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:

The Importance of Teaching Young Black Girls Self-Love

“Tomorrow, I’m going to wear my hair natural,” I told my younger cousin, Mya*, as we often talk about hair.

Her eyes widened, her expression blank and confused. “But, what do you mean you want to wear your hair natural? What do you think your job will say about that?”

I was awed to think that I would be judged at work not because of my professional skillsets or abilities, but rather because of my hair. The idea was hard to digest, but this is the reality for many Black women. Black people have not given job opportunities, and have also been fired from positions because they wore their hair in its natural state. Black children have been forced to leave school and are often the target of unfair mockery and backlash because of their natural hair, as seen with Blue Ivy, the four year old daughter of Beyoncé and Jay-Z. For years, Blue Ivy’s hair has been ridiculed. A campaign entitled “Comb Her Hair” even exists: it has 5,000 supporters.

via The Telegraph

There are many stereotypes that Black hair is “nappy,” and “unprofessional.” In 2015, Giuliana Rancic, the TV co-host of the Fashion Police, stated that she thought Zendaya smelled like “patchouli oil…or weed” because the then 18 year old decided to rock dreadlocks to the 2015 Academy Awards. According to Quartz writer Marita Golden, “[f]or women and men to be accepted by and successful in both the Black and the White worlds, we had to look, either through hair texture, skin color, or phenotype, like Whites. Of the three, hair texture has always been the easiest to change.”

My mom began putting relaxers into my hair when I was seven years old. Relaxers are chemical straighteners that alters the bonds of one’s hair. Despite the health risks that are associated with relaxers, or perms, she always told me how “my hair would be easier to manage if it were straight instead of in its natural state.” My relaxers continued for the next eight years of my life, until I finally affirmed my position and stated that I didn’t want to get them any longer.

For years, I had been afraid to wear my hair naturally because of the backlash I knew I was bound to receive. Many microaggressions exist for Black people who choose to naturally style their afro-textured hair. Just last week, an acquaintance of mine stated that she wanted to touch my hair, proceeded to without my permission, and then gasped at “how soft it was.” Needless to say, I was not happy.

In Melissa Harris-Perry’s response to Elle Magazine’s August cover, she states, “Most non-Black folks fail to grapple with the profound implications of living in a society that institutionally requires an entire group to intervene so utterly in its own bodily reality and sanctions so heavily those who refuse to conform.”

Melissa Harris-Perry’s statement is one that I can agree with wholeheartedly. Growing up, my self-perceptions were always foggy. I didn’t know who to look up to, or have any role models who looked like me, and in turn, always felt out of place. The lack of representation for Black women exists in all societal institutions, including but not limited to government, the fashion industry and media. And when Black woman are represented, more often than not, they are unfairly represented.

For so long, I was adhering to Eurocentric standards of beauty because I did not think I could find beauty in myself. I questioned myself: I failed to understand why I wasn’t thinner, and didn’t accept “because you’re big boned” as an answer from my relatives. I questioned the fullness of my lips. I became enraged at knowing that my features would result in teasing and mockery, but they would be deemed as “fashionable” or “trendy,” on a non-Black body, which is the epitome of cultural appropriation.

At this point in my life, unlike during my childhood, I am more knowledgeable than ever. My mom and I have both ditched relaxers in trade for our undamaged, untouched curls.  Now, if I would like to wear my hair straight, I do, but not because I feel like I have to, and it’s never long before I return to my curly hair. Each coil in my hair has a story. My features remind me of my culture and history, and I have never been prouder. I cannot stress the importance of teaching young Black girls that their features are beautiful and precious, and do not require any altering.

Now, excuse me while I continue to listen to Lemonade and exude my #BlackGirlMagic

via Rolling Stone

*Names have been changed for the purpose of this article.


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

Learn more here.

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Jamila Woods’ “Heavn” Speaks From the Heart of My Chicago

Have you ever heard a song on a lyric that just reached out to you? That hit you and ran through your veins? Listening to Jamila Woods’ debut album Heavn, I was overcome with the emotions of hope and the feeling that who I am and who so many black girls and Chicagoans are were each hearing their stories told. Accompanying Jamila’s beautiful vocals are her poetic lyrics and chill instrumentals that collectively send out Black Girl Magic vibes.

Heavn by Jamila Woods, 2016
Heavn by Jamila Woods, 2016

From her first song on the album, “Bubbles,” I saw young me, the little shy black girl on the South Side of Chicago who was so excited whenever her mom pressed her hair because she thought her natural hair was too loud and big. The little shy black girl who never wanted to draw attention to herself unless she had to. I saw her and I felt her when I listened to that song. I saw her smiling at loving her natural hair sooner. I saw her finding her voice sooner. I saw her loving the skin she was in sooner. And I felt good about it and hoped there were other black girls listening to it who felt the same good feeling I felt. And upon listening to the album over and over again, I was delighted to realize that I continue to experience it whenever I listen to that song.

Heavn is painted in so much nostalgia for me. Hearing “VRY BLK” for the first time, a huge smile grew on my face thinking about my mom teaching me “Miss Mary Mack” when I was a little girl. It’s so cool hearing Jamila use the rhythm to a popular clapping game almost every little kid on a playground knows—not only to be proud of being black, but to bring awareness to social issues such as police brutality and the thoughts on those subjects that come with being black.

The same nostalgic feeling and smile crept onto my face when I heard “LSD,” featuring Chance the Rapper, for the first time and immediately heard the sample of “Where I Wanna Be” by Donell Jones. And before even hearing the lyrics from Jamila’s ode to Chicago, I could remember hearing that song play on WGCI and my mom or my brother or someone singing along to it. And when I heard “LSD,” I heard the story of Chicago: the bittersweet and complicated, protective love of growing up in the South Side of Chicago. The beautiful, peaceful moments of living in Chicago, thinking about all of the good things Chicago holds while being aware of everything happening. Of having to constantly listen to non-Chicagoans try to tell you about what it’s like living in Chicago. Or worse, having to see non-Chicagoans poster-child Chicago and use our gang violence to justify the deaths of black people from police brutality. Or to denounce movements such as Black Lives Matters because they aren’t aware that there are people in Chicago that try to lower the violence here by creating programs and offering opportunities to youth in neighborhoods that are forgotten, ignored, or underfunded.

It felt so good to listen to a story about Chicago that wasn’t created to profit off of what is going on in Chicago. It felt so good to listen to another piece of work that is pro-blackness, that is pro-girl power, and that is pro-black girl power.

I used to hear my peers talk about how they felt like our system was set up so we weren’t meant to make it out. We weren’t supposed to succeed or contribute towards positivity and I never wanted to accept that or believe it. I couldn’t allow myself to get discouraged by that because I wanted to—and still do—believe I can make a difference. That I can offer a positive impact. You hear so many people who aren’t from the South Side of Chicago, or even Chicago for that matter, talk so negatively about us. They call us Chiraq and make jokes about our city’s violence. We have people who only know about Chicago from a bird’s eye view, like Spike Lee, who come in and try to tell us what they think our story is. What they think is going to help us, meanwhile, not offering any actual help or opportunities. Not only does Jamila Woods tell her story of Chicago, she includes voices of black girls from Chicago sharing their personal stories and experiences. She includes features from Chicago-based artists. She released her album for free, courtesy of Closed Sessions, a Chicago hip-hop label. And not only that, she works with Chicago youth through Young Chicago Artists, an organization dedicated to helping young people share their stories through writing and performing.

via Flickr (@julietbanana)
via Flickr (@julietbanana)

After my first listen to Jamila’s album, the best way I could describe my feelings was as Chicago Pride. Because it felt so good to listen to a story about Chicago that wasn’t created to profit off of what is going on in Chicago. It felt so good to listen to another piece of work that is pro-blackness, that is pro-girl power, and that is pro-black girl power. The South Side of Chicago is filled with so many hardworking, talented artists such as Chance and Jamila. We’ve said this for awhile, we’ve talked about how talented and resilient we are. We’re a city of roses growing through the cracks of concrete who have no interest in hearing any kind of negativity from anyone that hasn’t lived here unless you’re offering to help give us the assets needed to continue growing.

Jamila has created a beautiful, honest, unapologetic love letter about self-love, acceptance, and social awareness that I cannot recommend enough. It’s the feeling of soul food as an album, the feeling of learning to be at peace with yourself as an album. It’s the rhythm that black girl soldiers can march to on a daily basis and feel beautiful, powerful, comfortable, and safe.

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


An Ode to Alton Sterling

Alton Sterling, who was killed by police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was a human being whose life held value to those who knew him. He was a father of five, a friend, and a familiar face. He was also homeless, a thirty-seven-year-old black man with a criminal record who lived in a shelter and sold CDs outside of his friend’s food mart. As happens so often in the wake of police killings of black and brown people, many have latched on to these markers of “success,” respectability, or the supposed lack thereof. However, Alton Sterling was not three-fifths human, nor is anyone less than human, no matter what decisions they make or where their life leads them.

Alton Sterling with family (via Youtube still)
Alton Sterling with family (via Youtube still)

Even though I have not spent my whole life feeling overly distrustful of police officers, I know for certain that in the case of Alton Sterling, officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake were in the wrong. Listening to the 49-second video in which they refused to explain why they had probable cause and did not attempt to talk him down, which they might have under different circumstances, I do not believe they treated that man like a human. In Louisiana, people do not need license nor registry to carry a gun. Regardless of the circumstances of Sterling’s parole, these officers should have strived to treat him with human respect and dignity. They did not and for that, they were in the wrong all day long.

Alton Sterling, as a black, homeless man on parole, probably spent a huge portion of his life being looked down upon, dehumanized, and ignored. He was dehumanized to the point where two human beings, one a recipient of the Life Saving Award, could with seemingly clear consciences murder a fellow human in less than sixty seconds. It was just as wrong to kill Alton Sterling as it was to kill Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Freddie Gray and everyone else murdered extrajudicially without probable cause. How the Louisiana police dealt with Alton Sterling was an unnecessary tragedy, one that has been seen many times before.

It was just as wrong to kill Alton Sterling as it was to kill Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Freddie Gray and everyone else murdered extrajudicially without probable cause.

It was time to stop these situations from occurring when the constitution was being written, but now we have to heal the hundreds of years that have passed since with discussions that may or may not be uncomfortable for some people. Tough.

(via Wikimedia Commons)
(via Wikimedia Commons)

These discussions need to happen, and they need to happen because without written and oral conversations regarding the extensive injustice that all black people face, how does anyone expect for these racially-charged crises to end? 

Still, having a series of conversations alone will not solve anything. For these conversations to be productive and comprehensive, both sides have to listen, absorb, adapt, and most importantly acknowledge. Acknowledgment goes a long way in healing for both sides. As the famous saying goes, the truth will set you free. The part the quote doesn’t mention is that the aggressor also must acknowledge the truth for it to set anyone free. And it’s not an individual thing, because individuals rarely hold that much power. Majorities must come together and acknowledge themselves and each other, which is a very hard thing to do.

Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that people continue to raise their voices in pain and protest, the acknowledgment on a wide scale has yet to occur.

Alton Sterling— unlike, say, Brock Turner or Dylann Roof, perpetrators of actual horrors—was not treated by the state like his life had value. One in three black people shot by police turn out to be unarmed; the police officers involved in 100 out of 102 cases involving the deaths of unarmed Blacks in 2015 were never convicted for their crimes. Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that people continue to raise their voices in pain and protest, the reciprocal acknowledgment on a wide scale has yet to occur.

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My Feelings as a Black Girl in America Following the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile Murders

via The College Spun

On Wednesday morning, I turned on the news to learn about Alton Sterling, a 37 year old black man who was shot to death by the police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. During the night of July 5, police received an anonymous call from a person stating that Sterling had threatened them with a gun. When police arrived in front of the convenience store that Sterling was selling CDs at, he showed no signs of resistance. He did not reach for his gun, or engage in any verbal or physical alterations with the police: his hands were empty. The two officers proceeded to throw him to onto a car hood, and then onto the ground. Video footage shows an officer reaching for a gun. He shot Alton Sterling in the chest and back. Somehow during the encounter, the police officers’ body cameras became “dislodged” according to the Baton Rouge Police Department. If it weren’t for a cell phone video recording of the event, we would have no idea what actually took place on the night of July 5, as the police took all remaining surveillance cameras from the convenience store where the shooting took place.

via The Washington Post

The owner of the store, Abdullah Muflahi, told CNN that Alton Sterling was a “man who [he’d know for six years] that never got into fights.” In addition to being a friend, he was a father of five.” At a news conference on July 6, Sterling’s oldest son, Cameron Sterling, can be seen standing alongside his mom sobbing “I want daddy.” His mother states, “As a mother, I have now been forced to raise a son who is going to remember what happened to his father.”

Hours later, I turned on the news to learn about Philando Castile’s shooting in Falcon Heights, Missouri. Again, if it weren’t for a cell phone video recording of the event, we would have no idea what actually took place. Castile, who was 32 years old, was pulled over for having a broken taillight. When the police approached his car, Castile was asked for his I.D. According to Castile’s girlfriend, Lavish Reynolds, Philando then announced to police that he legally had a gun. He proceeded to reach for his I.D., as he was asked to, but he could never get to it because he was fatally shot to death. After the officer shot Castile four times, Lavish Reynolds did the best thing possible: pulled out her cell phone. 

For me, getting the news about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile felt too familiar, almost as if it were deja-vu. It’s too often that I turn on the news to hear that a black person has died at the hands of the police. I felt a sudden chill of fear: fear for all black people and also fear of the people who are supposed to be there to protect us, the police. I myself was also scared. I knew that as a black woman, I am still a target. My gender identity does not exclude me from police brutality. My mind then turned back in time. It was suddenly 2012 again in Sanford, Florida, and I had just heard about Trayvon Martin. After walking home from a store, he was wearing a hoodie, and was spotted by George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch. During a 911 call, Zimmerman is heard telling dispatchers, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining, and he’s just walking around.” He goes as far to telling dispatchers that the man looks as if he is black. Moments later, just like that, Trayvon was dead.

via The Daily Beast

I remember in July 2013 when George Zimmerman was found not guilty for slaying the 18 year old. Then, there was the time in Cleveland, Ohio when the officer who shot Tamir Rice to death for mistaking his toy gun for a real firearm did not face any charges. I thought about how there was no indictment against the officer who illegally put Eric Garner in a chokehold in Staten Island, New York and proceeded to kill him even though Garner chanted “I can’t breathe” eleven times. The list of police officers that face no charges for fatally killing a black person goes on and on. In the midst of this, I start to think about the victims. Each and every time, the black victims of police brutality are painted out to be criminals. Skeletons are pulled from the closet as we see old mugshots and learn about minor run-ins with the law. There’s always a false justification that they somehow deserved their deaths. Because they were black, we have forgotten that they were human beings. A few weeks ago, the Stanford rape case was all over the news. Brock Turner was sentenced to six months in jail for raping an unconscious girl behind of a garbage can. Despite his cruel act, I couldn’t escape hearing about how he was a student athlete at the Ivy League Stanford University. Article after article, I read about how Brock Turner had so much to lose. However, if Brock Turner were black, his story would be told so differently.

I think about all of the protesters that accumulate after each name becomes a hashtag. My mind is now on the many protesters who filled Missouri following the murder of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014. Hours before Missouri’s state curfew, the police cleared protests occurring in Ferguson by spraying tear gas in the air. Protesters were deemed as “rowdy.” They were looked down upon because they “destroyed American cities.” However, it is important to consider two things: why protesters were protesting in the first place, which is, in reality, the real problem, and the fact that a majority of protesters were black

I’m angered, sad, and I am hurting. Another member of my community has to die unjustly because of the color of their skin. Although this is who they were born as, they suffer because of the preconceived stereotypes that have existed about them since the birth of this country. Blacks have suffered here, and all around the world, for hundreds of years. Instead of the situation getting better, it’s just continuing in different ways.

via Nation of Change

Today as I was gathering research for this piece, I went on Google and searched “Black Lives Matter Movement is.” Some words that came up from my search were “wrong,” “ridiculous,” “a joke,” and “stupid.” I’m here to say that none of this is true. According to the website, “Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.” They believe in dignity, justice and freedom, not in killing police officers as revenge. We need the #BlackLivesMatter movement because this is a pattern. A pattern that will not be broken until we speak up about it. In this country, there is a disregard for black bodies. According to Mapping Police Violence, “black people are three times more likely to be shot by police than white people.” As long as this cycle keeps happening, the Black Lives Matter movement is completely necessary because black lives do matter.


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Orange Is the New Black: Make Space for Black and Brown Writers

After watching the first, second, and third seasons of Orange is the New Black, I didn’t think there was anyone, or anything, on the show that I could loathe more than Piper Chapman. Season four proved that I was incredibly wrong.

via Wikimedia Commons
via Wikimedia Commons

Orange is the New Black has always explored the very complicated and complex relationships between inmates at Litchfield Penitentiary, a minimum-security women’s prison. The cast consists of people with varied backgrounds and identities. There are prominent black, Hispanic, white, and Asian characters; there are portrayals of lesbian, straight, (implied) bisexual, and trans women. This has always been something that I admired about the show. Though my ideal utopia definitely wouldn’t be in prison, it would be a place where people from a variety of backgrounds live peacefully alongside one another. Litchfield Prison is far from peaceful, but the women’s conflicts in season one through three rarely centered on race alone. I wish season four would have done the same.

With Litchfield now privatized, a load of new inmates are brought to the prison, so Caputo requests more correctional officers for the facility. With new inmates and COs comes heightened racism. Suddenly, white inmates were hostile with Dominican inmates for things like who controlled the channels on TV; Dominican inmates starting their own panty-selling business, challenging the one that Piper created. Piper’s exhausting naïveté led her to tell a CO that she thought the Dominican inmates were in a gang. Per usual, Piper’s ploy to get what she wants required her to utilize the white privileges that be.

The OITNB writers get no kudos from me. Racism and police brutality is not a conversation for them to start. Let black people discuss what they’re experiencing themselves.

The season continues with tension and retaliations between inmates of different races in the prison. Litchfield is now largely segregated, with a white power group that Piper (unintentionally) started raising hell left and right. It became clear by episode 5 that this season was on a singular track.

The all-white OITNB writers’ group decided to talk about what’s “hot” in the news right now: racism. They didn’t think about how this season would affect their non-white audiences. The scenes with Sophia in the SHU (Security Housing Unit), appearing distressed and desperate, were horrifying. Watching Poussey hear her girlfriend Soso, an Asian woman, say the n-word without vocal retaliation from Poussey, was unrealistic. Hearing Cindy, the blackest of the blackest characters, say, “Black people can be racist” was not believable. In fact, it revealed that no black person writes for the show at all.

The OITNB writers' room in 2015 (via Twitter)
The OITNB writers’ room in 2015 (via Twitter)

I was surprised that some black people enjoyed this season of OITNB simply because it discusses race. Though I’ve heard more responses like mine, the ones applauding this season were grateful that this season dealt with racism. While it never hurts to tell more people about what black and brown people experience in America, it was not OITNB’s place to do so; black and brown people should have been given the chance to do it themselves. It’s bad enough that the writers have been giving lines to black and brown people based on experiences they have likely never come across in their own lives. Throwing the deaths of black people in black viewers’ faces and using it as shock value crossed a steep line.

America is already talking about police brutality. People are already talking about what’s racist and what’s not. OITNB season four has done nothing innovative. What upset me the most was Poussey’s death by suffocation from a CO, a death that obviously mimicked the death of Eric Garner. It also mirrored Mike Brown’s death, whose body laid in a street for hours after he was killed. Though I appreciate police brutality against black women being acknowledged, I do not need to see more black death to acknowledge that fact. I read about it and try to avoid it every single day.

While white people can watch this season, cry a little, and move on with their lives, I can’t. The OITNB writers get no kudos from me. Racism and police brutality is not a conversation for them to start. Let black people discuss what they’re experiencing themselves.

If you’re going to write about race in America do it right. Act like you really care and make space for black and brown women at your writers’ table.

Samira Wiley, who plays Poussey, said that her character’s death was “…homage, in a way, of Eric Garner’s death.” Though fictional, that still couldn’t be further from the truth. To me, homage to his death is living the best life you can, speaking up when you see injustice, attending local government meetings, thriving in whatever field you choose, and breaking barriers for the black and brown people who will follow you in that career. Seeing a black character killed off by an all-white writers’ room does not feel like an homage. 

Overall, season four of OITNB sucked. I hope that if the writers room stays all white, they stick to writing about what they know in following seasons. Making this one about race wasn’t enough. All it did was leave black viewers drained and, quite frankly, unimpressed. If you’re going to write about race in America, do it right. Act like you really care and make space for black and brown women at your writers’ table.

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

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