Black Geniuses Stage the Future

Black Geniuses Stage the Future

Black Genius Feild Trips Uncategorized

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As I descended the stairs to The Vault, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Saturday’s Black Genius Field Trip focused on careers in theater. Our featured guests were Kalilah Black, a member of the Broadway musical The Lion King,  and Monet Marshall, leader of Durham’s Mojoaa Performing Arts Company. Having seen The Lion King a few weeks prior, I was excited to hear about the inner workings of the production.

The room felt like a theater. I was greeted by stage lights from Insibiah Media, cameras from The Beautiful Project, and a near full house of kids and their families at the edge of their seats. Volunteers set up chairs and concessions while children wrestled with anticipation, poking each other and whispering excitedly. Babies took in the sights and sounds curiously as parents talked among themselves easily and comfortably, knowing that their families were in a safe space. Much to my surprise, even the older kids seemed eager for the afternoon to begin. Sure, they walked in coolly, as teens do, but their eyes showed excitement, taking it all in.

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Two regal Black women assumed center stage. Smartly dressed and owning the space, Monet gently coaxed the youth to the floor. “Could all of the young people and young at heart please join me down here on the mat?” The kids took their places with no hesitation, scooting around and making room for one another. Watching them as they hungrily awaited instruction from these beautiful women invoked an image of village Elders passing on their wisdom. Before them stood two highly accomplished women boasting college degrees, acting careers, and entrepreneurial success. An instant bond formed between the ladies, children, and families, setting the tone for the remainder of the afternoon. One by one, hands shot up with questions. The future stars were anxious to soak up all that the women had to offer. In that exchange lay an unseen, selective trust between the families and the dynamic duo. Because these women looked like them, spoke like them, and seemed to understand them, the children were open to the knowledge they could impart. Language and a sense of humor really opened the pathways for the children to open up to Kalilah and Monet who were not only down to earth, but also recognized the wonderful creativity within each child. They expected the best from the children which led to positive responses.

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The youth asked questions like, “How old were you when you started acting?” and “How did your parents feel about you wanting to be an actress?” This conversation, shed light on the starting point of Black Genius awareness of Interest and talents. A child’s recognition of their own intellectual curiosity foreshadows a passion that could very well drive their career path.  VOW’s Blueprint for Black Genius recognizes that children who are aware of their talents and interests are easily motivated and smoothly navigate toward their self-determined goals. The confidence that accompanies a child’s self-awareness gives parents the first tools they need to communicate with, affirm their child, and move them along their chosen path.

By illuminating the wealth of opportunities for young people, “Careers in Theater” pushed families to disrupt existing systems. Indeed, young people who are extended the grace to think outside of conventional standards will explore how to imagine their Highest Selves independent of social barriers such as racism, classism, sexism. Monet introduced this revisioning of self within a free Black future as Afro-futurism which visibly challenged the sensibilities of most of the kids. It was as if the idea of having a world devoid of racial inequity hadn’t occurred to many of them. Boundless ceilings were a new territory that the children would leave with that day as well as practical ways of pursuing that Promised Land. Therein, a silent pact was made. Parent to child, family to family, child to teacher- all resolved to dream big and uphold one another’s vision.

Visioning and the role of a supportive community became a central theme in conversation and was showcased through interactive games like “Let’s Make a Machine” and “Fainting Durham”.  Play is instrumental in learning, but the same can be said for community building as these games allowed the children to see how each their fates were not only similar to other Youth in the room but interconnected.  They were able to learn the responsibility that they have to one another as well as the benefits of shared visioning. Kalilah and Monet, even went so far as to retell the story of their friendship, successfully illustrating another Black Genius element; the necessity of trust and vulnerability in relationships when reaching for success.

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Unsure of the future that could be, a lingering question summed up the day’s events. “What do you think is the number one thing a young person can do to be successful?” A moment of quiet settled over the room as the ladies considered the day’s conversations, honoring the weight of such a question. Although we know that there isn’t a foolproof recipe for achieving one’s highest potential, we were now privy to a host of principles that could put one closer to their crowning moment. The gutsy answer? “Create your own idea of what success is and go after it.” What would normally seem like a vague response landed softly and was well received. It was padded with the days’ summations and could be unpacked at home with a more than capable community of families equipped with new language and relationships to communicate through.

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Finally, a farewell song and dance offered the benediction. As Kalilah’s melodious voice floated over the audience, the fluidity of movement and the confidence with which the group danced engrained in our minds an aesthetic of supportive community. Each child holding true to their unique form, allowed us to appreciate the way we complement and edify one another within a cooperative system. Each one taking their place under a single song helped us to envision the future that is our birthright to claim. In a single afternoon we’d empowered ourselves to empower one another. We were feeling ourselves and we were confident in our abilities and the strength of the community that would take us there- there being our our bright, beauty-full, unbounded future.

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Images made in solidarity by The Beautiful Project for the preservation of Black Genius

“Well Yeah, I’m a Genius…” Black Genius Fest 2015 Recap

“Well Yeah, I’m a Genius…” Black Genius Fest 2015 Recap

Uncategorized

Hand propped out in a matter-of-fact kind of way, 4 year-old Aiden let me know with all confidence, “Well yeah, I’m a genius…” His voice trailed off as if setting the words into his psyche, then coming back to the present moment began to enlighten me on the mechanics of his favorite toy ship at the pre-school he attends. The creative genius that pulsed beneath his curly kinks burst through his eyes and sent lightning to his fingertips. He explained how the parts were connected and how he was guardian of this ship because of course, he was the only one in his class with a thorough knowledge of its functions. His description was so animated and detailed that I believe I could have been speaking with a future Navy officer or maritime engineer. Aiden’s innocent and unbound spirit brought joy to my heart. I imagined a world where his Blackness was not only celebrated, but his genius incubated and cultivated into its full potential. I imagined a world where all children were as secure in their genius as Aiden seemed to be. Moments like this abounded at Village of Wisdom’s First Annual Black Genius Fest – a space where we examined our roles as families, students, teachers and overall change makers within the community.

I Am a Black Genius

Black Genius Fest began with the unveiling of the Durham Civil Rights Mural. Just as I was envisioning a future for young Aiden and his peers, we were reminded with this celebration that those elders honored on the mural too had a vision. Their sacrifices and dedication were brought into central focus as we revisited that particular moment in history. Nowhere else in Durham would you have found such a beauty-full blending of the Past, Present, and Future as was seen on that bright Saturday morning. Indeed this event reflected a mutli-generational approach where the voices of young and old melded together.  The soulful Mary Williams helped us lift up the spirits of our ancestors in song. SpiritHouse  helped us to channel the energy of resilience through their resistance movement, choreographing the motion of the crowd to reflect the legacy of Black Americans fighting for justice. Words of wisdom were offered from giants of Durham’s local civil rights struggle Floyd B. McKissick Jr. and Vivian McCoy as they illuminated the difficult details of freedom-striving through sit-ins and protest in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Their contributions took us into a time machine where we were observers keeping notes to take back to our Future selves, hungrily taking in the last bits of history walking among us.  In a moment, spans of generations were melded as one.

Wesley Moderating the Wisdom Panel

Wrapped in nostalgia, resistance, and wisdom the Black Genius Fest was also a call to action for our community to rally around the babies – our leaders in training. It was our inaugural effort to bring multiple aspects of community together into a single space and make a proposition to our youth with an appeal to their authentic selves, pushing them to fully express whatever calling has been put into their hearts. It was a challenge to the next generation; to think beyond the standards of the world they’ve inherited and embrace their inner dialogue as a blueprint to create new systems.

Resistance Move- SpiritHouse

The “Black Genius” bookbags they wore became indicators of a message well received as the children surveyed the host of entrepreneurs that mirrored their future. In rapid movements some bounced around at Terreiro’s drumming table as they pounded out their unique tunes as practice for the day that they would start their own bands. Others stood still in concentration as they worked to diligently master tying a Natty’s Neckware bowtie for the day that they themselves would become CEOs. Some glided from side to side as they crafted a mural of their own, thinking of the day when they would paint their own stories. Squeals of laughter rang throughout the crowd as some baby geniuses chased one another around just ahead of that inevitable “Get back here!” that Mama would belt out as she shuffled close behind. As things wound down and the coast was clear a few brave young souls took to the platform stage and danced to the music. Feeling free and uninhibited as children often do, they whipped, nay-nayed, and shook to the beat with little and few onlookers. These were some of the sights and sounds of a day to remember.

 

Sitting there in between a commemorated Past that I had no tangible memory of, yet speaking with who I knew to be the Future struck a particular chord in me. Who is responsible for Aiden’s future? What does it take to preserve his zeal for something as simple as a toy ship so that it carries him throughout the hardships and disappointments of an ambitious Life? The most readily available answers are probably his parents and good schooling.  While these are both correct they leave us wanting in the context of a desire to create a communal outlook where harnessing the potential of our children is at the forefront. Beyond the responsibilities of his parents and school teachers, we as a community must account for the environments in which he will thrive and grow. To this end, Village of Wisdom proposes the Black Genius Profile– a five point plan of action for the edification of the creative genius within every child. In support of this model, Village of Wisdom will be using the insights offered by Black Genius community to continually expand and develop this framework.

Drumming Table

Nudging young Aiden gently, his mother began to reach for his hand, looking at me with “farewell” eyes. Having long since taken our conversation of toy ships to another level, I took her hint and began rounding out my words with the handsome fella.

“I’m so sorry Aiden but I can’t come play at your house today. Maybe some other time?”

He paused, unconvinced. “You gotta stay here don’t you?”

“Yup. “ I nodded my head.

“That’s okay. I need to take a nap anyway. ”

And just like that Aiden was off with a piece of my heart. I wished him sweet dreams of greatness, hoping to see him again one day.  His book bag getting smaller as he walked into the distance, a bright red “Black Genius” sign on his back let me know that with the proper protection of love and attention the Future rest on more than capable shoulders of brilliance.

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Credits:

Special Thanks to all of the following for showing up and helping youth connect to their genius: Harizon Beauty Bar, Durham Economic Resource Center (DERC), Science in the Community (SITC), Walltown Children’s Theatre, Triangle Friends of African American Arts, Natty Neckware and Terreiro de Arte e Cultura

Thanks to Beyu Cafe for their generous financial support

Thanks to Tonda and Vinny Smith for sponsoring the children’s snack bags

Thanks to Durham’s Office of Workforce Development, the Durham Civil Rights Mural Team and Brenda Miller Holmes, without them this event would not have happened.

MC: Pierce Freelon

DJ Mic Check: @djmiccheck

Photo Credit: Derrick Beasley

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