10 Moments of Black Genius for VOW in 2015

10 Moments of Black Genius for VOW in 2015

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2015 has been a busy and amazing year but in this update we’ll spare you the minutia and hit the highlights in roughly chronological order. Stay tuned for a more in-depth recap to come at a later date.

1. We organized two Black Genius Field Trips exposing 20+ youth and their families to the great work of Dr. Mark Anthony Neal and Phil Freelon.

Youth testing fabric

2. We teamed up with Black August in the Park to host an event that attracted over 1,200 participants. We hosted a family zone along with our amazing friends over at Spirit House.

Image by Derrick Beasley

Image by Derrick Beasley

3. Education Pioneers called and apparently they believe every Educator in America should talk to our founder.

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4. We hosted Black Genius Fest & Mural Dedication partnering with Durham’s Office of Employment and Workforce Development and the Durham Civil Rights Mural team. Over 200 people attended with their families.

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5. We attended over 15 community events, resource fairs, and convenings to spread the word about VOW.

Liz and Dwight

6. We were named semifinalists for Camel Back Venture fellowship. We find out if we win the fellowship in 2016.

7. We teamed up with leaders of color, and parents from across the nation to present the idea of Revolutionary Black parenting and protecting Black Genius to a national audience at #AGOL2015.

8.We got to know 10 local families in Durham a little better and they helped us better understand Black Genius our Black Genius Profile.

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9. The Blueprint for Black Genius emerged. We wrote about it and Huff Post published. Thanks for the assist Echoing Green!

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10. We raised over $6000 in funds as a part of a crowdfunding campaign to Protect Black Genius. You all — our supporters raised $2000 in the first 2 days of the fundraiser. Even better, more than 75 donors contributed before the end of the campaign. Big thanks to CBMA for coordinating. We’re giving everybody who donates more than $50 a super fly Black Genius Sweatshirt. You still have time to support and help us win a $5000 grant if you donate before 12/30/2015.

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And that’s all folks. Thanks so much for making 2015 an amazing year. We can’t wait to show you what we have in store for 2016!

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

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

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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

Want more photos? You’re photo greedy 🙂 but we got you covered there’s more over on Facebook!

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Black Genius Field Trip: Freelon Agency

Black Genius Feild Trips

Fifteen boys, with their parents standing behind them, watched a digital video rendering of the soon to be completed National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) on the National Mall in Washington DC. They were all inside of a large boardroom, which was decked with furniture that a few of the younger boys referred to as “Grown Up Chairs.” Chairs where the leaders of the Freelon Architecture Group sit and discuss how to make the buildings they design best represent and reflect the communities in which they are built.

Phillip Freelon, a Black man, leads the firm, which has been responsible for designing numerous libraries, museums and more across the country, including Durham’s own Bulls’ stadium and the beautiful Public Health building on East Main Street.

Three Black women described the firms winning pitch to build the NHAAMC. Zena a principal at the firm explained, “We proposed to have five floors below grade because the history of Black folks in this country was too deep and rich for the mere four stories that were allotted for the museum above ground. So our firm proposed digging five stories below grade to match the depth of the African-American story.”

As I sat there taking it all in I was nearly moved to tears, thinking about the confluence of the moment. My thoughts raced about the state of schools in America for Black children. Our visit to the agency occurred just a few days after the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education and on the same day as Malcolm X’s birth. Reflecting on all that had been sacrificed for the moment we were in to happen and all that must be given to create such moments in the future, was a bit heavy for me. I knew this was a story that Kendrick would have probably never heard if one of VOW’s hardworking volunteers hadn’t swung by his mother’s house to pick him up after a last minute request. A story that would have gone unheard by too many youth if VOW board member Kaia Clarke didn’t hustle to get her church’s young men’s ministry to come through with only a week’s notice. But the story was told and heard, and it could be credited to the resilience of the Black American spirit.

I frequently ponder what would happen if in schools where 80% or more of the population was White but 80% of the history taught was about Black people and only 20% about White people. As discordant as this scenario sounds I fear many children of color in this country face a tragically similar situation. Even more as a teacher I personally taught science curriculums that were frequently disconnected from the very real jobs students should be competing for once they matriculate. Indeed students of color often experience a curriculum that is low on real-world application and un-affirming of their cultural identity. Unfortunately, many students in this country frequently learn from teachers forced to focus undivided attention into test preparation and not preparing them for the world they must navigate.

So as we all stood there pondering the levels of spectacular to celebrate the impact of Black life past, present, and tomorrow, there was still one more layer of awesome to enjoy for me, as a recovering science teacher. The conversations on this day were interwoven with themes of creativity, design, science, math, art and energy efficiency. On this day we made good on creating an experience that was intellectually stimulating and reaffirming of our children’s racial identity. On May 19th for 90 minutes, thanks to the Freelon Group and the VOW family, I couldn’t think of a better place in the world to be.