Online Workshop:  Using Media For Social Justice

In an unprecedented partnership between two educational organizations that believe student led classrooms are crucial in actively engaging students using a social-emotional learning approach, Bank Street College of Education and Scenarios USA have collaborated to present a four week online workshop titled: Using Media for Social Justice. Beginning February 24-March 20, 2015, this workshop will feature Scenarios USA films, curricula, activities, and utilize Bank Street’s world renowned online learning environment for a dynamic course for educators! Successful completion of the course results in 2 CEUs for participants.bankstreet finalFINAL copy


Registration instructions are below:

2. click register online at center of page
3. find #24 “Using Media for Social Justice”
4. click “enroll” the blue button to the right of the workshop with the price
5. go to the top of the page and click “checkout”
6. select “i will pay the total” from the drop down menu below the grid
7. to get a discounted fee of $275, type in the coupon code “susa1″ and click “add” (late fee will be waived)
8. complete the information requested (i.e. address, name)
9. click “continue”
10. complete information requested (i.e. address, name, payment)
11. click “continue”
12. You are registered!

It’s a New Year and We Have a New Look

Illustration by Vin Ganapathy

Last year was a big, ugly year. We felt angry that the deaths of black people went unpunished, that survivors of sexual violence were told they were lying, or worse, didn’t matter. Consenting people were told time and again that who and how they loved was disgusting. It was a year that forced us to realize that, for all the “progress” we’ve made, we maybe haven’t gotten all that far. We went to theaters to see a movie about events that happened fifty years ago and saw something that looked eerily relevant.

As we re-launch our new streamlined website with a focus on narrative voices, art and film for, by and about underrepresented youth in America, we bear in mind the struggle for social justice endured last year, but we also move forward with the next year in front of us. And we shine the focus on young people, because they are the ones who know what’s happening first, who are the changemakers, and who continue to fight the decades-old fight for social justice in new and unprecedented ways: harnessing the power of countless voices to help Nicole Maines win her fight against her school system or building movements like #blacklivesmatter and got people to listen.

But if there’s nothing else that 2014 taught us, it’s that the fight for equal rights is constant, complicated and nuanced with individual stories and struggles. It’s part of every day and every part of our lives. It’s calling out people you love for saying “that’s so gay”. It’s asking why mainstream media continues to ignore the notion of fully-realized characters of color, and why universities aren’t doing more about on-campus sexual assault.

So as we look forward into 2015 and beyond, we want to make the new a space where we’re going to keep talking. That’s what we do. We amplify youth voices, we fight for social justice, we make movies, and we keep talking. And we’re going to hear from all kinds of people within that dialog—filmmakers, writers, millennials (in all their history-making diversity as a generation)—and, of course, from young people. Welcome, have a look, stick around and stay tuned.

Through a Different Lens: This is How I See Me.

Throughout December, we introduced you to 3 remarkable teenagers. They shared who they are, they told stories about feeling invisible, and they spoke of the need to quiet the noise around them.

At Scenarios, our work creates a space for young people to be supported as they figure out who they are. We do our work in schools, out of schools and online. And when the young people are ready to speak and to lead, we give them the space to do so — loudly and authentically.


In 2015, Scenarios continues to listen and learn from young people with these featured projects:

STORIES – Our new website will be the space for millennials and influencers to be who they are and to share their vision. It will be lived, not told. Experienced, not observed. Site launches in February.

FILM – 3 youth-written, Hollywood-produced films on issues teens define as critical to their world are in production and will premiere on TV, online and on mobile devices together with youth-led advocacy campaigns. Films premiere in May.

EDUCATION – Our standards-based and arts-infused curriculum will be build around the 3 films we’re making now with teens. Our education cycle will roll into schools in Fall, 2015.

Make your 2014 contribution to Scenarios by December 31st and NBCUniversal and an anonymous donor will match your 100% tax deductible gift, dollar-for-dollar. Your donation matters.

Thank you for being our partner in education and promoting youth voice.

Here’s to a productive, transformative, healthy 2015,


Through a Different Lens: Morriah

This is how you see me:
Walking down the streets of New York, people see me and forget me. Strangers see a girl who is tall and has short brown hair, brown skin, and is a little bit curvy and maybe depending on what I’m wearing, people judge my social class too.


Morriah Lisowksi, 17, Brooklyn, NY

This is how I see me:
I fight for what I stand for and stand by what I think is right. I’m a girl, and I’m strong, my appearance accounts for a small percentage of who I am.



In 2015, our three new youth-written films will become part of the next Scenarios curriculum, amplifying their messages and helping hundreds of thousands of young people to see their lives through a different lens.


Until December 31st, NBCUniversal and an anonymous donor will match your 100% tax deductible gift to Scenarios, dollar-for-dollar. Your donation matters.

Through A Different Lens: Fatimata

Fatimata Sylla, 17, Bronx, NY      
This is how you see me:
The world sees me as a happy and energetic, but reserved girl. The world sees me as someone who is shy.

This is how I see me:

I see myself as someone who is strong. After my father was killed we moved to the United States from our home of Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Even though I miss him, as the oldest child, I stay strong for my mother and my brothers.


 Support Scenarios Youth Programs Here.


Fatimata participated in the Scenarios curriculum about Place & Power in her high school English class, and is now part of the Scenarios Media Corps, a group of youth working to create a digital campaign for our NYC film that addresses intimate partner violence. At Scenarios, we work side by side with young people to provide them with the analytical skills to connect knowledge with their lived experiences and the world around them. This holiday season, support the perspectives of young people like Fatimata by bringing Scenarios’ films and curricula to classrooms across the country.


Until December 31st, NBCUniversal and an anonymous donor will match your 100% tax deductible gift to Scenarios, dollar-for-dollar. Your donation matters. 

Scenarios USA Roundup of the 10 Most Important Reads on Ferguson

Last night a grand jury decided there will be no trial for Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Mike Brown, the unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, MO. In the 108 days since Brown was killed, too many of the news reports have centered around vilifying Brown and the community of demonstrators who have dared to demand justice for the unnecessary taking of black life by police. News outlets have prioritized looting over coverage of peaceful protests, Brown’s past over his once possible future. By demonizing black bodies and black communities, news coverage continues the dangerous narrative that contributed to Brown’s death, and the taking of black lives across the country.

‘Justice’ in Ferguson: The politics of the protests

Despite this, there are those who have managed to report on Brown’s death while honoring his humanity. These are the pieces that have impacted us at Scenarios and we encourage you to read.

Face it, blacks. Michael Brown let you down.

      By Dexter Thomas, Jr

“Because we know that it’s common knowledge that white killers get treated like little lost lambs, while black victims are immediately demonized. Hell, there are now even listicles about this sort of thing. But we also know that any small flaw, any trace of humanity, will ruin the whole thing. That people, too many people, will be positively giddy at the sight of our blood.”

Ferguson: Injustice Still Hurts When You See It Coming

      By Kara Brown

“We knew many would care more about the destruction of property and inanimate objects than the destruction of black people’s sense of safety in this country. Still, it was hard not to be taken aback by the downright comical degree to which CNN lamented over a burned pizza chain instead of the dejection of a black community.”

      By Ta-Nehisi Coates

“Among the many relevant facts for any African-American negotiating their relationship with the police the following stands out: The police departments of America are endowed by the state with dominion over your body. This summer in Ferguson and Staten Island we have seen that dominion employed to the maximum ends—destruction of the body. This is neither new nor extraordinary. It does not matter if the destruction of your body was an overreaction. It does not matter if the destruction of your body resulted from a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction of your body springs from foolish policy. Sell cigarettes without proper authority and your body can be destroyed. Resent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be be destroyed. Protect the home of your mother and your body can be destroyed. Visit the home of your young daughter and your body will be destroyed. The destroyers of your body will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions.” 

Things to Stop Being Distracted by When a Black Person Gets Murdered by the Police

      By Mia McKenzie

“Talking to people on Twitter about Mike Brown and what’s happening in Ferguson right now, I’ve noticed (again) how easily folks get distracted when Black people are murdered by the police. It seems as though every detail is more interesting, more important, more significant—including looting of a Walmart in Ferguson, which a local Fox news station focused its entire coverage on—than the actual life that was taken by police.” 

Ferguson is an occupation in plain sight and words aren’t enough to change that

      By Roxane Gay

“In truth, the media rarely seems well equipped to write about tragedy and trauma ethically, particularly when race is involved. It does not know how to report on Ferguson’s grief and anger without resorting to the most facile – and often most damaging – language that only perpetuates the ever-present racial divide in this country.” 

Mike Brown Dies, A Generation Comes Alive

      By Roland Martin

“The fight for a fair justice system has gone far beyond Ferguson. We see men and women of various backgrounds coming together to demand justice …. They are marching, protesting, organizing, registering voters, running candidates for office, training up the next generation of civil-rights lawyers. They are largely young people who have decided that, in the words of Black Freedom Movement leader Fannie Lou Hamer, they are ‘sick and tired of being sick and tired.’” 

Ferguson isn’t about black rage against cops. It’s white rage against progress.

      By Carol Anderson

“A little more than half a century after Brown, the election of Obama gave hope to the country and the world that a new racial climate had emerged in America, or that it would. But such audacious hopes would be short-lived. A rash of voter-suppression legislation, a series of unfathomable Supreme Court decisions, the rise of stand-your-ground laws and continuing police brutality make clear that Obama’s election and reelection have unleashed yet another wave of fear and anger.”

Officer Wilson’s story is unbelievable. Literally.

      By Ezra Klein

So Brown is punching inside the car. Wilson is scrambling to deflect the blows, to protect his face, to regain control of the situation. And then Brown stops, turns to his left, says to his friend, “Here, hold these,” and hands him the cigarillos stolen from Ferguson Market. Then he turns back to Wilson and, with his left hand now freed from holding the contraband goods, throws a haymaker at Wilson. 

How to Deal with Friends’ Racist Reactions to Ferguson

      By Jenee Desmond-Harris

“But here’s what Facebook comments are good for: revealing data about whether you want your ‘friends’ to be your friends any longer. That is, of course, if you believe, as I do, that the way someone responds to other people’s pain and mistreatment—including the systemic mistreatment of entire groups of people—is a perfectly fine way to decide whether he or she is someone you like or want to continue to interact with.”

Get on the Bus: Inside the Black Life Matters ‘Freedom Ride’ to Ferguson

      By Akiba Solomon

“Later on, the young St. Louisan sitting next to me starts weeping. I know she goes by @Nettaaaaaaaa on Twitter and that she has more than 13,000 followers, but I can’t bring myself to interrupt her tears to get her full name or ask her age. Along with two friends she stands up and tells us how they’ve been protesting since the beginning and that they are exhausted. She also informs us that an out-of-towner (who turns out to be an ex-pimp named Tariq Nasheed) has been tearing her protest work apart on Twitter. She and her friends tell us that they’re thankful that we’re there but feel possessive of their movement. They urge us to keep Ferguson and Michael Brown at the center, a sentiment I hear from local people throughout the trip.”

3 Amazing Films- Coming Soon!

It’s finally happening! 

You’ve waited patiently to hear about who won Scenarios’ REAL DEAL contests, who’s directing the films and what’s going on.  At long last, the wait is over!  We have three amazing young writers and three brilliant directors turning their stories into short films.  Please join us in person or follow us on Facebook and Twitter for behind the scenes and on set exclusives, sneak previews of post production and finally, to see the films at their world premiere in 2015!


Meet the writer: Janaya Greene wrote Veracity during her senior year of high school while attending Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy in South Side Chicago. During this time the debate of legalizing gay marriage was at its height and many states were pushing for its legality. After many debates among friends, family and classmates, Janaya realized that the issue was not, “Is being gay right or wrong?” but rather “How do humans, gay or straight, deserve to be treated?”  With support from her film study teacher, Mr. Eugene Hazzard, and classmates, she proceeded to write Veracity, a story about an African-American girl named Olivia J. Brownstein, who gains the courage to tell her family and friends that she is a lesbian. The response she gets is not what she expected from those she loved most. Veracity explores the taboo of being gay in the African-American community.

Seith Mann

Meet the Director: Seith Mann is a Morehouse College alumnus and a graduate of the Grad Film Program at New York University. His thesis film, five deep breaths, premiered at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, won Best Narrative Short at the 2003 IFP Los Angeles Finl Festival and 1st Significance at the 2003 New York University First Run Festival. Seith won the Gordon Parks Award for Emerging African-American Filmmakers in the Best Directing Category at the IFP/New York Market. Seith also received the Emerging Narrative Award, the Gordon Parks Award for Screenwriting and the Richard Vague Film Production Fund Award for his feature screenplay, Come Sunday. To date, Seith has directed over thirty episodes of television including The WireGrey’s AnatomyHeroesBrotherhoodFriday Night LightsElementaryCalifornicationNurse JackieHomelandRectify and the Walking Dead. He has been nominated for a DGA Award, five NAACP Image Awards and won a NAACP Image Award for Directing for his episode of Friday Night Lights.


Meet the writer: Skyler Edge, a transgender male, wrote the story House, Not Home in his sophomore year at Facing History New Tech High School in Cleveland, OH. The story was born from his fears of coming out to his classmates as transgender after only a year of being out to family and friends. Out of his fear of rejection and violence, Skyler came up with the story of Terran, who is gender variant and does not conform to male nor female pronouns. Skyler wrote his story in hopes of bringing more visibility to transgender issues.

Meet the Director: Joshua Butler is a prolific film and television director whose recent work includes FOX’s The Following  starring Kevin Bacon, Pretty Little Liars for ABC Family, Crisis for NBC, Reckless for CBS, and Matador for Robert Rodriguez and the El Rey Network. Joshua directed the award-winning feature VLOG for Twisted Pictures and the producers of SAWBeer Money for USA Network, Deathlands for SyFy Channel, Saint Sinner for writer-producer Clive Barker, and the Christmas movie Prancer Returns for Raffaella De Laurentiis. He has just completed the Random Bench-produced short film Doghouse, starring Michael Maize and Erin Daniels. In addition to working with Scenarios USA this fall, Joshua will be directing Joe Carnahan’s new NBC thriller, State of Affairs, starring Katherine Heigl, and his 10th episode of CW’s The Vampire Diaries.

New York City

IMG_9942Meet the writer: Nialani Pringle, is a rising senior at Brooklyn Collaborative High School. Pringle’s film, Aleah, tells the story of a 17-year-old girl living in East New York, Brooklyn. Aleah, like many young girls, has hopes and dreams, though her everyday reality revolves around a tumultuous relationship with her boyfriend, an unplanned pregnancy and few places to turn. The story is based on Pringle’s life, whose own mother is a domestic abuse survivor and whose father was killed in Linden Plaza a year after she was born.  When asked why she chose to write this script, Pringle said, “My story shows that a person’s physical and emotional place can make a simple situation ten times worse. Aleah is a pregnant teenage girl in a bad neighborhood with absolutely no power. This was part of [my mother’s] reality and continues to be the reality for many women.” Aleah, was shot in the Linden Plaza Apartments of East New York.


Laurie Collyer

Meet the Director: Laurie Collyer premiered her first film at the Sundance Film Festival, a feature documentary  entitled,  Nuyorican Dream.  Nuyorican Dream had its broadcast premiere later that year on HBO/Cinemax.  The documentary earned Collyer a DGA nomination and won multiple prizes at international film festivals.  Her second film, narrative feature, Sherrybaby, also premiered at Sundance and earned lead actress Maggie Gyllenhaal a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama. Collyer participated in the Sundance Filmmakers’ Lab and the Residence du Festival de Cannes to develop Sherrybaby.  In 2009, Collyer received a Cinereach grant to develop the script for Sunlight Jr., Collyer’s most recent film which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year.  Sunlight Jr., features Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon as down and out lovers, wrestling with pregnancy and homelessness.  Most recently, Collyer was hired by LD Productions to write a pilot based on the book, Brothel: Mustang Ranch and its Women, with partner Annie Marter.

Help Scenarios Redefine Place and Power in Chicago!

Scenarios USA has expanded our REAL DEAL program to Chicago schools.  Beginning this Fall, 39 dedicated educators in 9 public high schools are implementing the Scenarios curriculum addressing Place and Power.

Our excitement doesn’t stop there.  Today – Right Now – we’re launching our first ever Indiegogo Campaign to fund the Chicago REAL DEAL film.  REAL DEAL films are written by students as the final assignment of our curriculum and are made by some of your favorite Hollywood talents like Doug Liman (Bourne Identity), David Frankel (Devil Wears Prada), and Gina Prince- Bythewood (Love and Basketball).

Here’s what will happen: Nearly 1,000 Chicago students will submit their stories about place and power to our contest. (This theme is especially potent for the young people of Chicago who live in a city plagued by an epidemic of youth violence and immense cultural segregation.) One submission from Chicago will be selected to be turned into a REAL DEAL film.  The winning writer will be partnered with an acclaimed Hollywood director, shoot their story in their Chicago neighborhood with a professional crew, and bring their film to a local and national audience of 20 million!

We’ve been told that for teenagers to learn, you must talk to them.  But at Scenarios, we do something just as important as talking.  We listen.  That’s the mandate we began with when we started the organization 15 years ago.

As described by Scenarios REAL DEAL student, Terrance Ortiz, “Without someone showing you what’s possible, you don’t know what you can contribute to the world. When doors open, you can surprise yourself, and others.”

Help us open new doors – doors that are safe for young people to walk through, where, on the other side, they can be heard.

Please visit our Indiegogo page. watch our video, DONATE and HELP to make a film from Chicago.  This is more than a film, though – this is a chance to grow the creative spark in the teenagers we work with, many of whom had long stopped considering their own futures as bright or promising.

We’re honored to be invited into Chicago for this school year, and we’re thrilled to have you join us at this exciting start of our journey.  Thank you for visiting the Indiegogo page.


Maura Minsky
Executive Director/Co-Founder

P.S.  Please share our current Facebook Indiegogo Update on your Wall!chicago scenarios banner

Announcing the 2013-14 REAL DEAL Teacher Workshops, Curriculum and Contest

Love. Money. Family. Friendship. Power. Violence.

Do your students think and talk about these issues? Do your students love watching movies?

Are you looking for interactive, engaging, Common Core-aligned activities that will get even your most reluctant students thinking critically and writing creatively about sexual health and social justice issues?

Are you interested in exploring how the arts can take critical thinking to a whole new level?

Do you aim to create a safe space for your students to build their social and emotional competencies?


Cleveland-WorkshopScenarios USA’s professional development workshops, for all educators grades 6-12, where we tackle these questions and more. These workshops are for educators who teach in our three REAL DEAL regions: New York City, Cleveland and Chicago.

Every teacher who attends our workshops will receive a free REAL DEAL curriculum and the new Scenarios USA movies, which are written by teens for teens.

Workshop participants will also learn about the 2013-14 REAL DEAL contest, where student winners are partnered with Hollywood directors and make short films.

REAL DEAL Curriculum Lessons:

  • Common Core-aligned
  • Social Emotional Learning (SEL) competencies
  • Creative, interactive and democratic

Please register here to receive more information about the workshop dates and locations as they are set:

School’s Out, Don’t Sleep on Summer: Advice for Young Black Boys

via Wikimedia Commons
via Wikimedia Commons

The temptation this summer is to go out and chill. The warm weather feels good, and you don’t have to worry about waking up at 6:30 for school the next day. Chilling with your friends probably seems like the best option pretty much every day of the week. Even if you got that summer job, you still have time (and money) to waste away. You’re young and doing as little as possible feels like something to do in the summer.

Before you continue doing nothing, though, let me help you consider some options that might make life better for the future you. The YOLO rule applies here, too: You have little time to make good on the life you’ve been given. Use your youthful energy for positive change. Here are a few tips:

1) Work Through Summer

I know it seems like staying at home all day playing “Call of Duty” is your best option after a stressful school year, but the benefits of working in the summer are enormous. It’s good to have pocket money in case you want to save up for sneakers and games, but it’s also good to help you converse with people outside of your social circle. If you’re someone who likes to talk to people, this is a good opportunity to put those skills to use. If not, this is also an opportunity to learn how to work with others. Your success in high school and beyond depends on how you talk to and engaged with others. If you can be productive when you don’t have homework waiting for you, you’re doing yourself a favor.

“Our society often teaches us as boys and men that we have to dominate, but that’s neither necessary nor wise. Doing lots of listening and discussing can help you make sure you’re in tune with your significant other, even if you won’t call each other ‘boyfriend’ and / or ‘girlfriend.’”

2) If You Can’t Work, Volunteer

Along the lines of #1, volunteering has benefits not just for you but also for others. People generally feel good when they volunteer their time or give without recompense. Why not use some of your time improving the life of others around you? Find a local hospital, church, or daycare that will let you do a few hours of work with them. You may not be making money, but you will be making change in the lives of others.

3) Read A Few Books

The easiest way to slip on the first day of school next year is to let your mind get dull during the summer. Reading books keeps your mind sharp and exposes you to different people’s lived experiences. It lets you travel time and space without leaving your seat. The sharpest lyrical rappers you’ve ever heard were avid book readers, and often got straight A’s in school. Even basketball players like LeBron James and Chris Bosh read books to help them focus on their games. Regardless of where you go in life, reading has great benefits for the most dangerous muscle you got: your brain.


via Getty Images

4) Stay Active

Whether you’re bigger or smaller, summer is the perfect time to be active. Walking where you need to get to is a good start. Playing a sport like basketball or soccer works well too. Whatever you do, don’t just sit there. Exercise helps you stay physically and mentally focused, and that’s a big deal. I would recommend taking 10,000 steps a day, which seems like a lot, but it goes by fast when you don’t take the bus to the nearby mall or park. Plus, if you’re with your friends, the blocks go by fast.

5) Develop Positive Relationships

Learn how to have good relationships. When you’re going through physical and emotional changes, it’s important to be strong enough to speak your feelings through. If you feel like you’re in a bad space or you have a short temper, learn how to talk it out before you resort to physical aggression. As boys, you’re often told to not talk about things, or to physically intimidate to get your point across. Usually, this leads to situations that could have been avoided if you talked it out first with someone to help clarify the full situation.

In your romantic relationships, this also means you have to remember that the other person in your relationship is a person, too, with their own issues and needs. Our society often teaches us as boys and men that we have to dominate, but that’s neither necessary nor wise. Doing lots of listening and discussing can help you make sure you’re in tune with your significant other, even if you won’t call each other “boyfriend” and / or “girlfriend.”

Summer is a great time for you to grow in a healthy, positive manner. You’re going to make mistakes. We all can only hope to make less of them as we get older. While you’re making mistakes, though, allow yourself to see good choices for yourself and others. Start making moves right now. You’re not going to do these things all at once, but take some time to think about it. Your future you will thank you.

ScenariosUSA is a nonprofit that uses film and writing to amplify youth voices on social justice issues.

Learn more here.

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Does This Dress Make Me Look Culturally Insensitive?

The author in one of her patio dresses
The author in one of her patio dresses

I’m a thoroughly modern Millie (on Snapchat and everything), but I’m also an avid collector of vintage clothes. What I love about midcentury style goes beyond flattering cuts. As a daydreamer and armchair cultural historian, I like digging into the history of my clothes, and thinking about why we wore them. One of my favorite vintage clothing brands created dresses specifically for the women who were starting to work in offices in large numbers for the first time. I wear it and think of the secretary who took shorthand in this dress decades before me.

But as with anything in American history, there is an ugly side. When I first started seeing and reading about squaw dresses, I stopped short. By no means am I ignorant of our country’s history of violence and displacement against Native Americans, but to see that disparity so glibly called upon to describe a dress was nasty. A squaw dress is a one or two-piece dress created in the early 1940s for vacationers to wear in the resort towns of the southwest. They’re cotton with colorful borders, trim, and rickrack and don’t need a lot of care. A lady vacationing in the desert doesn’t want to fuss with changing outfits too much; she needs something she can wear to the market and still look nice enough to receive guests. That dress, based on the “broomstick” dresses worn by Navajo women, is perfect as she gets back to nature, but she doesn’t go so native that she’ll forget cocktail hour.

To be fair, vintage sellers and style bloggers are, for the most part, aware of how deeply offensive the term squaw dress is.

A cringe-worthy newsreel from the time explains:

I was ready and waiting to side-eye white designers for cherry-picking concepts from people of color for popular consumption. But I kept reading up on the style and discovered this dress was the creation of successful Cherokee designer Lloyd Kiva New was incredibly fascinating. Based in Scottsdale, New and the Native American artists he worked with expanded on rich Navajo, Cherokee, and Hopi traditions. He made space for craftsman to create and introduced their work to a broader audience both through his boutique and his Institute of American Indian Arts.

It wasn’t long before New’s dress left the resort towns. By the early 1950s, they became popular among women who would never set foot in the southwest. The dress even made it all the way to LIFE magazine in 1953. The short article reads,

Whatever the current silhouette elsewhere, women in the U.S. Southwest stick to skirts like those the Indians of the region wear. These were a national fad 10 years ago as “broomstick” skirts, costing as little as $1.98. Now vacationers returning from Arizona and New Mexico resorts are bringing them back in expensive, custom-made versions. Many are authentic copies of Apache or Navajo costumes, but others, like the cocktail dresses shown above, have strayed a long way off the reservation. The tribal touch appears in the print on the skirt borders and in the heavy jewelry, but the ruffled organdy petticoats are strictly from the city.

New gets just a sentence in a caption on the second page of the two-page article; the garment shown is a decidedly mainstream sheath silhouette, albeit one printed with designs created by a man in his workshop.

He wasn’t happy with (white) designers on the east coast taking his idea. “Out here, we know how to make them,” he said in a 1955 interview with The Dispatch. “They are a modern expression of an ancient primitive art. Imitations always will look phony.”

life magazine squaw dress

I have two of those “phonies” in my closet. The full-sweep skirts and metallic trim are romantic; they look incredible when I swing dance. But I’ve wondered if it’s enough to know the inspiring history of the garment and its troubling representation. To be fair, vintage sellers and style bloggers are, for the most part, aware of how deeply offensive the term squaw dress is.

It saddens me that while New worked against antiquated, harmful images of uncivilized Natives, he was undercut by that term “squaw.” But his success still stands. Dr. Jessica Metcalfe wrote at Beyond Buckskin: “The fact that his business was so successful during this important time – when the government was poised to begin their relocation and termination policies – is an indication of New’s hard work, perseverance, talent, and ability to create work that celebrated Native cultures, yet also transcended the boundaries of Native American art.”

But as I and tons of other girls duke it out in eBay auctions for one of these dresses–they really are amazing — what are we actually collecting? Is my research enough? Am I actually not much better than the people running around music festivals in head dresses?

ScenariosUSA is a nonprofit that uses film and writing to amplify youth voices on social justice issues.

Learn more here.

get involvedsupport us copy copyfilms button


Bree Newsome is a Superhero To Me, My Generation and Many Generations to Come

Reuters Media Express/Adam Anderson Photos
Reuters Media Express/Adam Anderson Photos

Superheroes come in all shapes and sizes with multiple abilities to fight multiple causes. In the movies, the citizens usually determine what the strength of a superhero will be, based on various factors and abilities. But in real life, a superhero can be a citizen among us, self-appointed based on the courage and initiative to give voice to those who are silenced. On June 27th, Bree Newsome became a superhero when she scaled the pole to take down South Carolina’s Confederate flag.

As she was climbing the pole she chanted: “We come against hatred, oppression, and violence. I come against you in the name of God.” Honestly, if I were there to witness that moment in person, I may have cried. We live in a world where social issues are handled like trickle down economics — the people most affected by the issues are told to just hang in there until everything works out while those mostly unaffected “handle it.” To see Bree Newsome take matters into her own hands and basically say, “You guys don’t have this, so if you won’t do something, I will,” is truly remarkable.

“When women aim to make history, they do it in extraordinary ways whether it be sit in, stand out, shut down, or climb up.”

There’s a reason they say well-behaved women seldom make history. When women aim to make history, they do it in extraordinary ways whether it be sit in, stand out, shut down, or climb up. I have heard people say that the current BlackLivesMatter movement won’t make a difference because our generation doesn’t have a Dr. King. I think what they’re trying to imply is that we lack an alpha to follow, but the thing is, we don’t lack a goal. It’s true we don’t have a Dr. King with us, but we have his heart and his goals and his dream. We have been taught his dreams since kindergarten, or preschool even and as we got older, we realized those weren’t dreams of the past, but rather ongoing. And most importantly, we have ourselves to take those dreams and make a new reality.

I love to hear my grandparents tell me about seeing Dr. King. I love hearing them tell me how remarkable and strong he was, how much power and strength he gave them. I love knowing that Dr. King really was a superhero in the same way that I love knowing that Bree is a superhero. As strange as it honestly feels, I love knowing that this is history — that I am living as we are making history. There’s a special feeling when you realize something that you lived through is going to be in a history book or class. Generation after generation is going to learn about Bree climbing that pole and taking down the Confederate flag. Just as we protested that the flag — stitched with oppression, soaked in racism, rotten with hatred — be removed and continue to protest that it stay down, so will the next generation learn about and take from the Bree’s act of valiance, integrity and courage.

Bree Newsome is important because Bree Newsome is a fighter. This wasn’t the first time she spoke up and fought, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. It’s true what they say that you can’t keep a Black woman down — and you can’t keep the Black community down either. We’re strong, we won’t quit because quitting is the same as losing, and we won’t see change unless we make it. As anyone who has ever had to work on a group project for school knows, your contribution and your work matters and influences the outcome. We may not have any Black female superheroes currently on television or in movies, but we definitely have a new one in real life. Her name is Bree Newsome.

ScenariosUSA is a nonprofit that uses film and writing to amplify youth voices on social justice issues.

Learn more here.

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EduColor Advocates for Children of Color in Public Schools


This year marks the 10th anniversary of when I started writing online. As a teacher, there were a lot of reasons that I wanted to expand my classroom to be inclusive of a broader world: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could use the Internet,” I thought, “to connect my students to their classrooms or places we can’t physically go because it’s too far?” Except, I found that I was just as in need of community and connection as my students were.

Of the many online friends I’ve made in that time, José Luis Vilson is one of the voices that made me feel I wasn’t alone as a teacher of color in a predominantly white school district. It can be hard to find someone who believes in the same educational pedagogy intersected that with equality and justice. For instance, a part of my belief system is that “all children can learn” — but this gets push-back in the larger public sphere when we look at how marginalized kids of color are in our system. José’s book, This is Not a Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, made me nod so much in agreement that it felt as though I was reading words that I could have written.

José and a group of other like-minded activists created EduColor – a space for public school advocates and educators who have a perspective and voice on educational equity and justice. The mission is to elevate those voices that are so often marginalized within our own working systems. How could I, an educator in Illinois, reach out to someone in New York City who understands the individual work I’m doing on a national level?

That’s what educators do: we move around in various spaces until we find one that fits the purpose of continuing to teach.

I was already connected to many of the EduColor originators, including Sabrina Stevens, Melinda Anderson, Liz Dwyer, via online platforms — somehow, we had found one another through common concerns about education. The articles and stories we posted were so familiar it felt like I had found a tribe. We were all connected on Twitter and moved those relationships to other social media platforms. That’s what educators do: we move around in various spaces until we find one that fits the purpose of continuing to teach.

classroom image flickrI’ve since left the classroom to become an administrator at a public school, but that move actually isolated me even further. There’s no longer a sense of camaraderie in the teacher’s lounge and, I often joke, that I went over to the Dark Side. My reasons for doing so were very much tied up with the sense of injustice I saw enacted towards children of color across the United States. While doing some national consulting for school principals in order to strengthen instruction and learning, I found that there were many levels of educators of color who were frustrated about the same things.

Before EduColor, I hadn’t found a place where we could discuss the complex issues of systemic racism found within the American public school system without recourse or fear of reprimand. It’s not a place to vent about the problems we find, but rather a place to get resources and tools for making the systemic changes schools require. Everyone in the group is committed to the work of anti-racism and we share policies that affect all of us, not just local issues.

Every day our children of color attend public schools that marginalize or disenfranchise them in ways that make it difficult for them to get ahead. Our goal is to advocate for them especially when we ourselves haven’t always found an advocate for moving through the school system. EduColor is an inclusive cooperative of informed, inspired and motivated educators, parents, students, writers and activists who promote and embrace the centrality of substantive intersectional diversity. We have given ourselves to this life work and, with a sense of community, have found ways to support one another.

ScenariosUSA is a nonprofit that uses film and writing to amplify youth voices on social justice issues.

Learn more here.

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This is a Public Service Announcement from Your Short Friend

woman standing on chair

As a diamond member of the 5′ and under club, I’ve learned the ins and outs of being vertically-challenged. Below is a helpful list of 8 things NOT to say or do to your small friend.

1) Do not ask about the weather. I know this may seem like a shocker but the weather is the same from a lower level.

2) We’re not your personal arm rest. Is that really something that has to be explained?!

3) Mentioning our height does not help anyone. “Oh wow thank you! I didn’t realize I was short. This really explains EVERYTHING”

4) Comparing me to a nail or something small is not some fun game for you and a friend. “Hey! Let’s see how many things we can compare your height too”

5) Saying everything I do is cute gets old FAST. I realize you do it out of love or whatever but it can get irritating.

For example: If I’m getting something from a tall shelf. It’s not cute. It’s getting something from a tall shelf. I’ve never understood that one.

6) Crouching down to “see what it looks like from my perspective” deserves an eye roll. For the most part, I can see what you can. Why is that so fascinating to you?

7) Stop comparing me to your “other short friends” —

For example:
“How tall are you?”
“I think you’re taller than my other friend”

It’s not a competition! I honestly don’t care if I’m taller or shorter than your other friend.

8) Being taller than me doesn’t make you better than me. Also pointing out that you’re taller than me IS NOT AN ACCOMPLISHMENT. Most people are taller than me, do you really want to be recognized for that?!

Also, I heard something recently about marriage equality — maybe focus on that instead of my height. Thanks, and have a great day.

ScenariosUSA is a nonprofit that uses film and writing to amplify youth voices on social justice issues.

Learn more here.

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