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

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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 ScenariosUSA.org 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.

FALL APPEAL BANNER 11v 4 copy

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

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!

Chicago

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.

Cleveland

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.

Warmly,

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?

 COMING IN FALL 2013 TO NYC, CLEVELAND AND CHICAGO

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: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Fall2013preregistration.


Why I Will Be Voting In the 2016 Election

via Flickr (@robboudon)
via Flickr (@robboudon)

I probably don’t have to tell you that 2016 is an election year, and a big one at that, since this is the year that our nation will decide whom our next President will be through the year 2020. However, many times in years when there is a Presidential race happening in an election, the other elections and issues up on the ballot get completely ignored. Plus, it’s not only about just individual candidates for Congress or governorships, but also the wider ramifications of an election beyond the politicians, from healthcare reform to environmental policy.

As I already mentioned in the title of this article, I am most definitely going to be voting in this election cycle. Not only is voting about politics for me, but it’s about principle. I want my voice to be heard in the political system and believe that it’s important for me to honor the suffrage activists who came before my generation, who fought for the rights of those who have been historically denied voting rights. It’s been less than 100 years since women and black Americans won the right to vote and have full rights and participation in our political process, and even after that right was won, disenfranchisement has done a lot of harm and persists today.

If you’re not participating and choosing the person who best represents your voice in local, state, or national government, imperfect as that representation may be, then you may lose the opportunity to influence the policies that affect our daily lives.

With that, I want to exercise as much influence as possible and truly be a part of our political systems. It’s easy to forget how entwined politics is with our lives, as politicians are the representatives we select to represent our best interests—or so it’s supposed to be, anyway. If you’re not participating and choosing the person who best represents your voice in local, state, or national government, imperfect as that representation may be, then you may lose the opportunity to influence the policies that affect our daily lives. As I mentioned previously, who gets voted in from elections has a very strong effect on everyday realities from healthcare, to Planned Parenthood, racial profiling, LGBT rights, and even our right and freedom to exercise voting in and of itself.

With that being said, not everyone who lives in this country has the right to vote—there are many groups of marginalized folks who are not eligible to vote, including those who are undocumented, immigrants, and/or under the age of 18. This is an unfortunate reality and if you’re not able to vote, that is an injustice of the system and in and of itself. For those of us who can exercise our right to vote, it’s even more important that we support and amplify the voices of those who are not able to participate as voters, so that their interests may be heard.

via Flickr (@fleshmanpix)
via Flickr (@fleshmanpix)

It’s also important to say that while voting is an important way to participate in politics, it’s certainly not the only way to create effective political change. In fact, voting is only one very small piece of the election puzzle—there are campaigns, registration, rallies, marches, events, gathers, phone banks, and many other events that lead up to the actual vote. There’s also ways to participate outside of the system of voting altogether, with many people organizing under third parties or alternatively to debate or protest issues and policies, as well as to speak out about the rights of marginalized Americans. Campaigns and groups are always looking for folks to help register voters, table, phone bank, and create and participate in rallies. Look for these opportunities too, especially if you’d rather or have to be involved in the process from another angle.

Part of the reason that I feel so strongly about voting is because the right for all to vote is under attack by politicians who would rather skew who can make it out to the polls in order to gain victory in an election than actually let all Americans make an honest choice about who they’d like to see put in office. Just this year alone, 15 states have put new voting restrictions in place that will make it more difficult to cast your ballot, from strict photo ID laws, to registration restrictions, and limits on early voting. Also, since 2010, a total of 20 states have put some kind of voting restrictions in place, making it more difficult for citizens to practice their right to vote.

Part of the reason that I feel so strongly about voting is because the right for all to vote is under attack by politicians who would rather skew who can make it out to the polls in order to gain victory in an election than actually let all Americans make an honest choice about who they’d like to see put in office.

In terms of the presidential outcome, I’m supporting Hillary Clinton. Beyond that, I’m rooting for Ted Strickland to be elected to the Senate representing Ohio (where I live and will be voting from), for Chief Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor to be reelected, and for Emily Hagen to be elected to the 16th District of Ohio (where I live also) to the US House of Representatives.

That said, I’m not necessarily a big believer in being loyal to any particular political party and I believe values, integrity, experience, and a proven track record are the most important things to consider when evaluating any particular candidate. I encourage you to get educated, informed about the issues and candidates on the ballot, and most of all, to vote, if you’re able to! Get involved and understand why voting is important in the first place, as well as the ramifications it could have if you decide not to vote. Also, consider that Millennials are going to match the Baby Boomers in terms of the electorate this year, so how we vote will make a huge difference in who ultimately gets elected to office. So get out there and get political!


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

Learn more here.

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Today’s Rap Scene Needs Kamaiyah

"A Good Night in the Ghetto" (2016), Kamaiyah's debut mixtape
“A Good Night in the Ghetto” (2016), Kamaiyah’s debut mixtape

It’s no secret that women in entertainment industries are constrained by what society deems beautiful. For black women, that’s having light skin, smaller noses, non-kinky hair, and other Eurocentric facial features. From Lil Kim to Nicki Minaj, it’s clear that black women in music often have to—or rightfully choose to—show more skin and adjust to societal standards of beauty to catch the male gaze and gain larger popularity. But West Coast Rapper Kamaiyah is proving that not “fitting the mold” can be just as beautiful.

Kamaiyah is a rapper from Oakland, California, who often raps about the struggles she’s faced growing up poor and how she’s living her best life after being successful in music. Her first hit single, “How Does It Feel,” which ironically brought her to fame, boasts “All this money in the world, it’s a shame to go broke/ Everybody got dreams, some just aimin’ too low/ If fame is the goal, we can’t get along/ I aim to be paid, I aim to be great.” Though fame naturally follows incredible talent like Kamaiyah, I wouldn’t attribute any of her success to performing for the male gaze. Kamaiyah is known to wear bandanas, baggy tee shirts, with short Kankalon braids. Her entire style is reminiscent of the ’90s and many would label her as a tomboy, but that doesn’t stop Kamaiyah from expressing her sexual desires.

It’s refreshing to see a darker skinned black woman with a curvy body type and distinctive style rise in today’s rap scene. She’s unapologetic in her song lyrics and style and she’s just what this music industry needs.

In July, I saw Kamaiyah perform at a concert in Brooklyn, New York. She wore a black sweatshirt and black sweatpants, both with air brushed drawings of characters from The Simpsons on them. Her outfit stood out to me because I see outfits like hers often in my neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago. Many people go to local artists to design their shirts with cartoon characters like SpongeBob and airbrushed graffiti text. It’s something I’ve only seen in predominantly black and low-income neighborhoods, so I was quite shocked to see Kamaiyah wearing that outfit at a concert in gentrified Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But it was admirable, to say the least. She was confident in who she is, confident in where she’s from, and confident in her appearance enough to perform an amazing show regardless of what she wore.

Kamaiyah live at Baby's All Right
Kamaiyah live at Baby’s All Right

She performed “I’m On,” where she raps over West Coast hip-hop beats about having complicated relationships with her parents and how she had to work hard to reach a place of financial stability. In “N****s” Kamaiyah takes charge of her relationships. She recounts her romantic and sexual relationships with different men, who all happen to live in different regions. Throughout her performance, she danced to her music, swung her short braids, and seemed cool, calm, and collected.

It’s refreshing to see a darker skinned black woman with a curvy body type and distinctive style rise in today’s rap scene. Missy Elliott is one of the only mainstream women rappers who relates to Kamaiyah in this way, and I hope that this changes in the near future. Kamaiyah is just a girl from Oakland who’s doing things her own way. She’s unapologetic in her song lyrics and style and she’s just what this music industry needs.


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

 


Netflix’s “The Get Down” is an Enjoyable Take on the History of Hip Hop

Note: this post contains minor spoilers. 

The Get Down (via Flickr @televisione)
The Get Down (via Flickr @televisione)

I don’t think anyone knew exactly what to expect from Netflix’s latest show, “The Get Down,” when the first promo dropped a while back. I observed a mix of excitement and apprehension about how Baz Luhrmann of all people would tell the story of the start of hip hop, set in the Bronx in the 1970s, with a predominantly African American and Latinx cast. The trailer was amazing, the music felt promising, hip hop legends were executive producing, and Shameik Moore (who was receiving recognition for his role in Rick Famuyiwa’s “Dope” at the time) was cast. Still, anyone that has ever seen Baz Luhrmann’s work, or Baz Luhrmann himself for that matter, had to wonder what inspired him in particular to come up with the concept for this show.

After watching the first season on Netflix immediately after I woke up on Friday, I can see why hip hop, specifically the start of hip hop in the Bronx, enchanted Baz Luhrmann and the other creators, producers, and artists into telling this story. “The Get Down” keeps up with Luhrmann’s other works, carrying the same surrealist, fantasy torch that can be seen when Leonardo DiCaprio speaks with a Shakespearean tongue while wearing a Hawaiian shirt and holding a gun in 1996’s “Romeo + Juliet” or when Nick Carroway (Tobey Maguire) drunkenly parties at the Plaza Hotel in the 1920s as Kanye West and Jay-Z play in 2013’s “The Great Gatsby.”

Daveed Diggs, in an interview for “Another Round,” mentioned how hip hop has a habit of partying through the pain, disenfranchisement, and oppression. It has a history of talking about real things and bringing up injustice, but still having fun and still creating a fantasy for listeners and viewers to engage with.

“The Get Down” isn’t a perfect show and there were a number of times when I rolled my eyes at certain characters’ behavior—usually Ezekiel’s lovesick male entitlement toward Mylene’s affection, which I could not for the life of me get down with. Or every time Shaolin Fantastic felt the need to refer to Mylene as the “b-word” with so much hatred in his voice. I rolled my eyes at the constant use of the homophobic “f-slur.” I get that it’s a different time and that the show is recreating a moment in the past when these things were deemed normal and okay. Regardless, the reasoning doesn’t negate my eye roll.

Nonetheless, it is an enjoyable show. It does what “Romeo + Juliet” and “The Great Gatsby” couldn’t do for me: Instead of constantly asking, “Really they’re doing this?” I’d find myself just going along with the show and wanting to see what comes of it. Rather than focusing on the actual birth of hip hop, the show focuses on how hip hop was born into the lives of the main characters, which allows for the show to do what hip hop does—alter reality by finding a diamond in the rough. Daveed Diggs (who also appears in the show as the narrator), in an interview for “Another Round,” mentioned how hip hop has a habit of partying through the pain, disenfranchisement, and oppression. Hip hop has a history of talking about real things and bringing up injustice, but still having fun and still creating a fantasy for listeners and viewers to engage with.

Herizen Guardiola (via IMDb)
Herizen Guardiola (via IMDb)

We see shots of Bronx buildings burning and falling to rubble, characters sweating profusely in the heat of summer, and characters having to make do with what they have. We have the talented Mylene, played by newcomer Herizen Guardiola, the Donna Summer-esque, starry-eyed aspiring singer who’s strict, Catholic father tries to keep her from following her dreams of being a disco singer, believing it’s the devil’s work. At one point, we see Mylene get beaten by her father in front of a cross in their house when she comes home after sneaking out the house.

We see Ezekiel given the job of being the token “respectable” black/Puerto Rican for a politician as he refers to African Americans and Latinx as “thugs” and “hoodlums” that he’s going to “save” by locking them up for graffiting walls and trains. But we also see carefree, artistic African American and Latinx kids, happily cheering when they see a train pass by with the graffiti they designed. We see carefree, artistic African American and Latinx boys geeking out when they discover the purpose of using a crayon while DJing. We see them geek out when Shaolin Fantastic learns how to spin and when they learn how to create a killer hook. We see carefree, artistic African American and Latinx girls who are so supportive of each other, always dancing around and having fun.

We see carefree, artistic African American and Latinx boys geeking out when they discover the purpose of using a crayon while DJing and when they learn how to create a killer hook. We see carefree, artistic African American and Latinx girls who are so supportive of each other, always dancing around and having fun.

I’m looking forward to Part 2 of “The Get Down” releasing on Netflix next year and to seeing which other music they include. I’m most excited to see where the show goes with Jaden Smith’s character and the potential of his character dating or falling for other graffiti artist, Thor, as well as to see more of Mylene Cruz and the Soul Madonnas. But mostly, I’m just excited to have this show that feels almost out of this world with how much fun it was to watch, how beautifully it’s shot, and how nice the acting is. Even in the most cheesy or cliche of moments, I still found some kind of enjoyment.

I hope to see the characters grow and for the show to get even better as time goes on. So far it seems like the show hasn’t gotten as much of a response as other Netflix shows like “Orange is the New Black” or “Stranger Things,” but I think it’s fair to say that “The Get Down,” if anything, is at least worth taking a chance on.


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The Slow Burn of Grief: The Aftereffects of the Pulse Shooting

Memorial for Pulse Victims at Stonewall (via Wikimedia Commons)
Memorial for Pulse Victims at Stonewall (via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s been two months since the Pulse nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016. Facebook icons embroidered with rainbow patterns have been phased out, displays of solidarity shed to follow whatever the next trend is. Despite it being one of the most devastating shootings in American history, no one talks about it anymore. We’d rather focus on hatred of a different kind—hatred spewed from politicians, and legislation that we struggle to fight against. It’s not any less terrifying, but it’s an easier pill to swallow for those unaffected. They don’t have to remember the bloodshed and they can easily detach from something that doesn’t seem to affect them. Meanwhile, those of us in the community are still dealing with the aftershocks.

It took me weeks to be able to process what happened. For the first few days, I was inconsolable. We’re all taught early that violence against people in the community is a thing of the past, something that we won the fight against. By now, the only violence we should face is bullying, struggles with housing and jobs, and people spitting venom through words, not bullets. It was the first time since I came out that I felt truly unsafe. Even when I was jumped after school on a warm day in 8th grade and branded a dyke, even when I learned that some of my classmates considered me something that just needed to be ‘fixed’ for being a trans man, I had never felt the way I did as I read about the Pulse shooting. I felt as if the world was against me, like I would never be safe again. No matter what space was carved out for us, it would be infiltrated. That community gatherings would only make us bigger targets. I felt utterly hopeless.

I no longer believe that pride is frivolous or silly. I no longer question that we are in danger for living out our individual truths. I have realized anew that our community needs to keep together and uplift one another.

Despite these feelings, I had to speak at the vigil we held at my school. I knew that the others in my school’s GSA were going through the same pain, and I wanted to speak to them. It was important for them to know that there is power in numbers, and that they won’t be forced to go through any of this alone. I still had that fear at the front of my mind as I wrote poetry to read, and as I stepped out of my car to join the others at the vigil. Despite being calm as I spoke, I stared down at the candle I was given and sobbed as I desperately tried to keep the flame from going out, and let the candle become as short as I could. It felt like I was trying desperately to let it live out its life, while the wind of the early evening tried to take that away. Despite hot wax dripping onto my fingers, I let it burn as long as I could. It was the least I could do for the life that was lost —the one whose name was written on the paper wax catcher.

I walked away from the vigil feeling like I had something like closure. I could never forget what happened, but maybe I could put my fear and grief behind me. I could move on the same way that every straight, cis person I know already has. Despite that sentiment, it’s been hard. I still feel a familiar fear creep up when I go to hold my boyfriend’s hand. Even though I don’t pass well and we most likely appear as a straight couple, the risk feels too high. I fear what will happen if we kiss in front of the wrong person, or go to the wrong place together. Despite moving on, my accepting and loving parents are more reluctant to let me go to the LGBT center, more scared than ever at the idea of me attending my first pride parade this summer. As much as I reassure them that I’ll be with friends and that I’ll be careful, we share the same fear that bigots could make it unsafe or even deadly for me to attend.

Stay true to yourself, keep kissing, and never be afraid to live your truth. This is not the first tragedy that has shaken the LGBT+ community, but we’re still here. We will always rebuild the spaces we lose and come back stronger.

I’ve done my best to surround myself with positivity—as much as I speak about our community’s struggle, I try to find positivity for youth like me. Because I no longer believe that pride is frivolous or silly. I no longer question that we are in danger for living out our individual truths. I have realized anew that our community needs to keep together and uplift one another. As much as we deal with horrible tragedy, we need to spread positivity and keep fighting to keep our spaces ours.

A vigil and protest in London (via Flickr @alisdare)
A vigil and protest in London (via Flickr @alisdare)

Although my city’s pride event was cancelled due to safety concerns, I haven’t given up on doing what I can to hold fast to my identity and what’s important to me. Although I still have the same nagging fear every time I pull on my binder, every time I kiss or hold hands with my boyfriend in public, every time I worry about seeming too obviously trans, I push them down and live the way I like despite it. I don’t know if it’s out of wanting to stay true to my identity or spite toward the ones who made me afraid to be who I am, and I might never know. All that I know is that I’m not giving up. And I urge for anyone who feels the way I do to do the same. Stay true to yourself, keep kissing, and never be afraid to live your truth. This is not the first tragedy that has shaken the LGBT+ community, but we’re still here. We will always rebuild the spaces we lose and come back stronger.


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Don’t Call Us “Lucky:” Assumptions about Affirmative Action Disrespect the Achievements of Students of Color

In America, the institution of higher education is a field that continues to be dominated by white people. When people of color achieve the same level of success in college admittance, it is no surprise that white Americans often act and feel as if they have been threatened. In response, white Americans often blame affirmative action or luck for enabling minorities to attend the nation’s top universities.

A march in support of affirmative action, 2003. (via Flickr @perspective)
A march in support of affirmative action, 2003. (via Flickr @perspective)

As a soon-to-be freshman at the University of Southern California and a young black woman, I have heard countless times from my white counterparts that I was admitted to some of our nation’s top colleges because I had “more boxes to check” on my application. My brother, a senior at Harvard University, encounters the same push-back.  Rather than informing our white counterparts of our academic achievements, we strive to help people understand the facts behind the college admissions process. The argument that we are able to attend highly acclaimed universities simply because we are black is factually invalid.

Of Harvard University’s graduating class of 2017, only 11.5 percent of the students are African American.  At the University of Southern California, a mere seven percent of the admitted students for 2015 were African American, according to the official websites of each university. Based on statistics alone, African Americans remain one of the most underrepresented groups of college students, according to The Huffington Post. Given these odds, when a minority student is admitted, it is based on their academic merit and the story they have to tell, not simply the color of their skin or the number of boxes they checked on their application.  

Unfortunately, the ignorance my brother and I face is not an anomaly. Take the recent case of Guillermo Pomarillo. A first-generation American from a working-class family in Chicago, Pomarillo received admission to Stanford, Princeton, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, and Washington University in St. Louis— all highly acclaimed universities. Recently, Pomarillo was at a dentist appointment when the topic of college came up. Casually informing his white dentist that he would be attending Stanford University in the fall, Guillermo faced the tragic reality that the academic merit behind his admission was invalid in the eyes of this man, as well as in those of many other white Americans.  

Rather than attempting to justify why a student of color is able to attend schools like Stanford and Harvard, we must recognize the hard work and perseverance it took for that student to achieve success.

“Well, when you have kids from neighborhoods like THESE, like you know, ENGLEWOOD, it’s easy for them to get into Harvard or Stanford …You know, when kids go to schools around here, it’s easier for them to get into schools like Stanford. My daughter goes to a school where like 20 kids get perfect ACT scores… you’re very lucky. Consider yourself very lucky,” the dentist told Pomarillo.

“Lucky.” Luck has nothing to do with getting into a school like Stanford, whether you are a minority or not. But given America’s history and present, it is often hard for an upper-class white man to accept the reality that a person of color is capable of achieving high levels of success, perhaps in a way his own child did not. Pomarillo’s dentist, like many others occupying the same intersection of identity and privilege, see their sense of power and authority in American society at stake and react by discrediting the achievements of young people like Pomarillo, my brother, and myself. 

A march in support of affirmative action, 2003. (via Wikimedia Commons)
A march in support of affirmative action, 2003. (via Wikimedia Commons)

Success in the college admissions world can be an inconceivable notion for some, or perhaps it is a reality they choose to deny. When white people turn to affirmative action as a scapegoat, they tend to fail to realize that not only does their argument lack validity, but affirmative action disproportionately benefits white women, according to the Huffington Post. College acceptance isn’t dependent on one aspect of a student’s application—which ethnicity box is checked or a single test score. Rather, it is the application as a whole—it is the story the applicant tells. So, to the white people out there who are perplexed because they received a higher ACT score than their minority counterpart and were still denied admission, affirmative action is not to blame.

Rather than attempting to justify why a student of color is able to attend schools like Stanford and Harvard, we must recognize the hard work and perseverance it took for that student—whether they be black, white, or Latinx— to achieve success. After all, that is supposed to be the foundation of America: hard work yielding success, regardless of background.


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

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