Black women and girls sometimes live, work and grow up in areas that welcome neither our blackness nor our womanhood. But At The Well creates an environment for current 10th and 11th grade black girls to find themselves, each other, and a healing space to discuss their collective experiences.
The premise is simple – provide space and learning opportunities for black girls from all over the country to share their collective experience, to grow as leaders, and then send them back to their communities to make a difference using everything from test prep, to using academic papers on feminism in Beyonce’s Lemonade, to heart-to-heart conversations
The academy started in 2011 with a focus on academics after Rev. Jacqueline Glass, Founder, graduated from Princeton’s seminary program. She was inspired after noticing that her own daughter was gifted, but did not perform well on standardized tests. At The Well quickly evolved over the years to also include a focus on leadership, womanhood and culture. About 50 girls attend the program at Princeton University in July for two weeks every year. The program grew this year, and in 2017, At The Well will also operate at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. Application requirements are listed on the website. The cost of the program is less than similar Ivy League programs, and scholarship options are available.
Blavity spoke with founder Rev. Jacqueline Glass and intern Melissa Lyken from At the Well to learn more.
Blavity: How did this program come about?
Jacqueline Glass: It was started as a mission to give back. We seek to empower young women to become effective leaders globally. We want them to make a difference in their community. They go back and advocate for themselves and their community.
B: Where are the girls coming from?
JG: They are coming from all different spaces. There were more girls from the upper middle class this past academy and one of the reasons is we lost one of our funders. We weren’t able to give the type of scholarships that we’ve given in the past. A lot of energy is going toward fund development so that we can reach the population we originally intended to reach. But we do get girls from all geographic locations and socio-economic backgrounds.
B: Your focus is to also bring together girls who may be the only, or one of very few, black girls in their school to talk about what it’s like to be in that environment and help build some sense of community there. What do the girls share about microagressions in their schools and how do you help them address it?
JG: Some of the girls expressed they’ve never been in a room with so many girls that look like themselves. We give them space to talk about it, to discuss it, to talk about what it is [microagression]. They may not know how to react to it or how to identify it. They may not know how to address it. We give them space to know they aren’t the only one. There is a commonality in their experience.
B: Melissa – you lead some of the heart-to-heart discussions for the girls. Tell me more about what the girls experience in their schools.
Melissa Lyken: They have so much to share with regards to some of the things that their classmates, their teammates and counselors have said to them. A few girls said their counselors outright called them the n-word. They really love the space to sit there and hold each other. Some of the girls are crying and someone will say something similar like that happened to me on my campus.
It’s really difficult when you’re in school and your very identity is being questioned. Your very personhood. It creates a community and a sisterhood that "I’m not alone." And they discuss what they can do about it when they go back to school...These spaces are definitely healing spaces and organizing spaces. We can talk about self-care and how to combat these issues.
B: What do you hope the legacy of this program will be for young girls?
JG: I hope to gather a sisterhood of dynamic girls that we help them believe in themselves and to think more highly in themselves. They don’t always see the promise in themselves that others see. My expectations that they are able to live the lives they envision for themselves. I came across a conversation at lunch three years ago between two girls. They were talking scientifically about how to reduce those cancer cells and that the cancer can be cured. That’s the type of legacy that I want to leave. That they have the space to be who they are. They need to know they are wonderfully and magnificently made.
I also had a chance to talk with Braxton, a high school student in Georgia and a former participant in the At The Well program. Braxton is heavily involved in school. She’s the current student body president, captain of the varsity track team and a member of other academic clubs in school. Braxton is starting a clothing company for women in male-dominated sports and followed up on her experience in the At The Well program by creating a mentorship group for girls at her school.
B: What do you love most about school?
Braxton: With the positions that I'm in, I have the ability to influence change, equality and fun in my community and my school.
B: What made you apply for this program even though you do attend a mostly black high school?
Braxton: I applied to expand my critical thinking. I wanted to learn more about myself and I wanted the chance to expand my thinking about women of color. In school, we only talk about issues that scrape the surface of black people. I wanted to dig deeper, and I got that at At The Well. Even though our demographics are majority black, we still struggle to make sure that everybody’s voice is heard.
B: What was your favorite aspect of this program?
Braxton: We had floor discussions. I learned a lot about myself and things I never imagined learning. Colorism, cultural appropriation, black hair and black love. I was able to share my experiences and we could talk about how we deal with racism and issues. Through this, I was able to connect with the experiences of other dark skinned women like myself. I also learned about things I never imagined enduring like the girls who are the only black person in their schools.
B: How was the work different than what you experience at school?
Braxton: The work they give you at school doesn’t always pertain to you. Like we had to analyze Lemonade. We didn’t mind that we had to read 20 articles that night because it related to us. One of our papers was a list asking us to identify examples of white supremacy. It’s the subtle things. It was mind blowing to me, because I didn’t think about it. It just seemed like stuff that happened every day. We wrote about different people that are like us...that look like us.
B: How did this program inspire you?
Braxton: Through the topics we discussed and learning different things about my history. I started my freshman and senior mentoring program called Black Girls United. There is a mentoring program at my school but it isn’t for people of color. Not purposefully, but that’s just how it is. I was struggling to figure out what we could talk about and what could connect us. At The Well helped me shape my program.
After completing the program, Braxton continues to use her experience to build up her mentoring program. She even won an award from the Steve and Marjorie Harvey Girls Who Rule the World foundation. Check out Braxton’s small business and mentorship program on Instagram @girls.got.game and @Black.Girls.United
Program like At The Well are essential to our community. If you're interested in supporting this program, applying, or finding out more, please visit At The Well or connect with At The Well on Facebook or Twitter .
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After two violent incidents involving LGBTQ students at HBCUs, the Human Rights Campaign launched their Historically Black Colleges and Universities project. The project recruited LGBTQ student leaders on the campus of HBCU's to help advocate for inclusion and fight for social justice on campus. Since its creation the project has partnered with 30 HBCU's to work with staff and the student body regarding LGBTQ inclusion and providing a safe and comfortable environment. This project serves as a flagship program that has grown the conversation around these issues on the campuses of HBCUs.
The project has decided to add to their reach by partnering with the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. This partnership will allow the two groups to establish benchmarks and best practices for HBCUs on inclusion. The HBCU project has worked for the past 11 years to provide an annual summit HBCU leadership summit, trainings to universities and student groups, as well as providing support through an alumni channel of LGBTQ alumni. This partnership merges that work with there work of Penn to dive deeper into creating resources for HBCUs on how to handle inclusion.
The impact of the project is felt on the campuses of HBCUs across the country who have taken the matter of inclusion seriously. Hopefully more join in on the fight to provide support and a safe environment for the LGBTQ community.
The next HBCU leadership summit which brings together student leaders, university administrators, staff and faculty of HBCU's will take place November 10th -13th in Washington D.C. There is still time to apply to be a student leader at the summit. Applications must be submitted by September 26th at midnight.
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In a world where Shonda Rhimes owns Thursday nights, Black Twitter dominates every Game of Thrones conversation and Hermoine Granger is black, CBS has missed the mark.
Every lead actor for each of CBS' six new shows is a white male.
Even in a perfect world, there would be no excuse for this. Yet, here we are, being handed Laverne Cox's role as a regular in Doubt as a remedy for the perpetuation of dominant male whiteness on our TV screens. Similarly, we see Johnny Ray Gil and Nikki M. James in regular roles on CBS' BrainDead this summer, but they are not leads.
CBS Entertainment President Glenn Geller attempted to defend the network's decision when questioned about the lack of diversity at the 2016 TCA press tour. "Look, we need to do better and we know it," Geller said. "In terms of year to year, looking at the leads, we are less diverse than last year." This statement made the issue worse.
Finding black talent isn't akin to rocket science, though many entertainment industry leaders might make it seem so.
If ABC, FOX and NBC could figure it out, why has CBS dropped the ball? This regression in diverse characters really means one thing. For CBS, like many other companies, diversity is only a "priority" when all eyes are on them. It's easy to mask the real issue by putting a non-white face on a screen, which CBS hasn't even bothered to do. Inclusion, however, is the real problem.
In the words of Diversity and Inclusion Consultant Verna Myers, "diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance." Here, CBS has invited Laverne Cox to the party, but she hasn't been asked to dance. Inclusion is the act making diversity a priority by working from the inside out. Inclusion is the act of hiring non-white talent and treating them as regular employees, not diversity trophies. Inclusion is the act of dismantling the systems that keep us out of board rooms simply because we matter.
Had inclusion been the priority for CBS, Cox wouldn't be the only diverse actor at the party.
Geller also addressed this issue on the other side of the spectrum. “We also need to look behind the camera as well,” Geller said. “We haven’t finished filling all of our director slots. We’re getting better and better in our director ranks; over half of our directors are diverse.”
But, what about executives at CBS? Hiring non-white directors is cool, but the real power is wielded by the network. The network sets the priority.
A probe into Geller's team shows that 7 out of the 12 team members are women. However, only one is visibly non-white, and unsurprisingly, that person is Tiffany Smith-Anoa'i, the EVP of diversity, inclusion and communication. How can diversity be such a priority with a minimally diverse team?
Look at the production company behind Issa Rae's upcoming HBO show Insecure. If Issa Rae can make the effort to have a diverse team behind the screen and in front of the screen, this long-standing network can as well.
When Facebook pulled a similar stunt last month, Twitter drank all of its white tears with #FBNoExcuses. The tech company attributed their lack of diversity to a lack of diverse candidates.
Perhaps #CBSNoExcuses will be the next trending topic, because Twitter already isn't having this.
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They tried it. In epic fashion (pun intended), Gap clothing has failed to present their children's clothing line in a way that is diverse, inclusive, and smart. The gorgeous little black girl, Lucy, was there for... what? So that Gap could meet their "coloreds in our clothes" quota? Firstly, the print ad has baby girl in a subservient position, with one of the other girls using her as basically a prop. The commercial is even worse. Watch below:
Notice anything? Lucy never says a word. She is never addressed and there is no cutaway to what she does best. When the statistic came out that black folks have trillion dollar buying power in this country, did companies like Gap think that just haphazardly throwing black people in their ads would make us buy their ware? If the comments under this Youtube video are any indication, nobody is falling for this ridiculously thoughtless effort:
"This video LOOKS off. I don't understand why the person who edited/directed this ad didn't see how odd it looked to have a child not speaking at all through this clip. I'm not going to make it about race/colour but this video is off. Why add the little black girl in the clip if she's not going to speak. She looks like a damn prop." -Moni Que W
"Ellen...really? No alarm went off? You should recognize the pink elephant in the room as you, too, are supposedly a representative of one who has chosen to use your voice to point out the obvious and respect differences. Shame on Gap and this perky, pukey example of "empowerment." I'll teach my little girl otherwise." -SM Minima
"Not one word out of the little girl in pink. And yet, so many people don't see the problem with this. The kid is literally the "token" minority for this ad. The only reason she's there is to prove to the white audiences that "we aren't racist". But black people know what's going on here, we've seen it before, time and time again. This is nothing new. This ad is the definition of CASUAL Racism." -Alyssa M
And the comments go on and on like this. I would say that this is a moment for Black Twitter to drag them, but we have to do more than just spout our outrage in moments like these. While Gap didn't give the lovely Lucy an opportunity to be heard and celebrated equally with the other girls, we can speak up with our dollars. We can shout from the mountaintops how much we adore all of the Lucys around the world whose magic is constantly being stymied. This isn't just about a corporation who isn't culturally competent. It's about the pervasive culture that says black girls in particular don't matter enough to be protected, heard, uplifted, or celebrated. It is the notion that we will readily and consistently accept this without protest. That we'll put clothing labels above self love. That we'll leave Lucy to fend for herself. Through this ad campaign, the message heard around the world by little black girls is that all of our struggle this far has put them in the room... they just can't say anything.
Maaaaaan Lucy, I've got your back, baby girl! Like a black mama coming up to the school to ride on that teacher who is failing or inappropriately punishing her child for no good reason, my head scarf and vast vocabulary are readied at the hip. And for those who would call themselves allies, now is your time to stand up for Lucy as well, and call Gap out by not spending your dollars there. Because we all want to be heard. And Lucy doesn't deserve this.
What are your thoughts on Gap's ad campaign? Will you continue shopping at Gap? Let us know in the comments!
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Last month, teacher and activist Zellie Imani expressed via Twitter his thoughts on freedom — what the idea does and does not look like, its relationship to the state and capitalism, and its links to revolution.
Freedom is not absence of chains or representation in positions of power, its the absence of structures that deny access & power to all.
— zellie (@zellieimani) January 6, 2016
Hierarchal systems of domination & subordination deny our humanity, obstruct our agency & harm our bodies.
— zellie (@zellieimani) January 6, 2016
When I read his tweets, I knew I wanted to write about them, but I also realized that it would take me a while to formulate my thoughts. So I sat with the topic for a minute, let my ideas simmer, and came to the following conclusions:
#WokeTwitter conversations happen with frequency, but Zellie’s thoughts are notable because they highlight an important principle of liberation that is routinely overlooked. Zellie asserts that:
“Freedom is not absence of chains or representation in positions of power, it’s the absence of structures that deny access and power to all.”
It is that last clause, calling for equality of opportunity for everyone, that succinctly expresses how we should, but rarely do, conceptualize freedom. Oftentimes, individuals have passion for attacking disadvantage on one metric, yet are simultaneously complicit in the oppression of others.
We see this pattern of elevating self-liberation over universal freedom when white feminists convene meetings to make sure Jennifer Lawrence is paid as much as her male costars, but are silent about Daniel Holtzclaw, the police officer who was convicted of raping and sexually assaulting eight black women and accused by five more. We see this pattern when white R&B singer Arika Kane (who profits from black artistry but clearly doesn’t understand intersectionality) tweets that Beyoncé divides women because her “Formation” music video celebrates black culture and brings attention to our unique circumstances.
Sorry Bey! I won't be getting in "formation". A true feminist unites, not divides...& chooses to empower, not flaunt their power #arikakane
— Arika Kane™ (@arikakane) February 9, 2016
In these situations, it's clear how mainstream feminism, by placing black women and our needs on the back burner, falls short as a tool for liberation.
Importantly, this trend also exists within racial boundaries. During discussions about police brutality and sexual assault, black men (and even some black women) will vehemently denounce the former but excuse the latter, particularly if the accused perpetrator is a black man. Being a voice for Mike Brown or Tamir Rice while also defending Bill Cosby and R. Kelly is inherently anti-liberation, as evangelizing against one form of oppression but condoning another will never manifest freedom. Centering racism as the primary force of disadvantage that affects black lives while explaining away or ignoring sexual violence against black women is just one example of how selfish notions of liberation taint collective freedom. Real abolition means that the success and protection of black men is not prioritized over the safety and prosperity of black women.
Similarly, to be fully liberated, cis-hetero people cannot advocate for equality on one plane, be it criminal justice system reform or workplace racial and gender diversity, but hate and express discomfort with homosexuality, trans identies or any other identity that does not conform to standardized concepts of personhood.
There can be no exceptions when it comes to equality, because true freedom is without caveat.
To echo Zellie once again — simply moving up the hierarchy while leaving others at the bottom is not freedom.
I see this disconnect, the desire for identity-based and not universal freedom, as the result of a misguided, subconscious aspiration for privilege. By this, I mean that some marginalized people, when thinking about liberation, are really imagining a world in which they experience the benefits that advantage brings. This does not have to be intentionally malicious, but rather it's the likely result of America’s capitalist, prejudiced conditioning. Everyone wants the ability to see the results of their labor, whether that looks like access to wealth, higher education or awards and accolades, but we must remember that these achievements are often part of systems that function on the premise of inequity. Thus, having more, if others unfairly still have less, cannot be the goal or ideal for any marginalized group seeking liberation. Instead, we must strive for a reality without hierarchy, and not one for which our own identities are simply included into the privileged few. Nonexclusive freedom has to be the vision of any liberation-seeking movement, or else it is disingenuous in its mission and complicit in continuing oppression.
Manifesting this reality, however, means that we must all be critical of our woke-ness and vigilant about rejecting the kind of selfish freedom that advances one identity but constrains others. That does not mean being an active member of every social justice group, though it does require that we all ensure that the policies, behaviors and actions we champion open the doors wider for everyone, or at least don't close the door in someone else’s face.
This process is neither easy nor convenient, but I do believe that the end goal makes it worth it.
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Joshua Jackson is a black senior at Brown University studying political science, Africana studies, and Ethnic studies who was faced with elitism after inquiring about a $65 application fee waiver from a prospective graduate program at the Tisch School of the Arts in New York City.
After receiving this deplorable email from Director of Graduate Admission, Dan Sandford, Jackson took to Twitter to express their disdain.
Jackson considered applying to Tisch because they desired to be involved in a graduate school with a "genuine interest in activism, community collaboration and accessibility."
However, Sandford's response left them with the eery feeling that "this program is clearly not meant for us."
Many who took notice of their ordeal offered to pay Jackson's $65 application fee. However, they denied offers, requesting that NYU make a public apology to show "how systemic elitist and classist funding structures make education persistently inaccessible at private universities."
Sandford's response to Jackson reveals a lingering sense of elitism found in the upper echelon of prestigious universities.
Millions of black millennials across the country apply to elite universities in an attempt to better their chances for excelling in their future careers. Plastered across admissions pamphlets and university websites are smiling faces of color, giving many the allure that they, too, can be happy. However, upon arrival, they are greeted with the facade of inclusion and a system of belittlement and classism.
Jackson's experience with the director of Tisch admissions points to a problem of systemic classism and racism, leaving thousands of striving black students with a feeling of isolation because of the lack of cultural competency they are faced with from the administration, faculty, staff, and students at predominantly white...
My friend and I teamed up to make comics about our teacher in the 5th grade. She drew the pictures and I wrote the stories, one of which included said teacher buying a fishnet bodysuit. The comics made people laugh, and from there my love for writing developed. I’ve tried many types of writing over the years, but I’ve always been introspective and empathetic and applying these qualities to poetry was easy for me. That became my main outlet.
Poetry was just a hobby then and I didn’t seek out other poets or teachers for support. I think if I’d built these relationships early on, I wouldn’t feel so unsure and alone in navigating the poetry world now, especially as a black woman. I don’t blame myself for not knowing the exact path I wanted to take in life while in high school, but as a result I use the internet as a top resource as far as finding journals or competitions to enter.
Although helpful, Google is no true mentor. The closest I’ve been to having one was in college at DePaul University in Chicago, where I took several classes with an established, white female poet. She became familiar with my style and gave me recommendations on material that might inspire me, as well as a list of journals that might be interested in my work.
At that time, I wasn’t writing too much about my race. I wrote a lot of feminist work and pieces about my mental health, but I wasn’t bringing much intersectionality to that. I am a biracial woman who was mostly exposed to the white side of my family while growing up. I also have depression and anxiety. These factors influenced how I used to see myself. Multiple aspects of who I was left me feeling like an outsider. I never denied being black, I just wasn’t as in touch with my culture as I am now. In a more diverse setting, I would have realized this sooner.
This is a lesson that the world of poetry must also learn.
Kate Gale wrote an article for Huffington Post that mocked criticism people have had with the organization Associated Writing Programs (AWP), which she edited as an apology but can be read here. In this instance, people of color expressed their reality and a white woman wrote it off as nonsense. With his poem reworking Mike Brown’s autopsy report, Kenneth Goldsmith boiled down a racially motivated murder to just a public document for his own art; he was then delusional enough to declare his reading of black pain and suffering as powerful. A poet I follow on Twitter posted about a journal that published a blatantly Islamophobic poem and then apologized, despite presumably having gone through a thorough process of being read, edited and accepted.
Even this past month, a poem was published in the Best American Poetry anthology 2015 that was written by white poet Michael Derrick Hudson — but only after he changed his pen name to Yi-Fen Chou. Sherman Alexie chose the poem, seeing the name and making an effort to give a fellow POC this opportunity. Some poets have expressed negative feelings about Alexie keeping the poem even after finding out about the deceit, but I would focus more on the fact that this white poet took advantage of people of color trying to include each other in an industry dominated by people of his actual demographic. It’s as if he thought, “Diversity is what’s in now, right? Better make my name more ethnic,” which is even more insulting given that ethnic names on job applications are often a reason the application gets ignored.
If the literary world stopped allowing instances of racial insensitivity to go unchallenged, I don’t think I’d feel such a need for a mentor that looked like me. For me, it can be easy to think the poetry world is evolved beyond instances like these because it’s a craft where you need to see multiple facets of a thing. Unfortunately, that’s naive of me to think.
And truthfully, after realizing the racial microaggressions seemingly ubiquitous in the literary world and seeing justifications from the media of the murder of my people, I believe it’s perfectly understandable to want to trust a Black person with my creative work — my heart — more.
So how can the white members of the poetry world build this trust?
1. Recognize that your ideas about what poetry is and how it’s constructed come from a past dominated by white men and that these things need to be examined and unlearned.
“It’s just the way things are” is a dangerous sentiment.
2. When we speak up, white editors and the like need to actually listen.
We shouldn’t be dismissed as angry for no reason or expected to forget the racism we’ve experienced as if it doesn’t still happen daily.
3. Our poems shouldn’t be set to the side because you feel exasperated at having to read another racial narrative.
Try living it and you’ll know what it means to be fed up. Educate yourselves on what it’s like for minorities to be in white dominated spaces.
These are only a few ways to be an ally to poets of color. Poetry should be about seeing things in new ways through understanding. A poet can’t call themselves such if they only read or write work coming from one viewpoint and young poets like me can’t feel safe in spaces set on continuing to promote that one viewpoint.
A change is necessary because poetry, much like being Black, is most beneficial and withstanding as a community effort. Communities thrive on differences, and such an old form of expression needs to embrace them to stay relevant and alive.
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Our generation is experiencing a movement in which women are challenging restrictive and harmful beauty standards the media enforces upon us. All across social media, we've seen plus-sized girls rocking bathing suits, "average-sized" women claiming Hollywood success, and we've even witnessed a few magazines open up to featuring girls who aren't a size two.
But black women and other women of color do not experience the same openness from audiences to our diverse body types. Just as there are strict beauty standards that white women must conform to in the media, there are even stricter standards that women of color must conform to. The media has been slow to accepting white women of different sizes, but has been even slower to accepting women of color who don't conform to our society's unrealistic ideals of beauty.
For example, let's take a look at the young, successful black women that are popular in the media.
These four women are some of the most popular representatives of black women in the media. However, they are in no way representative of most black women.
Specifically, we allow ourselves to cast Beyoncé as a representation of extreme curviness when her curves are relatively modest compared to the curves some women have. We say Beyoncé is so bootylicious, even though her butt isn't as big as ours or our cousins might be. And please, Beyonce's thighs aren't even that "thick."
If black women are to be in the Hollywood limelight or to grace the covers of various magazines, they are only allowed to either have modest curves or very slender bodies. However, when black women have bigger curves they are deemed “hyper-sexualized” and audiences are blinded by their natural beauty. And black plus-sized actresses' time in the Hollywood spotlight is often short lived or their value overlooked by people who ignore their talent.
So When Will Black Plus-Sized Models and Curvier Black Icons Become a Thing?
As plus-sized models like Tess Holliday slowly get their chance to shine, we must ask when will we finally open the same doors to black, Asian, and Latina plus-sized models? And as actresses like Amy Schumer and Christina Hendricks get a shot at Hollywood success despite not complying to Hollywood's ridiculous beauty standards, we must ask, "where are all the black actress who aren't smaller than a size four?"
Just as it is detrimental to grow up seeing our society devalue black beauty, is also detrimental to not see average or plus-sized women who bear some kind of resemblance to us considered beautiful by the public eye. Seeing white plus-sized models won't satisfy our requests. We need to see black women of diverse body types. The movement to embrace and love our bodies even though we do not comply to society's beauty standards must celebrate all women, including women of color.
Therefore, let's recognize these beautiful women who are challenging beauty standards and make sure they become a bigger part in this movement. Follow these blogs for inspiration and support the beautiful women who run them along the way.
1. Gabi Fresh
2. Fat Shopaholic
3. And I Get Dressed
4. Stylish Curves
5.From The Rez To The City
6. Plus Size Princess
7. Garner Style
8. Luvin' My Curves
9. Everything Curvy and Chic
10. Ivory Jinelle
These beautiful women are living proof that black beauty comes in all different shapes and sizes. So why does mainstream media allow a selected few white plus-sized models to grace the covers of magazines but doesn't offer the same to black plus-sized models? We can do our part to demand inclusion by supporting these women and sharing the great work they do. Some of them collaborate and design clothing lines that actually cater to women of fuller figures, and they all provide all sorts of advice and prove to the world that fuller-figured women are fashionable. These women inspire and uplift us when mainstream media resists black plus-sized beauty icons.
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