading chapter books by five years old. I used to love reading so much because it gave me the ability to see a story more than just watching it on tv.
KD: You can imagine a lot more.
AJ: Yeah, you control the picture and what you see. I began singing out a lot when I turned five as well. I remember the first song I learned the words to was Britney Spears’ Oops I Did It Again (proceeds to sing the words of the chorus). But I used to sing through my nose.
KD: She did too.
AJ: Yeah, I didn’t realize it at the time because of course I was just five years old. But over time I learned that I have this very rare ability to mimic somebody to a T when it comes to music. So I have songs written in the styles of all these artists. I have over 300 songs in my catalogue, just waiting to sell. I want to sell all of them. But I came with this ability to write from the perspective of an artist and it is so spot on sometimes it scares me.
KD: So you have this song, “Searchin 4” — you put it out there, create a dope video behind it. It’s been released, it’s on SoulBounce, it’s making its way. How are you feeling in this moment right now that your music is out there?
AJ: I’m feeling so good. So good! Honestly, when I started living like this—living my talent and living my calling out loud– is when one of my best friends passed in December. That really struck something within me, more so than being hurt. More than that, B passed away with all of what he had still in him. Not really, because we made so much music, and I know that music one day will be bigger than the both of us ever imagined, so I’m holding on to that. But just seeing that he passed away so young, just 24, and his last couple of years were not his best years. It was just all of that really weighing heavy on me and I just had to do this just now.
I’ve made all of these excuses. In those moments though, it teaches me about being patient with other people because I didn’t even know that I was being paralyzed by fear. It’s something that you don’t even know is happening to you. You are just going on with how you are feeling in that moment. But you are able to become more emotionally aware of your stages and your processing, you learn how you can place some of what you’re experiencing [such as] ‘Oh this is actually me being very scared of succeeding in this thing.’
I can only imagine what’s coming. I sincerely hope my journey shows other people who are ridden with fear that you can still do this. You can still get it out of you. You can still be in this world with everyone else and be who you are. Ultimately, above anything else, we are scared to be our truest selves. We’re scared of ourselves. We’re the only people that know who we are individually. We are the only people who know us from when we’re at our best moments to our worst and lowest moments. But the fact that we always hide and harbor and keep secluded those more intense moments with ourselves, we feel like we are unrelated to everyone else.
KD: So in the song — listening to the lyrics and then seeing the video, the themes of release and healing come to mind. Transformation. What’s the story behind the song?
There are so many stories behind the song. I’ll tell you how I wrote the song first and then I’ll fast forward to this year.
So, I had just broke up. We weren’t going through much until I moved out of the house. We were living together and I moved out into my own apartment. I love myself enough to know that I can’t stay in this spot. So I did physically leave. I remember one night I was laying on my floor and I was just having these thoughts like, ‘Damn, did I make a mistake? This is terrible, I can’t believe I’m in this situation.’
And I’m like, let me just write it out. So I wrote all of the lyrics, which actually the hook of it, “the wandering eyes — pray you find what you’re searching for,” that part comes from Damien’s song. He wrote this song called Wandering Eyes and it is the same exact lyric except he says hope where I say pray. So I didn’t even know I was going to write that song. I was just writing and I was like, these are his lyrics but let me just put it here. So I write and it was in the style of a poem first. And then I got on my computer and I was looking through beats and I find that instrumental and thought, this is so beautiful. Then I was like, let me just see if these lyrics fit. And when I tell you it was too right! What you hear — that’s how the song sounded since I first wrote it.
After I released it, I didn’t even listen to this damn song. It wasn’t until April of this year. I was sitting in the car and listening to the song, and realized I was talking to myself. Which I had to be because I wrote the damn song. So everything came from me. After listening to the song, I knew I wanted to do a couple of videos. With that, I wanted to make sure it was the right person doing the video. I wanted to make sure it was the perfect time, perfect place. That’s really what has been keeping me from doing the video thus far.
Steph [one of the co-directors of the video] ended up hearing the song and reached out wanting to work with me. Monet [other co-director] winds up hearing it. She texts me, ‘There’s going to become a time when you’ll want to do a video for Searchin 4 and when that time comes, I want to help you.’
Because of this new revelation I had with the song, I felt like I was learning it all over again. I listened differently and I interpreted differently. Since my situation was different this time. So it [the video] has to be me with myself. I wanted to be myself but I wanted people to understand that it’s me assessing myself from a nostalgic feel and not necessarily a present moment feel. That’s my little sister in the video and it just so happens that she looks like me. It was really divine. It was meant to happen that way.
KD: And she’s playing a younger you?
AJ: Yes. At the beginning of the video, she’s starts out outside and I’m inside. A lot of people have interpreted it in different ways but, one of my favorite ones thus far is that each room was a representation of a different type of me. I didn’t even see that but after looking at it again, she’s correct in that assessment. It’s crazy how when you create something, other people will tell you how you created your work. Because you are learning something about me that I don’t even recognize about myself right now.
KD: In our work, we purposely create intergenerational spaces among Black girls and women so that we can collectively share our stories and learn from each other. In your journey so far as a Black woman, what is one piece of wisdom that you would pass along to a Black girl or younger woman and what is one piece of wisdom that you seek from a Black woman who is an elder?
For the little girls or any person at all, I would just say to be yourself, which is that fearlessness. I’m speaking for myself. Anything that I say to someone else, I’m always going to tap and see how it fits in my life first. Life happens to each of us so differently. We all grow up so differently. I’m still over here picking through certain things that I was raised with and am like ‘Oh, I don’t actually need this in my journey. If I do, when the time presents itself, I’ll use it, but in this moment, I don’t need it, so I’m just going to leave it where it’s at.’ You feel me?
KD: This is the last question I have. At one point in the song, you sing “I pray you find what you need to set you free.” The work that you do with your art and in the community seems to center on the fight for liberation, healing, and justice. With this idea of setting ourselves free, what are your prayers and hopes for Black women and girls who are in pursuit of personal and collective freedom?
AJ: I feel like my life is a prayer. The way that I live is a prayer. I really have to come to terms to that. Growing up, my family is Christian — non denominational. My mom always stressed the importance of prayer. But one thing I realized early on is that I don’t receive and access God the way everybody else does. Even when I would go to church — I feel like my life is prayer just with the way I live it. When we say you have to believe in what you pray for—well I believe in myself. I’m my own prayer–and not in a narcissistic way where it is overly confident. I trust that in the moment, I’m going to ask what I need, and in that moment, I’m going to get it. If not, that means it wasn’t for me and something else is on its way. So that is what I mean by living my life as a prayer. Through action. Praying is action.
Photography by Khayla Deans
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 coachesbelow.
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 www.ken-carter.com.
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 www.morgancrutchfieldphotography.com.
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 www.chroniclesphotography.com/.
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 www.reflectionsbycathyforeman.com.
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 www.jacquelineperryphotography.com.
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.
Today marks the release of the second issue of The Beautiful Project Journal, a biannual publication that gives insight on the inner workings of our collective. 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. In this new issue, we are digging deeper into what it means for us, as Black women and girls, to do this work that is before us.
We define our work as creating spaces for Black women and girls to confront the mass misrepresentation of our likeness in the media and the world. This publication is a manifestation of how we approach image activism through photography, writing and care. In this particular issue, you will find a personal story by our Director of Wellness Programming, Erin M. Stephens, on practicing transformative care, a compelling short story by author Afabwaje Kurian, a glimpse into the lives and work of Black women in our community, and much more.
Thank you to the wonderful women who contributed to this issue and made it happen: Pamela, Erin, Jamaica, Meron, Madylin, Kaci, and Afa. Also, much love to Mama Toni and Sakarah for blessing our cover so gracefully!
You can view Doing The Work here. We hope you enjoy!
Written by Khayla Deans for TBP
Cover Images by Jamaica Gilmer
“Stretch or drown
Evolve or die
The bridge I must be
Is the bridge to my own power”
— The Bridge Poem, Donna Kate Rushin (1981)
I don’t know how it is that Black literature written decades before the moment you read it can somehow perfectly capture your current experience, but that’s what The Bridge Poem by Donna Kate Rushin did for me.
For most of my three decades (plus) on this earth I have either been a student or some type of educator. I have been in many rooms as either one of few people of color, and even more as the only girl/woman of color. At many times I have been a token whether or not I wanted to be. In these rooms I have felt the pressure to choose whether to ‘represent’ or be silent. But when I discovered this poem not only did I find words that so aptly captured my distress and frustration, but I found an answer on how to better navigate these rooms. The answer? I must be a bridge to my own power.
A couple years ago I was participating in a class discussion about a book on social control, and I found it fascinating. But part of my fascination was the distinct impression that the race and nationality of these authors (white, European and Australian) had shaped their analysis and ideas. Hoping to discuss this with the class, I brought it up— and my professor immediately shut it down. I forget his exact words, but it was something along the lines of that being “too simple” of a question. I immediately experienced intense frustration, felt many times before when White teachers had failed to recognize or address the way “whiteness” dominates the classroom. A couple examples: a reading list that fails to include a person of color author or a white guest speaker making an off-hand stereotypical comment about “those people,” which goes unchallenged by the teacher. In these cases, and countless more, I had previously become overwhelmed with emotion. I would find myself shaking in anger when I or another student of color would speak up and be ignored— and it was even worse when my voice failed me. In my distress I would find myself unable to participate in the class, sometimes to the detriment of my grades.
Now I don’t know if in that particular moment it was my professor’s inability to facilitate that discussion or his ignorance of its importance, but I caught myself before my frustration overwhelmed me. I took a deep breath, jotted down a note for myself, and followed the class to the next discussion point. I didn’t need him to validate my question, because I knew it mattered. When I left that room, I did my own research on how whiteness shapes social theory.
At some point in my twenties I discovered this poem. I learned from it that there is another option than representing us all or being silent.I must be a bridge to my own power.