Tina and Trina Fletcher are twin sisters who are trailblazing the education policy sector and changing lives while they're at it.
The Fletcher sisters are authors, consultants and motivational speakers motivated to inspire and dedicated to serve. Born and raised in rural Arkansas, the Fletcher sisters have always been determined to positively impact the lives of others, especially youth, women and girls. The Fletcher sisters have spoken at K-12 schools, colleges and universities, businesses, faith and non-profit organizations across the country and globe with the goal of empowering youth and young adults through education, leadership development and their personal story of success. The Fletcher sisters are the Founders of Dream Girls DMV and ARK, an organization focused on the holistic development of women and girls here in the United States and in Africa. The Fletcher sisters have been named IMPACT Leaders of the Month and Top 30 Under 30 by 93.9 WKYS. They are the authors of 10 Steps to Succeeding at ANY College and Surviving High School: A Teen's Guide to Academic and Social Success.
We spoke with the Fletcher sisters about their motivations and commitment to education. Read the interview below for an inspirational conversation around the vitality of education and access for black youth.
Transcription edited for clarity purposes.
Blavity: Will you tell us more about your upbringing and how that influenced your career paths?
Tina: The town that we lived in has just over 850 people. The school in our little town was consolidated so we were actually bussed to the next town over to go to school. We took education very seriously because we are first-generation college students. Our great grandmother had ten children and each of those ten children on average had about three kids, so we come from a very large family. We were the first to go to college since our great uncle in the '70s. We knew we wanted to take advantage of every academic opportunity that came our way because we knew we were setting the stage for everyone that came after us in our family. That's why we are so passionate. Trina is working on her PhD which will be her fourth degree, I have two degrees, and now we see our cousins going to school and choosing to become educated. They see us as role models and look up to us, and we know education is the reason why we were able to do that. So now we are looking to do more work in education because we know that's the answer for a lot of kids who feel like they don’t have the same options to do great things. We know education is the key to so many opportunities.
Trina: I would just add that another key thing is that my mom, being a single parent, she was 8-9 months pregnant with us on her 21st birthday. You're talking about someone who didn't have a lot of support from her family, and when she couldn't get the help she needed with us that made her do whatever it took to make sure we were successful. So even though there were days where she couldn't help us with our homework or she couldn't put us in a tutoring program, she instilled in us to make sure we were going out to get whatever help we needed to get to ensure that we could be successful academically, because she knew that college was the only way we were going to get out of Arkansas. We knew education was extremely important.
B: Tell us more about your organization, Dream Girls ARK and DMV. What I love about the mission is that it's rooted in a holistic approach, tell us more about why that approach was necessary.
Tina: When I was teaching at Anacostia High School, which is the lowest performing high school in Washington D.C., I noticed that as summer approached, a lot of my students didn’t have plans for the summer. No one went to summer camp and no one want on vacation. This was the case for weekends throughout the school year also. I was coaching the cheerleading squad and I had a close relationship with a lot of the female students. Trina and I said why don’t we just take a lot of the girls to a WNBA game? We have a WNBA team here in the city, yet our kids never get to go to games. So we fundraised and pulled together our friends and colleagues and said "Hey, we are going to take these 50 students aged 3 – 18 to this game, can you come with us and chaperone?" The turnout was great, so we ended up hosting two events that summer.
At the end of the summer the parents asked to us to please make it a real thing, because their daughters loved the experience and there was nothing else like it in the city. And so Trina and I ended up finding a great partner in Cora Masters Barry, who is the former first lady of the city, and she allowed us to use the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center to launch our mentoring program. The reason why we wanted to focus on a holistic approach was because we knew it was more than just homework, fitness and mentorship, it was all of this. So we knew that if the girls attended every other Saturday and we didn’t feed them, mentor them, tutor them and allow them to know that it’s okay to exercise, they wouldn't benefit wholly from the program. We knew that our girls had to be exposed two times over. So we created this system in which they were getting all of these things every time they were with us. Some mentoring programs focus on one thing, but we knew our girls needed all of the above. There were girls who were 5 years old, and now they’re in middle school running for student government. We are able to see the work we put into these young ladies, and even our mentors — some of them now are attorneys, and we have to believe that something we did or said impacted their lives.
Trina: In addition to Dream Girls, we began taking on a number of Women’s History Month speaking engagements. I remember having a conversation with students at universities, just talking about women’s empowerment and being able to lean on each other and treat each other with respect in order to be successful in our personal and professional lives, and that’s something we’re very happy that we’ve been able to do.
Tina: Trina and I have been to Senegal training and mentoring women who don’t even speak the same language as us, yet we realized quickly their issues are the same as ours. The messages we share with American girls and women equally resonates with the women and girls we've worked with in East Africa. We have to learn to lean on and trust one another, learning to love each other is really important.
B: I couldn't help but notice that both of you hold positions that put you at the policy-making table. Tell us more about why representation in Education Policy is so important.
Trina: I’m finishing my PhD and I had no intention taking a full time job before finishing, and this amazing opportunity came up to be the K-12 director of NSBE, one of the largest student-run organizations in the country, and one of the largest minority-run non-profit organizations focusing around K-12 and higher education and policy. I often say that I don’t care if young students are going into engineering or not, my top priority is to see them be able to do something with it. I want to see more kids graduating from junior high and high school and going on to college. When I look at the work that I do, with NSBE and with our consulting company, education is the real answer. If you look at the amount of jobs that are being created, the jobs coming down the pipeline with the highest pay, if our children don’t know about these opportunities or know that they don’t have to go to a major university to succeed, they’re not going to pursue it. So we’re going to see jobs being created, cities grow and gentrify, and we’re not even at the table. It doesn’t make sense when the population for people of color is growing the way that it is, yet our kids are not being exposed to the education that they need to be prepared for those jobs. That is a major issue for our country and we don’t talk about it enough. Even in my position having all the control and power I have, there’s still a lot of red tape. So Tina and I decided to start our own consulting company to work directly with school districts, community leaders, major nonprofits, to be able to move the needle even more because there’s so much work that needs to be done.
Tina: I totally agree, Trina is very K-12 focused, as for me as a former high school teacher, I’ve had two former students killed in D.C. and so for me, I look at the impact of inequity in education and how it impacts entire families and our communities. How is our current K-12 education system negatively impacting our communities? We’re graduating students who are not prepared to do anything after high school. I think about how we have to fix education today in order to prevent issues that are coming down the pipeline in the next 10-20 years. We know that education is one of those avenues where we can help strengthen families and communities.
Trina: One of the underlying focuses for us is that we want to be proactive. We want to get underneath issues before major problems can happen. Making sure students in our communities know what opportunities are out there, to having conversations with local community leaders to better understand challenges young people and families are dealing with. So Tina spends a lot of time, as a current elected official in the D.C. area, helping people come together and work in solidarity in order to prevent a lot of the issues we are seeing. That goes back to having this mindset of being proactive. How can we get underneath these issues prior to them instead of being reactive? I do believe fully that there’s more that we can do to be proactive.
Tina: We see ourselves as the middle person, bringing people to the table to have serious conversations saying what are our options, what are our solutions, and how do we do this together? Because yelling at two sides of the room doesn’t get us to a centralized solution for the entire community.
B: How do you fight apathy in the work that you do?
Tina: I was working with the Mayor of D.C. and I was the Director of Community Engagement for a newly-appointed Deputy Mayor working with underserved communities. The Mayor literally said, "I’m going to create a position for the poorest underserved communities in the city." My job was to go out to the most troubled neighborhoods every day. So I was in public housing every week hosting job fairs, hosting roundtable discussions with single mothers, I mean everything you can think of. We were attempting to be innovative and creative, because this work had never been done. Living in a neighborhood that is going through a 100 percent increase in homicides and doing this work every day, it was very taxing. There were days when I wanted to pack my bags and move back to Arkansas. Because I’d rather live on a dirt road and not have to hear sirens than to wake up every day trying to fix a problem that seems like there is no solution, but I decided that running wasn't the answer and that taking it one day at a time would help me focus on what needed to be done. I will say Trina and I use travel to stay motivated, I know that is not an option for everyone, but it is so important to get out of the area you’re from to miss it, and to miss your job. That might be every other weekend, take a trip somewhere, because the pain of the work will take over, but it’s also important for you to remember that the work you’re doing is so important. When I was able to help a returning citizen get a job, I just felt like I won the lottery, because I did the inevitable. That is my advice, make sure you find time to pull yourself away from the work so you can give yourself completely to the work when you’re in it.
Trina: Try to find a way to get on a project where you can see your value added. Whether it is at the end of the day or at the end of the week, you can see where you’re making a difference. One thing that I’m very fortunate to have are effective program evaluations, so I can see how my students are doing after they participate in our program. Even with Dream Girls, even though we knew about all of the issues and challenges, we implemented pre-program and post-program surveys to gauge if we were having an impact. And one thing we made sure to do with our consulting company is that we won’t work on a project or do a speaking engagement without knowing what our impact was, what we did well, what we need to improve on in order to move the needle. So when things aren't perfect, we’re able to learn from it. Regarding self-care, it is so important to have people around you to remind you of why you’re doing what you’re doing, but also people who will help you stay grounded and true to who you are and remind you that you’re human just like everyone else. It’s okay to not be super engaged all the time and just take care of your mind, body and soul. Even though we are in a world where social media and technology are ingrained in our culture, it’s okay to take a step back.
B: Tell us about some of the challenges you went through while starting your own consulting firm. What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
Trina: My advice is do not allow fear to get in the way of you following your dreams. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, network with your mentors, relationships are so important. Money and fear were both major challenges for us. Fear still gets to us. I would encourage people to be fearless, work hard, connect with people and don’t be afraid to ask for help. I would challenge young people to push forward.
Tina: We were lucky. We got into doing this because there was a yearly conference I attended each year while in undergrad. One year, I asked Trina if she would mind going to the conference as workshop hosts. She agreed and so we were first-year graduate students presenting workshops at the SBSLC conference. From there, people started inviting us to their college. It was strange because we were 23 years old going to colleges and speaking to 21-year-olds about resume building. We just kept going and stayed ambitious. We were fearless. As young black professionals and women of color, as we started climbing the ladder in our professional positions, we faced challenges that made us question our ability and skills because of what’s going on at work. On the side, we are our own bosses — we're doing great and making our own money, so why are we allowing these people in our professional jobs to make us feel less than adequate?
This is such a huge conversation that we need to have with young professionals. One piece of advice, whatever your goal is, is to prepare properly while you’re in college. A lot of young people unintentionally ruin their chances of becoming financially independent because of financial decisions they make in college. There are people leaving undergrad with $50-60 thousand in undergrad debt. Much of which they didn’t need. A lot of debt prevents you from being able to quit your job. Fear will stop you from doing everything. You can’t have fear but you have to properly prepare. Set yourself up for success. Start investing in yourself. Properly prepare as early as possible so you can have the life you want.
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Airbnb has been heralded as a brilliant startup for its success in revolutionizing short and long term lodging and disrupting markets worldwide. However, the company's insurmountable success has also been met with numerous amounts of criticism, particularly for the amount of discrimination that occurs on the platform. After Gregory Selden's case, the hashtag, #airbnbwhileblack, and a Harvard study that proved African Americans are less likely to receive bookings on Airbnb, the company realized they had not taken racism and discrimination into account when designing the product.
In order to address the issue, Airbnb has crafted a new anti-discrimination report. Laura Murphy, former director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office, who spearheaded a comprehensive review of Airbnb, states, "Airbnb is putting in place powerful systemic changes to greatly reduce the opportunity for hosts and guests to engage in conscious or unconscious discriminatory conduct."
The 32-page report is made up of eight key changes they plan to implement immediately:
1. The Airbnb community commitment
2. Enforcing the rules, supporting our community
3. Open doors
4. Fighting bias and bringing people together
5. One million instant book listings
6. Going beyond photos
7. A permanent full-time team of engineers to fight bias and promote diversity
8. A diverse workforce, a diverse community
To craft this Anti-Discrimination policy, Airbnb hired former Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder. Holder was the first black Federal Attorney General, the first black Attorney General of D.C., and a pioneer for racial justice throughout his career. Blavity sat down with Holder to discuss his decision to join Airbnb, users' apprehensions about the policy, and his thoughts on the post-election racial climate of the United States.
Holder and I began our discussion around the vitality of addressing and acknowledging discrimination. He emphasized Airbnb's commitment to understand and engage with the problem of discrimination, "I think that given our history we have become experts at avoiding issues that involve race. But I have to tell you, from the first time that I spoke to the folks at Airbnb they demonstrated a willingness to have what are uncomfortable but absolutely necessary conversations about why the issues they were dealing with arose. They were interested in solving the problem and not finding out a way to respond to public criticism."
Furthermore, he elaborated on why he thinks Airbnb is ahead of the curve when it comes to anti-discrimination policies, "The company spoke with and engaged members of the advocacy community and leaders of other diverse organizations. They connected with hosts and guests who had experienced discrimination on the platform to understand how they were impacted, and how the company could support them. These conversations I think were critical for the company to understand the experiences of marginalized communities and individuals. It’s the kind of the thing that we as a nation don’t do frequently enough, these are hard questions and hard conversations, but this is a company that was willing to do that, and it drew me to them. Through the process that I engaged in, I’ve been impressed."
Although Holder is impressed by the policy, many believe the company is not doing enough to prevent unconscious bias. The Harvard study that brought these issues to light emphasized "distinctively African-American names" as a key variable resulting in discrimination, yet there has been no suggestion in their new policy to eliminate names from the pre-booking process (although there is an effort to limit the use of photos). When asked about whether or not Airbnb considered limiting the use of names, Holder said the following:
"This was a question I wrestled with and that we wrestled with this as a group as well. The sharing economy is based on peer-to-peer interaction. The place that we all came from, is that, you shouldn’t have to hide who you are. The most important peer-to-peer interaction is that initial conversation between a host and a guest and that builds the required trust that’s necessary for a host to welcome a guest into their home. I came to believe that in addition to not having to hide who you are, that this anonymity could prevent that trust building conversation from taking place. The company came to this same conclusion after launching a really comprehensive review of the platform. As I said, Laura Murphy who I’ve known for a good number of years, she and I started in the same place and I think after conversations we all ended up at the same place. You have to preserve that first interaction, but at the same time protecting the community from discrimination. The company has developed a number of guardrails to ensure that users are protected when they use the platform. The anti-discrimination policy is the first line of defense, and anyone who wants to use the platform has to adhere to the policy. We’ve also tried to make it easier to report instances of potential discrimination. Users can flag things that they see, they can report discrimination directly. There’s a new open-door policy where users who are discriminated against will be re-booked. Especially with the formation of this anti-discrimination [product] team which is made up of engineers and data scientists. They’re experimenting with ways they can decrease the chances of bias entering the community by using metrics, numbers, and algorithms. They’re going to be using tools to reduce the chance of bias and discrimination, this has been an all hands effort using all the tools that were available to Airbnb."
Although Airbnb is receiving praise for its inclusive efforts, it's important to take into account that addressing discrimination is frankly the smarter thing to do from a profit perspective. Millennials of color make up a large consumer base of the sharing economy that often goes untapped when they are excluded and discriminated against. Holder agreed with this and elaborated by stating, "I think this is a really important point, and I hope this point will not be lost on the American business community. What Airbnb is doing is the right thing socially, the right thing morally, I believe, but there’s also a positive economic consequence to adopting these policies. Millennials are really diverse, driven, outspoken. I am the father of three millennials, trust me. These are outspoken young people who have a sense of themselves and their expectations. There’s a study that we looked at that showed 74% of millennials support the sharing economy, and of them, millennials who were aware of Airbnb 84% have a favorable opinion of them. I want to recognize how important millennials are to this business and it is taking all the steps to ensure the platform is safe and reliable for this diverse community."
He goes on to mention, "the mission of Airbnb is to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere. If you think about that, and the barriers that knocks down, It’s hard to demonize someone you know, it’s hard to demonize a group that you had interaction with. If you think about that, especially at this time in our history, think about how important that is, in terms of interaction in this country and how this country will interact with other nations around the world. I think millennials, undoubtedly, are going to play a huge part in helping this company reach what I think is a lofty but attainable goal. I think this company, and I’m not just saying this, but I think this company can really lead the way to understanding in parts of the world where that is so sorely needed."
Although it has been made clear that there will be an effort to implement a zero tolerance policy around instances of discrimination, a major concern for victims of discrimination who use Airbnb is the private arbitration process. Arbitration has been investigated by The New York Times, and with specific regards to Airbnb, highlighted in The New Yorker. Arbitration clauses are normally found in Terms of Service agreements, and essentially eliminate a user's ability to sue a company. Selden's lawyer, Ikechukwu Emejuru, stated the following "by placing Mr. Selden’s claims into arbitration, a consumer’s constitutional right to a jury trial and access to the courts of law continues to be whittled down gradually but surely."
When asked about reassurances the company can provide regarding the skepticism users have around Airbnb’s commitment both arbitration and to enforcing anti-discrimination policies, Nick Papas, Airbnb's global spokesperson, told Blavity: "we’ve found that arbitration is an effective way to resolve many issues. More importantly, we want to focus on how we can stop problems before they start. Our goal is to help prevent discrimination from happening in the first place. We think our policy changes will help achieve that goal and guests also retain the ability to take action against hosts if they believe that’s necessary. "
In the larger scheme of things, I expressed to Holder that conversations around race and tackling discrimination begin to feel elusive during such an overtly racist period in our history, he shared the following words of wisdom and comfort:
"Now is exactly the time to have conversations around race, ethnicity, religion, all of the things that were used to divide us as a nation, during what was an awful campaign, are the things now that people of good will have to talk about, we have to heal as a nation. I think I would say that if you see someone in your community who is down, be their keeper, support them, uplift them. There is strength in the bonds of community. This is a nation that has faced great obstacles in the past. African Americans have endured slavery, Jim Crow, and we as a group endured because even under those trying circumstances, we as a community maintained. That’s what we as a nation have to do now. For your audience, primarily millennials, you’re the generation that is soon going to control this country, you’re the future, and you’re crucial to the future of this country. I think your generation has the power to effect change and heal through non-traditional platforms like social media, but also not to forget traditional ones like community organizing. In the future, millennials are going to be at the forefront at all of our social advocacy conversations and you all will drive new movements. I think having a sense of history, what we’ve overcome in the past, even when we seem to be in a pretty dark place, I think we should understand we control our future. You millennials have a special responsibility, and a special ability to shape that future. No matter what challenges, this community or our country faces, the most important thing to remember is to never quit. Change can’t happen without the agitators of the next generation, without those people who John Lewis said we're prepared to 'make good trouble.' People will try to stop you, but if you focus on the arc that we always want to be on, we can stay on that arc of progress. We have to understand that it may bend toward justice, but not on its own. It bends toward justice because people, in your generation, are pulling on that arc toward justice. It happens as a result of commitment, perseverance, and an understanding that there are going to be detours, but I’m confident, I have faith in your generation that we’ll take this country to a good place. And I hope this Airbnb experience will be one that will help in that regard."
What are your thoughts on Airbnb's anti-discrimination policy? Share in the comments below.
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Wednesday morning writer and genius grant recipient, Ta-Nehisi Coates was scheduled to be the opening keynote speaker at Hubspot’s #INBOUND16 Marketing Conference. The Between The World and Me author understandably went off script to address the national embarrassment that occurred last night when America decided to elect a fascist Cheeto into office.
“Why can we be in a situation where eight years after so much euphoria, we can find ourselves faced with a mortal threat. Not just to black people, not just to the country, but the whole world. 2016 wasn’t the first time we faced a threat like this. It was the idea of WHITENESS that ultimately brought the country to Civil War in 1860.”
Watch the full address below:
Watch on #Periscope: Ta-Nehisi Coates https://t.co/GRE7fwKlAG
— Taylor Stayton (@TayTayStayt) November 9, 2016
Of course, many of the white people in the audience were offended and uncomfortable by this dialogue. How dare Ta-Nehisi interrupt their thousand-dollar conference and bubble of privilege to talk about race and politics, right?
Ta-Nehisi Coates is outlining the racism against Barack Obama and linking it to Donald Trump. #inbound16 is not the place for this
— jrs76 (@jrs76) November 9, 2016
We did not come to hear your political view of the election! Get on with it Ta-Nehisi Coates. #INBOUND16
— Ashley Buehnerkemper (@ashleybuehn) November 9, 2016
@inbound. Didn't come here to listen to political opinions. Very disappointed in Coates! Seriously make it stop!!!!!!!
— TamraSue (@TamraRanard) November 9, 2016
trump supporter complaining loudly in a session at #INBOUND16 about Ta-Nehisi Coates' talk... I'm proud of @HubSpot for demo'ing boldness!
— Jamie Cartwright (@Cart_writing) November 9, 2016
Cannot believe how many people are denouncing that amazing keynote by Ta-Nehisi Coates on the #INBOUND16 hashtag and walking out.
— Hayley Thayer (@hayleythayer) November 9, 2016
The great irony here is that Coates' keynote address was originally supposed to address education, yet, here he was educating white people on their ignorance and people were walking out. What’s also puzzling is trying to figure out what people thought was going to happen after electing someone like Donald Trump. Did they think one of the most prolific writers of our time was going to walk into a marketing conference the next day and talk about SEO optimization and targeted marketing? No, Tanner. You don’t get to put the lives of millions of minorities at risk and then walk around the next day as if it’s business as usual.
Like Coates said, “We’re all endangered by this.”
What Ta-Nehisi Coates did today should teach us that if you have a platform, use it. If you have a voice, speak out. Especially if you're speaking to a diverse audience. Because what we have learned from this election is that we have been far too insulated in our tightly-knit networks to realize that the nation isn’t as progressive as we hoped it to be. We’ve been preaching to the choir, and we need to be preaching at Dave’s next investment Seminar.
So yeah, it’s going to take Ta-nehisi giving a group of white people a history lesson on slavery in the middle of a digital marketing conference to get the point across, but we really have no options left. This isn’t about taking on the responsibility of educating white people. The polls proved that people are either hopelessly ignorant, or willfully hateful. Disrupting “business as usual” might get across to the hopelessly ignorant. As for the willfully hateful? Don’t worry. Your day of reckoning is coming sooner than you think. This ain’t the 1950s, and we are not our grandparents. Try us if you want.
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Find out more about the powerful film via the documentary's description on YouTube, and find out more on their website:
"Rekia Boyd was only 22 when she was killed. An off-duty police officer named Dante Servin fired five shots and one of the bullets struck Boyd in the head. She was unarmed.
When he was questioned, Servin told investigators that Boyd's friend pointed a gun at him, and that he fired in self-defense. But the gun that Servin says he saw was never recovered. Boyd's friend Antonio Cross said he actually had a mobile phone in his hand.
But Servin told Fault Lines that it doesn't matter if it was a cellphone or a gun - it was pointed at him and he believed in that moment that he was being threatened. That's all that was important.
Three years later, in 2015, Servin was charged with involuntary manslaughter, but cleared of all charges the same year. Judge Dennis Porter ruled that Servin was tried for the wrong crime. He suggested that a murder charge would have been more appropriate.
In the US, black women are being killed by police at a rate of one a month. One in four are unarmed. Their stories have often gone untold.
"People don't care about black women, they just don't. We're in the way in the case of Rekia Boyd. We're angry black women. Or we're just too angry and too black and too womanly in the case of Sandra Bland. We're either too x or we're invisible," says Page May, teacher and organiser of Assata's Daughters, a nonprofit organisation for young black women in Chicago
"At best we're taken for granted, at worst we're abused. And we see the manifestation of that on the mainstream, in the erasure of our deaths, our suffering, and of our resistance," she adds.
Months after Dante Servin's trial ended, an explosive video was released to the public: It showed a Chicago police officer shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald - 16 times. The shooting led to widespread protests and the eventual removal of Chicago's police chief and the state's attorney.
While the city reeled from this scandal, police shot and killed a black woman in the doorway of her home. Bettie Jones was 55 - a mother of five, and a grandmother of nine.
"They don't talk about women that much when they get killed by the police. They barely talk about women. Why is that? It's crazy because you see that even in death women play the second role," Martinez Sutton, Boyd's brother says.
Fault Lines investigates the lesser-known stories of black women who have fallen victim to police violence in the US and ask why black women are left out of the conversation on police brutality."
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We love diversity, but it's not always represented in our mainstream mediums. “United we stand” is a popular American slogan that we hear quite often, but we don’t always finish the quote… “Divided we fall.”
Here at Blavity, we collaborate with all kinds of content creators from different backgrounds. We believe everyone’s experience is unique and everyone has a story to tell. We are black and do not apologize for it, but we also identify ourselves as American.
We asked the Creative Society to challenge the status quo and share all the reasons why we are America too.
Valerie Robinson (@unapologetic_us)
I am America too because this nation has been built off the backs of my ancestors. Hard work is engrained in our roots and we can rewrite the ending to our own stories. My contributions to society will one day create a legacy that will span generations as I make it a priority to revisit often what gems I wish to leave here on this earth and tackle generational curses. Although we are standing on the shoulders of giants, it is important to do our parts and not waste any of our God-given talents and the opportunities afforded to us. “The time is always right to do what is right.” I don’t take any of that, the paved paths or my unique voice for granted. If nothing else, I strive everyday to leave things BETTER than they were the day before.
“There is no such thing as I can’t, only I won’t… and that is unacceptable” - Anonymous
Rhonna Wade (@rhonnawade)
I am America too because my family came to America looking for the same opportunities others' families did. I know I am more than capable and able to contribute to the bettering of the society as a whole and I cannot not let those who are afraid of change stop me.
“We may not have it all together but together we have it all.” - Anonymous
Thomas C. Knox (@datewhileyouwait)
I am America too based on the Constitution and my freedom of speech. I am able to develop my own American dream, giving me the ability to reconstruct the values it’s built on. I can speak freely and create a journey that allows me to challenge right from wrong, which gives me the opportunity to inspire and encourage future generations to continue the work that those before us have done to build a unified nation.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” - Gandhi
Georgette Pierre (@georgette)
I am America too because my siblings and I were able to live better lives due to the sacrifices my parents made moving to this country. I’m able to do things and live things my parents never imagined possible or knew existed. For that, I am mindful of the mark that I leave on this world by seeking to live my purpose, doing my best to empower and speak up for those that may feel discriminated against. Also acknowledging my ancestors that came before me to make this life possible for myself and others.
“There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do.” - Freya Star
Brandon E. Miller (@thatguybmills)
I am America too because my ancestors are firmly rooted in the foundation that supports America. Like vines, my family’s contributions are woven into the history that defines America. And I, like you, continue to plant the seeds that once cultivated, will feed tomorrow’s America. I have faith that the American Dream will be what it used to be; regardless of what we look like, where we come from, how we think or how we live.
“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” – Anonymous
Alicia Davis (@cubiclesandcurls)
I am America too because my parents came to this country for a better life and to give me more opportunities. I've worked hard to get everything I have and then some -- a good education, a job I enjoy and extra satisfaction from side endeavors. My history is American history and my struggle was born and can only be addressed by America.
“Think globally, act locally” - Patrick Geddes
Jon Lowe (@jlowe594)
I am America too because I was born and raised here, but it goes beyond that. Being American is not just about your document papers, but more about how you live your life, how you fight for equal rights, how you contribute to making this country greater, and how you vote to secure our country’s future. I am an American, but I am also an African-American.
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” - Mark Twain
I am America too because I was raised in the burbs, went to a high school that was less than 1% black, attended 99% black HBCU Morehouse College, went to Stanford University for grad school, love hip hop, folk music, alternative rock, and R&B, play basketball and acoustic guitar, and often ask what IPA the local bars have on tap. I am unapologetically black, and a complex fusion of cultures and diverse experiences that are uniquely American. I am America because I am diversity and diversity makes America what it is.
Quote: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” - Matthew 6:33
Nic (@niktrition + @thefleektox)
I am America too because I embrace that America is all that is the Western Hemisphere; cognizant that this expands beyond the boundaries of what has been established as the United States of America. Being American is not about boundaries and limitations, but about enlightenment formed through the experience of globalization. The same globalization that warranted its founding and continues to emancipate those shackled by limited opportunity and rights. I am America too.
“Think Globally, Act Locally” - Patrick Geddes
Marqueeda LaStar (@lastargotnext)
I am America too because we are a nation of individuals that love our communities and ride for our chosen tribes. We champion our freedom to live as we choose. To be both bold and darling. To never stop reaching, growing or evolving. We live enriched lives due to these choices, challenges, tireless dedication to self-improvement, building a better tomorrow and the resulting diversity of expression. Our differences compliment our common ground. In Tim Curry fashion, I ask, What is light without darkness? I live to completely realize and help others embrace the untapped power and potential that lies within our differences. I love my weird and yours.
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” -Audre Lorde
So... What does America mean to YOU?
Spread the word. Post your own self-portrait on Twitter or Instagram and tell us why YOU are America too. Make sure to tag @Blavity using the hashtag #IAmAmericaToo.
Learn more about the Creative Society.
Talk more about this with us on Thursday, November 3rd at 12pm PT | 3pm ET on Twitter.
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Exploring your identity is one of the most essential components to being content with yourself. There are a variety of ways to embrace one's identities, whether they be on a personal or national level. American Stanzas: 2006-2016 with Rachel Eliza Griffiths, a poetry exhibition exploring just that, opens Friday at Poets House in New York.
The project explores how race, activism and art itself intersect, subjects that couldn't be more timely. She explores various black identities and the spaces they live within.
American Stanzas consists of mixed media work, video and even Griffith's Cave Canem fellowship portraits from the past decade. Some poets featured include Amiri Baraka, Toi Derricotte, Carl Phillips, Mahogany Browne, Morgan Parker, Terrance Hayes and more.
Rachel Eliza Griffiths, the artist behind the exhibit, has work featured in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. She's Brooklyn-based and focuses on both poetry and visual art. And Poets House is a poetry library that's open to the public 5-days-a-week, hosting poetry events, craft talks, master classes, community workshops and more.
Whether you want inspiration or just want to celebrate being black in America through art appreciation, grab a friend and check out the exhibit between now and Feb. 18, 2017. Support black art!
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In school and in the newsroom, journalists are always taught to eliminate bias from stories. We're told we can’t have an opinion, or that our opinion should not be apparent in our writing. That is good advice for a few reasons: one, readers are a journalist’s currency/validation. If we run our readers away because of our strong opinions, we've lost our credibility as journalists (or at least that’s what they say). Two: it's our job to report the news and let the readers form an opinion.
Many journalists say they abide by those rules and claim they aren’t biased. But I think keeping your opinion out of your own stories wouldn’t be human. To pretend you don’t have an opinion would be lying to readers, and lying to yourself.
As a black journalist, I find these rules even more problematic. When black men get shot by white police, I can’t have an opinion. When black women are abused by white police, I can’t retweet on Twitter or share my feelings on Facebook. No, I don’t expect to be able to rant and rave on social media platforms—because that is neither helpful to the issue nor professional—but I do believe I should be able to express my opinion in an honest, tactful way.
Though black journalists can't express their opinions with the public, they're expected to report on the issue. This is especially true if they're one of the few black journalists in the newsroom (which is often, but that’s another story for another day). Black journalists are expected to go into interviews with sources as if they're neutral, as if the violence against black bodies doesn’t bother them.
This turns into a conflict of personal identity. When working as a journalist, one is expected to first look at themselves as such. One's race, gender, sexual orientation and other ways they might identify come second—and most of the time the rest of their identities might not matter at all. As journalists, they're expected to put their job title first and push every other identifier to the side.
The problem with this expectation is: I am a black journalist. I can't separate my blackness from my work, as I'm usually expected to. I can't separate my blackness from any part of me because, if we’re being honest, I am black first and everything else follows. When I'm in the field, I'm not looked at as just a reporter, I'm looked at as the black reporter. When I'm searching for a job, I'm not just a job candidate, I'm the black job candidate.
So when it's time to approach a story of black tragedy, which is often, I should be able to express my opinion—whether it be through a column, a commentary, a Facebook post, a Tweet or an Instagram post. I should be able to express my agreement with Colin Kaepernick through my stories. I should be able to let readers know how outraged I am about the courts thinking that Sandra Bland’s $1.9 million settlement is justice. After reading my stories, I want readers to know what side I lean toward and who/what I am standing by.
I am not just a journalist. When other races look at me, they first see my blackness, not my journalistic skills or stories or accomplishments. So, as the world of journalism and media is evolving, the rules should do the same. Let’s allow journalists to be honest, and human, first. Let’s allow black journalists to be just that—black.
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If you thought the unprecedented levels of political pettiness were reserved for this circus of a presidential race, you would be wrong. Jon Girodes, Republican candidate for New York's 30th District, has taken the nonsense to new lows by vowing to hand out “Kool Aid, KFC and watermelons” to residents of a black neighborhood at a campaign event. Yep, you read it right.
In an email with NBC 4 New York regarding a completely unrelated story, Girodes included the following postscript invitation to a community event: "Ps I'm hosting an event in Harlem which will be in front of the state building in a few weeks. We will [donate] Kool Aid, KFC and watermelons to the public on 125th street in Harlem. Please join us to help the community.” In a true boss move, NBC 4 New York's I-Team took to the streets to share Girodes' comments and gather feedback from local passers-by. The reactions were epic.
When told of the politicians intentions to donate these racially stereotypical items to the neighborhood, local resident Jet Lintheylyrcil responded, "And we're going to donate various foots in his ass." When called to the carpet by the I-Team for his offensive pledge, Girodes defended his remarks saying, "Get a bunch of people who say it’s offensive and let me go into their neighborhood and give it out for free and see if they take it."
After his controversial comments and amidst an investigation by the news team into his allegedly suspect real estate dealings, Girodes' campaign website and social media pages were taken down. A senior GOP representative told the I-Team, “We are not supporting him. He’s not a real candidate.”
We can't make this stuff up, ya'll. Take a look at the full news broadcast here.
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For most of my life, I've been an avid lover of hip-hop.
More specifically, the rhetoric behind the trap music sub-genre has reverberated many of my own mantras. Yes, I am a feminist and no, I am not a drug dealer. However, the culture is much deeper than what meets the eye and ear at the surface.
Trap music speaks to those of us who were not afforded the luxury of being born with a silver spoon in our mouths, yet so desperately craved to make something else shake. It offers hope to those seeking to escape the symptoms of sociological, psychological and economic marginalization while allowing us to practice self-expression — as that's often the only thing we truly have ownership over.
From the super chill rhythm, melodic hook and whimsical wordplay to the moody percussion, trap music plays a supporting role in the black free-thinker’s ascension to freedom, fame and financial stability. Growing up in the United States’ thousands of inner cities, public housing projects, wards or boroughs once provided ample room for aspiring to achieve something ‘higher’ than their familiar socioeconomic strata. However, once gentrification comes into play, it becomes a whole new song.
Trap artists openly speak about past struggles while on the come up, attributing much of their success to the neighborhoods they were raised in. Now, many popular zip codes have become grounds for what policy makers call "urban rehabilitation." An area that was created to keep ex-slaves away from the non-black, property-owning population now houses high-rise condominiums, a Starbucks and a yoga studio.
I’ve lived in and visited many major cities in the U.S., witnessing firsthand the rapid growth of gentrification. Social polarization is the very foundation from which trap music arose; now the genre’s artists and fans have nothing to truly call home. I listen to my favorite artists proclaim their love for a neighborhood that was, at one point in time, a glorious Mecca for black culture.
Any sign of an Afrocentric population that learned to make do with the socio-economic margins that they were dealt by the U.S. government is deteriorating faster than our decades-long neglected apartment complexes. Spatial restructuring is forcing minority people and small black-owned business owners out of the very neighborhoods we helped build. As if the appropriation of our culture was not enough, the exploitation of our community epicenters is yet another thing stolen from the grip of underprivileged minority communities in America. What I can hope, as a lover of hip-hop and trap music, is that the artists and fans come together to keep the movement alive—despite the constant attempts of cultural disenfranchisement.
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