Brittani Sensabaugh was in her early '20s living in New York and working as a fashion photographer; a dream job for some, but she was quickly learning to dislike the gig. She says she was more interested in the people and their stories than the clothing the models wore. One day, while on the subway, another passenger found interest in an article of Britt’s clothing. An older woman was pointing at the word “Oakland,” which was printed in bold letters on the hoodie Brittani was wearing. The lady went in, exclaiming that Britt should never go to Oakland because nothing but thugs live there and bad things would happen to her if she ever did visit.
Britt says she remained silent. As the train approached her stop, she calmly told the woman that Oakland is her hometown and then exited the train.
Britt marks that as one of the defining moments that sent her on the path to document the misrepresented urban areas of the United States in an ongoing photo project she calls her #222Movement.
Britt’s site if full of fly images. Her Instagram is much the same — except there’s a couple photos of Tupac, Outkast and memes interspersed with extreme close-ups of elders and children. Her photos tell the story of her travels through the hoods of Houston, Baltimore, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Oakland. She has trekked through some of the grittiest places in America and she has emerged with some of the most aesthetically pleasing images on the Internet.
Under the umbrella of her #222Movement is her #222ForgottenCities: Power of Melanin series, which is a detailed look at the people who reside in the areas she has traveled through.
She's holding her first art showing ever in Oakland at the Betti Ono Gallery until April 16th; she’ll also be holding one in Brooklyn the Bishop Gallery on March 4th through the 23rd.
I recently broke bread with her at a small lakeside café in Oakland. She was sporting a head wrap, two nose rings, and that same hoodie that read “Oakland” in bold letters across her chest. She ordered the veggie sandwich and I got the turkey. We sat down, and I started what I called an interview. She said, “We’re building, King.”
Britt was raised in East Oakland. She went to K-8 Oakland public schools and then attended a public high school in San Leandro. “Going there (San Leandro High) I got a better education,” said Britt in between bites of her sandwich. But she says she loved the fact that she still got to live in Oakland as a teen, “This is the reason I am who I am today, not just because I’m from Oakland: I’m from East Oakland.”
85th and D St. to be exact, an area of the town known as Deep East Oakland. She learned how to navigate the neighborhood with the help of her older brother, Michael. She credits him for not only giving her guidance but for gifting her the first camera she ever owned.
Michael died at the age of 28, in his sleep, with no medical records of foul play or any known illness, reportedly. His death hit Brittani hard; it was the catalyst for her move to New York and by-and-large the first piece in a chain reaction that led to me sitting across the table from her in a café, discussing her art.
She continued to eat, as I scrolled through her Instagram account. “That’s my grandfather,” she said, pointing to an image of an older man gripping a pistol. “He’s in Kingsport, Tenessee.”
I kept scrolling, pointing out familiar faces as the page moved: “You know Duckwrth?” “Is that Kara?” “I went to school with Queens Delight.”
Beyond proving that six degrees of separation is a valid concept, her photos prove that there is beauty in inner-city America.
She has captured images of children smiling in Chicago and stoic elders in Baltimore. She tells stories of walking into the notorious Nickerson Gardens Projects in Watts, CA, not knowing a soul and coming out of the place with newfound friends.
Britt said, “Every place I go I make it my business to connect with a seed (child) and a family, so I can bring back a portrait of them of the moment I captured.”
She said the response she gets from people seeing themselves on camera is liberating, “I’m giving them acknowledgement that they’ve never gotten — that we’ve never gotten.”
Her goal isn’t just to change the perception of people who think negatively about the urban areas of America, such as the lady on the subway in New York, but also to explore the truths within that negative perception — because there is a lot of crime in our communities.
“We are at war,” she said, as she checked her phone. “I’m going to look you in your eyes,” she put away her phone, and continued, “We are at war because…” She stopped. She held a pregnant pause, as she began to tear up. “It’s a lack of love, a lack of …” She stopped again, and apologized for getting emotional while reflecting on what she has gathered from being a street photographer, or what she calls a “foot soldier in the trenches.”
“At the age of 10 I saw my first dead body,” Britt said, now facing me with squared shoulders. “We are presented with death at such a young age. Before we’re able to start living.”
She began listing some of the elements that are being used against our people in this war: liquor stores, lack of education and the lackluster environment we live in; she pointed out that the colors of most housing projects are the same hue as prison walls.
“It starts in the household, there’s already a war there.” She says, referencing the issue of broken families. “If we want to get deeper, there is a war in the womb because of what we put in our bodies.”
The way she rattled off the list of issues shows that she’s doing more than just taking photos: she’s taking notes. And even with this knowledge of what happens in the inner cities, she says she isn’t scared.
When asked if she ever thought about being robbed, she replied, “I give our people our camera.” She quickly followed by saying that she knows the value of her Cannon 5D Mark II, and losing it isn’t something she’d opt to do. But to even have those thoughts, contradicts her mission, “My mission is to share what I have with my people.”
She’s on her mission. She travels by herself, going from city to city, making friends and documenting the beauty in the midst of the war. And by selling prints online and living off of in-kind donations from supporters, she funds herself.
Before I bussed the empty dishes and concluded our interview building session, I had to ask her about this war. How do we, as a people, emerge victorious?
She sat in another pensive silence and then replied by saying that there is more work to be done, “I’m still in it. We’re still in it.”
'In it' is a great way to describe Britt’s situation.
She’s still traveling and conducting interviews, building and documenting the people of the forgotten cities. She’s also preparing for the release of Monique Morris’ new book, Pushout”, which she shot the cover art for.
And as if that wasn’t enough, Blavity recently posted a picture of hers and it was reposted by Alicia Keys.
She’s definitely in it: the streets, the Internet and now the galleries.
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110 years ago, Black Greek Letter Organizations started as a support system to enable African Americans to survive and advance in institutions they were underrepresented in. Sadly, today underrepresentation is still a reality. Whether in film (Oscars), sports leadership or in Silicon Valley, the percentage of African-American leaders remains low.
A group of three African American entrepreneurs (who happen to be in Greek letter organizations) are seeking to do something about that. Leandrew, Akintunde and Yaw have launched a commerce platform, Hingeto.com, to enable any brand or company to sell product without the risk of inventory.
"Our platform levels the playing field by leveraging customers, Hingeto welcomes a diverse pool of artists and fashion entrepreneurs to grow their businesses without outside capital which they may not have access to. For the month of February we wanted to honor a piece of our history by using our platform to shine a light on a vital part of our community, the Divine 9 (code word for certain Greek Letter Organizations)," says CEO Leandrew Robinson, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha.
So, to celebrate black leaders, check out this list of famous black Americans that are Greek:
... is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha...
... is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi...
...is a member of Phi Beta Sigma...
...is a member of Iota Phi Theta...
...is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha...
...is a member of Delta Sigma Theta...
...is a member of Zeta Phi Beta...
...is a member of Sigma Gamma Rho...
...is a member of Omega Psi Phi...
A company called BlackGreekPride.com is using the Hingeto technology to sell Divine 9-inspired blankets and clothing. You can buy the products featured here and more at blackgreekpride.com, powered by Hingeto. If you have a brand, or are an artist that’s looking for a no-risk way to sell product, e-mail Leandrew@hingeto.com.
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President Obama announced that he’s in favor of altering the Civil Rights Act of 1965 (CRA) to include LGBTQ rights and I don’t think many are surprised. He’s the first president to discuss issues that affect the LGBTQ community in his speeches and the first to appear on the cover of a major LGBTQ publication as ‘Ally of the Year.’ This is great news for a group that has, in the last few years, witnessed policy changes that they fought long and hard for. For many, it means that we’re moving toward a country that further protects diverse groups from discrimination based on sexual orientation and identity in the military, educational institutions and in the workplace.
But there is something missing from his statement of support. Before anything is added to the CRA, the Supreme Court needs to take a closer look at the section they gutted from the historic act in the summer of 2013. Section 5 of the CRA was arguably its most vital part since it called for the Supreme Court to oversee and approve legislation introduced by states with a bad track record of racial injustice. Civil rights activists and social justice advocates are already up in arms about the court’s decision, which came on the cusp of several police killings and other incidents that disproved the court’s majority, whom had argued that the country is much different than it was when the CRA was passed and is obsolete in the current racial climate. If the events that have transpired in this country since Section 5 was invalidated by the court are not taken into consideration when and if the changes Obama proposed are implemented, it would be a slap in the face for those who endured hoses, hounds, jailing, and death in their struggle to see the act passed. It would also dismiss its intended purpose, which was to provide protections for black Americans at the polls and in other areas of life amidst a hostile racial environment.
Since the Senate and House are both ruled by conservatives right now, changes are not likely to take place in the near future. If they do, I hope those protections will be added to a fully restored...
A recent report by Nielsen highlights the dynamic growth of the African American consumer population. The Black community is making huge gains as buyers and this growth covers a large spectrum of things, including population increase, education, diversity within the black community, advancing income and consumption of media. Here are the top 10 things to take from the report.
Nielsen’s recent report, Increasingly Affluent, Educated and Diverse: African-American Consumers –The Untold Story,
1. Population Increase
The African American population is growing faster than non-Hispanics whites across all income segments above $60,000. In fact, Our population grew 35 percent faster than the total population from 2000-2014 and is on the uptrend. According to the U.S Census, by 2060, the black population will increase to 74.5 million people. That would make the African-American community 17.9 percent of the total US population.
2. Education is flourishing
The rate for high-school graduation for black students rose to over 70 percent. That is greater than any other race. College enrollment is also on the rise. Last year the percentage of black high-school graduates enrolled in college increased to 70.9 percent. The community is also making strides in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers, which will help secure income increases.
3. We're Getting Richer
The black household median rose by 3.5 percent within the past three years. The median household income also increased 2.3 percent, which outpaced the income growth for any category. Black households earning $200,000+ outdid the total population by 64 percent with a whopping 138 percent income increase from 2005-2013. The growth in household income is projected to continue.
4. The Black community isn't just about African Americans anymore. It's About the Diaspora
The number of black immigrants has more than quadrupled since 1980. African immigrants are leading the pack with more than a third of the total foreign-born US black population hailing from the continent. The black community is expected to continue to diversify with the US census predicting by 2060, one out of every six black people in the US will be an immigrant. This surge in foreign-born blacks is contributing to the increased incomes for the African American community.
5. We're going back to the South
The Black population is continuing to shif to the southern US. This shift is driving local development, with the most intensive growth in the number of African-American households with over $100,000 annual income.
6. Millennials and Young People Make Up the Majority of our community
The average age of black Americans is 31.4 years. This is younger than the non-Hispanic white population, which is 39, and the total population, which is 36.7. This is very promising for income increases, as there are more opportunities for growth within the black community.
7. We're always online and consuming content
Black adults 18 and over spend 42 percent more time viewing TV, 13 percent more time on PCs, 15 percent more time on smartphones and 4 percent more time listening to the radio than the total population. 91 percent of all African Americans listen to the radio weekly (31 million). Black incomes between $75,000- $100,000 are 51 percent more likely than non-Hispanic whites to listen to an online local radio station and 24 percent more likely to listen to a streaming music service
8. Black Twitter is Real.
African-American-themed shows and characters have strong engagement levels with the overall Twitter TV audience. The show Empire is a huge example of this. The marriage between social media and television has provided a platform to create awareness about the lack of diversity recognition in popular awards shows. An example of this is the power of Black Twitter — that community is so big, the Los Angeles Times even hired someone to focus specifically on that sector.
9. Spending Money In our own community is a priority
As black consumers hit peak earning years and the number of households earning higher income levels increases, the opportunity for retailers to benefit from these higher spending levels will continue to increase. African Americans earning over $100,000 say they will pay extra for a product that is consistent with an image they want to convey.
10. Celebrities and Influencers impact our buying decisions
African Americans making $50,000-$75,000 are 96 percent more likely than their non-Hispanic non-white counterparts to consider purchasing a product that is endorsed by a celebrity. The increased presence of African-American-themed content and programs with at least one black lead actor or actress on the small screen proves to show our voices are being heard.
Such a report is ground-breaking for the African-American community. Our influence and growth are being acknowledged and it is refreshing to see the upward trends. With increasing population to continue, education on the uprising and more diversity within the community, African Americans will be a force to be reckoned with as the years go on.
What did you find most interesting in this survey? Let us know in the comments below. ...
Black Americans have been bitten by the travel bug, and it's not just those old and retired ones who have time and money on their hands who do so anymore. The younger generation have taken to traveling to quench their wanderlust.
If you think about it, traveling before you reach the age of 30 is a great decision. Traveling young widens your perspective and view of the world and plays a big role in shaping the way you will live the rest of your life. So why not travel now before big life decisions (marriage, kids, career, and all that other serious stuff) happen and take away the perfect time and opportunity to do so?
If you're looking for several places to start, here's a bucket list of places you should definitely go to before your time runs out!
1. The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
2. Elmina Castle, Ghana
3. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
4. The Inca Trail to Machu Pichu, Peru
5. Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
6. International Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico
7. Blyde River Canyon and the Panorama Route, South Africa
8. Kruger National Park, South Africa
9. Old Havana, Cuba
10. Jerusalem, Israel
11. Carnival at Trinidad & Tobago
12. Cape Peninsula in Cape Town, South Africa
13. Hanuman's Temple in Jaipur, India
14. Montgomery, Alabama
15. The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri
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