Smile Politely

Reflections of Black Girl Genius Week 2016

I struggled to put words to paper to describe Black Girl Genius Week 2016. Mainly because I was unsure if I had the language to accurately describe the experience. I do not believe I have it fully, but I decided that I would give my best attempt because no one example can fully detail how shifting and reaffirming Black Genius Week 2016 was and that is alright.

Black Girl Genius Week (BGGW) was a week long event at U of I that took place February 22-26, 2016. This week used performance and arts based methods to create spaces to discuss racialized, gendered articulations of genius (which is rarely considered), create new media, culture, ideas, and representations of Black girls that are complex (not stereotypical), while advancing cutting edge art theory and practice. Some of the week’s events included teach-ins, photo and sculpture installations, kick-backs, studio, private sessions at the local middle school, and a culminating concert.

At the beginning of the week the above picture  was taken of me by an artist who joined us for the week, Denise Maurice. Denise Maurice paints energy and it’s no surprise to me that she captured energy in the form of a photograph, too. I was just playing around, being silly, and Denise caught the perfect still and perfect way for me to describe BGGW 2016.

“My homegirls let me know if I want to be free
then let your body flow, bend like the breeze…”
Queen Jessica’s verse on
“Free Women” by We Levitate

I am a free Black girl/woman, but sometimes I get so caught up in the day-to-day hustle and bustle of life that I forget. BGGW 2016 allowed me to remember and experience freedom. During the week of events I showed up, listened intently while we dreamed of new articulations of education, danced until my feet and body hurt, ate well, cried, and articulated love and trust through words and song. Most of all, I got to do this in the company of black girls and women and those who love us.

“Black girl freedom we aint asking cuz we taking it”
Dr. Beezindatrap’s verse on
“Young Girl” by We Levitate

Since the summer of 2008, I have participated in Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths, a collective started in 2006 by Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown here in the C-U area that that uses Black girlhood as freedom as a way to organize spaces for Black girls. BGGW grows out of this work so a part of the week’s event was organizing SOLHOT in one of the local middle schools. It was there, back in SOLHOT, that I was reminded of the freedom I often forget and/or resist.

One of the newest rituals we created was a Black girl hip hop inspired cipher. There we all were not knowing what to expect as we stood in a circle and waiting for the beat to drop. Let me be the first to say that the idea of a cipher in the past had been a source of fear. I had somehow convinced myself that I was not capable of the skill and technique required to participate. Although I’m an artist “doing digital wrongly” through the creation of original music to original beats with the girl band We Levitate, I still find myself obsessed with a “right” and “wrong” to sound and participate. So using the skills I’ve (un)learned and learned from my bandmates, I led the cipher knowing that it would be great because we, Black girls and women, were doing it together. It was there in our Black girl hip hop inspired cipher that I didn’t fear or worry about stumbling over my words or getting it wrong. I let the girls and the spirit of Black girl genius elevate me to my best self and it was perfect.

My best self showed up throughout the week and prepared me for our culminating concert that featured artists such as T.R.U.T.H, Klevah, Sammus, We Levitate, and DJ Lynnee Denise. Each artist brought their own articulation of Black girl genius and it was exciting to watch and inspired me as an artist.

During We Levitate’s performance of “Under Control” (found on our latest EP), I surrendered to ever being too caught up in life to forget that I am free and that I am loved especially by my bandmates. Freedom and love go hand-in-hand. So because I am loved I am free and because I am free, I love. And just as the words of Klevah were often repeated that week I hope and want the freedom and love I found and felt during Black Girl Genius Week 2016 to never let me go.

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