BLACK GIRLS ROCK! Rockstar of the Week

As a child, you’re often asked what you want to do when you grow up. 11 year-old Amiya Alexander of Detroit, Michigan wants to become a Dancing Obstetrician, but she’s not waiting for adulthood to make her dreams come true. As a matter of fact, Alexander’s resume already rivals that of many twice her age. What started out as a fanciful dream of a pink school bus soon became a reality one Christmas morning, thanks to her super supportive mother. Two years ago, at the tender age of nine, Amiya Alexander founded Amiya’s Moblie Dance Academy. Whether young or old, not many people in general can say that they’ve been the CEO or President of a company, but Alexander has been running her business with an impressive amount of brainpower, inventiveness, and overall integrity.

Aside from the obvious feel-good benefits of shaking your groove thang, dancing also counteracts the obesity epidemic that continues to spread throughtout the nation like wildfire. Eager to reverse the staggering statistics of obese children, Alexander travels through the inner-city of Detroit in her school bus-turned dance studio, offering a variety of classes at lower rates than most dance studios.

Not only is Alexander providing younger children with a positive activity that promotes creativity and boosts self-esteem, but she has also quickly become a role model to the same students that she instructs each week. In addition to pliés and tutting, Amiya’s Mobile Dance Academy also teaches youngsters the importance of excelling academically and giving back to their communities.

Now, jeté to her website HERE for much more information about the Dance Academy and Alexander herself. You can even donate money to the Academy and, if you reside in Detroit, submit an application for your own little Judith Jamison in training. Recently, Alexander and her dance school were even featured on The Today Show and CBS Nightly News. Check out the promotional video below to learn more about the dream behind Amiya’s Mobile Dance Academy and how YOU can get involved:

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Show Me the Unbiased Child: Studies on Racial Biases

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

On August 28, 1963, the great Dr. Martin Luther King spoke these legendary words at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. Now, almost half a century later, King’s words have yet to come to fruition. Because despite the popular “post-racial” stance held by many North Americans, it seems as if even King’s little children themselves would not only be judged by the color of their skin, but judge other children by the color of their skin as well.

Earlier this week, Anderson Cooper of CNN aired an AC360 special coverage titled “Black or White: Kids on race,” a pilot study that will be investigating children’s attitude towards race. The end results? Race biases are real and thriving in today’s society, apparently stemming from an early age. Check out a clip of the special below:

Cooper’s study is reminiscent of the 1940’s doll study experiments performed by Kenneth and Mamie Clark, the psychologist couple whose work contributed to the Supreme Court ruling of Brown vs. Board of Education that deemed segregated education unconstitutional.  More specifically, “The Souls of Black Girls,” directed by Daphne Valerius, and “A Girl Like Me,” directed by Kiri Davis, both explored the perceptions of race held by teenage black girls. In addition to skin color biases, the young women interviewed for the films also discussed perceptions of hair, a hot button topic within the black community.

With issues as significant and sensitive as racial biases, the solutions are tenfold, and yet very difficult to determine. For instance, should parents school their three year olds about the ignorance surrounding racial differences? Perhaps, but the burden for this racial bias should weigh down on the media as much as it should on parents. Movies and television both have a tremendous impact on young minds and the way they perceive others in society, hence the urgent need for multidimensional representations of people of color in the media. By supporting organizations such as BLACK GIRLS ROCK! Inc. whose missions and goals are dedicated to overhauling the negative biases held towards people of color, particularly young women, you are making a direct impact on the young, impressionable minds of the next generation to come; and hopefully, as a result, studies such as Cooper’s, the Clark’s, Valerius’ and Davis’ will become unnecessary.

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In Living Color: An Interview with Artist Tamara Natalie Madden

Have you ever come across an amazing work of art and thought, “I wonder what the story is behind this piece?” Well, after looking through painter Tamara Natalie Madden’s collection, you will undoubtedly be asking yourself, “What’s the story behind this artist?” Madden’s self-taught gift for painting actually stemmed from a life-threatening kidney illness that she battled as a young girl. Thankfully, Madden conquered the illness thanks to her (at the time) long-lost brother who agreed to a kidney transplant. Painting continued to serve as an expressive tool long after her recovery. Madden may have come to the United States in her teenage years, but the large influence that Jamaica, her mother country, has had on her work can be found in the bright colors and organic textures that she uses. In honor of her astounding project “Never Forgotten,” Madden has recently received a grant from the Puffin Foundation. For more information on Tamara, please head to her website http://www.tamaranataliemadden.com/.

BLACK GIRLS ROCK: How did painting help you battle your illness? Do you consider painting a therapeutic art form?

Tamara: I suffered from a rare form of kidney disease called IGA Nephropathy, in my early twenties. It was a shock to my young mind. Illness is never expected at that age, but I didn’t seek relief until I really began to see the effects of the disease. I had always sketched, and done pastel work, but I really began to delve more deeply into it when I became ill. The dialysis treatments were the most challenging: physically and emotionally.
My saving grace was my sketchbook, and my headphones. They helped me to escape the reality of what I was dealing with, somewhat. Drawing and painting became my only means of freedom during those times. I know that creating art is therapeutic. It soothes the mind and soul, and that’s essential when people are troubled by their difficult realities. I’m not sure where I would be if I didn’t have art as an option.

BLACK GIRLS ROCK: As a young woman, who were some of your mentors and influences?

Tamara: My first influences were my Uncles. Both of the uncles that I interacted with were Rastafarians, and they were both highly creative. My uncle Carl was the most influential because he lived with us. He would make woodcarvings out of scraps, and I would sit and watch him in awe. I was completely fascinated by the process. He also drew pictures in pencil, and that was a source of inspiration, as well.

Many of my influences also came from the books that I read, and the images that I would see on the covers, and sometimes inside of the books. Not only would I study the words, but I also studied the images.  When I got older, and came to America my mother had a friend who was an artist, and her watercolors enthralled me. I have to say though, that one of my greatest mentors was an art teacher in summer school when I was 14. I don’t know his name, but I’ll never forget him. He taught me how to draw faces, albeit Caucasian faces, but faces nonetheless. At the end of the year, he told me that he could see my passion for art, and he encouraged me to keep at it. He gave me all of the left over art supplies. I never forgot that, or him because his encouragement made me believe that the possibility was there.

Black Girls Rock: What are some sources of inspiration for your paintings?

Tamara: Everyday people, hard working people who are often overlooked, inspire me. I began painting them in their literal form; many of them were working, cleaning, carrying baskets, and raising children. As I remembered these people from Jamaica, I remembered how beautiful many of them were internally. They were neighbors, and friends who would share a meal with you, even though they barely had enough to give. They would come by and help you clean, or sit and keep you company during trying times. Many had their own internal struggles that they were dealing with, but once they opened their mouths, they talked about their blessings, and they praised God relentlessly.

These people are often judged and looked down upon by society, and I found that when I painted them, the same thing happened; they were judged and looked down upon. I decided that it was important for them to be seen for who they were intrinsically. The kings and queens are my interpretation of those people and their internal & eternal beauty. The paintings make you stop and stare and wonder who these people are, when before, no one gave them a second look.  Beauty is so much more than physicality, and though my paintings may capture a beautiful essence, that essence belongs to the soul of the people that I’m inspired by. The birds are a personal symbol of my freedom from dialysis, and illness.

Black Girls Rock: What has been your greatest challenge in your career?

Tamara: The sacrifice. Being an artist requires a lot of sacrifice. It requires patience, and faith. It can be a challenging journey with lots of bumps along the way. Unfortunately, in the art world, I’m not just considered an artist; I am ‘black’, then ‘woman’, then ‘artist.’ All of those titles present there own unique set of obstacles. In addition, to trying to meander my way through the visual art world, while being taken seriously, and not loosing my integrity; I have to be an educator. It’s essential that the new generation of black children learn about the arts, and the value of the arts. They need to understand that art is an investment, which will benefit them for many generations. They also need to know that art is the keeper of history in many cases; it’s an essential doorway to their ancestors.

Black Girls Rock: Do you have any advice for young women of color interested in the arts?

Tamara: My advice is to never stop dreaming, never stop believing, and never stop challenging yourself. You have to strive to achieve your personal best. Don’t ever compare yourself or your work to others because no one in this world can do what you do. Each person is truly unique, so you must embrace that.
The other piece of advice is to throw your ego out of the window, and stomp on it! :) In order to grow, you have to take some level of criticism. It may hurt, but it makes you better at your craft. Art is not a business for the faint of heart, so if you feel like you’ve got the gift, the willpower, and the faith, then dive on in…and forget the life jacket, it’s sink or swim. My mantra: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

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BLACK GIRLS ROCK! Rockstar of the Week

All over the country, college students are now in the midst of studying, cramming, and writing final exams and papers. This week’s Rockstar has something that no amount of energy drink, Cliff Notes, or Wikipedia articles could ever supply: a huge serving of of inspiration. 21-year-old Katie Washington has recently been declared the valedictorian of the University of Notre Dame’s graduating class of 2010. An incredible feat that’s exponentially magnified due to the fact that Washington is the first black valedictorian in Notre Dame’s 161-year-old history. Although the university does not keep record of each valedictorian’s race, no faculty or administrator has been able to recall any black valedictorian in the past.

Originally from Gary, Indiana, Washington was also crowned valedictorian in 2006 at her alma mater West Side High School. Throughout her college career, she has maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA while majoring in Biology and minoring in Catholic Social teaching. Choosing Washington’s most impressive accolade most likely leads to coin tosses. How could one possibly choose? Is it the lung cancer research she has conducted? How about her performing genetic studies on mosquitoes transmitting dengue and yellow fever? Maybe her co-authoring a research papers with her Biology professor? Of course, her mentoring and tutoring for the Sister-to-Sister at South Bend community’s Washington High School definitely gives her an A+ in our book. Following in the medical footsteps of her father, Washington will be joining the joint M.D./Ph.D program at John Hopkins University next school year.

“I am humbled,” Katie Washington said, during an interview with The Northwest Indiana Times. ” I am in a mode of gratitude and thanksgiving right now.”

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She Rocks! Three Fashionistas To Watch

Spring is a time for rebirth, renewal, and regrowth.  It’s also an ideal time to update your wardrobe, so out with the mess, and in with the fresh! Thanks to sites such as esty and ebay, a plethora of online boutiques and shops have sprouted all over, each offering a unique fashion statement and stylistic vision. As shoppers, we now have access to a wide range of clothing and accessories like never before–the virtual sky is the limit. In addition to providing us with one-of-a-kind duds, these über-talented designers have made their daydreams into reality by embracing an entrepreneurial business model. Meet two designers that stand out from the large crowd. What’s best is that they both incorporate elements of Black culture and style into their designs. We guarantee that these women will have you funky, fresh dressed to impress and ready to party!

Tennille Mcmillan

This native Brooklyn virtuoso challenges convention with the bright graphics, old-school swag, and larger-than-life concepts. Mcmillan, who also goes by America’s sweetheart, currently has two labels: NaKIMuli (appropriately translating to “flower”) and Shanae, both of which feature women’s fashion. Like a breath of fresh air, Mcmillan disregards the notion that emaciated equals beautiful and that tall means model. Most of her groundbreaking designs come in plus sizes, a fact that sets Mcmillan above the crowd. Did we mention that she also models these designs? Measuring in at a petite 5’2”, Mcmillan models her own label attire like none other. Her fun personality shines through each and every photo, adding yet another rockstar dimension to her designs. Recently, Mcmillan has added a collection of snazzy leggings, cute bowties, vintage jewelry, and afrocentric bangles to the NaKIMuli website. Keep checking HERE for the NaKIMuli collection and head HERE for a sneak peek at her upcoming spring collection!

We at naKIMuli want to create a fashion revolution: replace the cookie cutter model with one that embraces individuality, comfort, and fun. Become your own trendsetter. -Tennille Mcmillan

Rachel Stewart

From the earliest civilizations to the new millennium, jewelry has been known to make as loud of a statement as clothing. In the case of Rachel Stewart’s jewelry line, her earrings, necklaces, and headbands make artful proclamations, affirming the glamour in natural beauty and Black culture. Born in North Carolina, Stewart was drawn to art of multiple mediums since birth, particularly painting. What began as a small interest in making and selling peacock earrings soon grew into an in-demand jewelry line. Whether you’re a diva, african queen, bohemian sister, or b-girl, Stewart has something for you. Especially noteworthy are her pieces that feature Black entertainment icons, such as Stevie Wonder, Pam Grier, and Micheal Jackson. Even some of the earrings’ names–Assata, Makeba, and Ankh–demonstrate a recurring theme in Stewart’s work. She clearly understands the importance of remembering and celebrating Black culture and has found a way for her customers to look fierce in the process. Clutches, purses, and personalized pieces are next in store for Stewart’s line, but in the meanwhile check out her store HERE. Hurry though, because her pieces sell fast!

Art is whatever you have the NERVE to do. -Rachel Stewart

Maya Amina Lake

When it comes to breaking new ground, there’s one simple formula that continues to stand the test of time–fuse an old school concept with a new school twist. Hip hop producers have done so with sampling, Converse has done so with Chuck Taylors, and now Maya Amina Lake has done so with her woman’s clothing line, Boxing Kitten. When describing the look of her line, Lake uses the term “ethnic rockabilly” to define her extraordinary pieces. Reminiscent of West African fashion, the african wax block print fabric used for each outfit takes center stage in Lake’s collection. Because of the arbitrary process involved in creating the fabric, Lake ensures that no two patterns are ever the same. One look at the impeccable construction of her designs and one would never guess that this Boogie-down Bronx native is actually self-taught. Lake’s fusion of funky, African prints with vintage-inspired, feminine designs circa the 1950’s displays a clear understanding of creative irony. Of course, having a large celebrity following doesn’t hurt either. Erykah Badu, Rihanna, Solange, Fergie, Goapele, and Jack Davey–to name a few–have all been spotted rocking Lake’s signature pieces; and keep a look out for Alicia Keys’ music video ” Put It In A Love Song” featuring Beyonce, because we hear the two songstresses are decked out in Boxing Kitten gear from head to toe! Head HERE to cop some pieces for yourself and give B a run for her money.

Powerful women from all walks of life inspire me. Inspiration is everywhere and always evolving. It’s very important to grow and I am constantly learning new things, and being inspired by all kinds of women in my life. -Maya A. Lake

Image courtesy of Concreteloop.com

Image courtesy of Concreteloop.com

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Remembering Dr. Dorothy Height

The Akan of West Africa have a proverb that beautifully illustrates the importance of remembering the legendary Dr. Dorothy Height: “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translates to “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” Yet, what if you never knew enough to go back in the first place?

As inspiring as Black History Month can be, it is absurd to think that a history as complex and convoluted as that of black people could possibly be relegated to a matter of 28 (or 29) days. In that short amount of time, many a pioneer is overlooked or covered in such a shallow, archaic manner that what was initially intended as celebration and retrospection ultimately becomes inadequate cliché. As a result, the redundant portrayals of these individual’s portrayal’s and their roles in Black History make it understandably difficult for the younger generations to identify with their predecessors.

Well, to all of the young people out there reading this–have you ever  been prematurely judged because of your race? How about your gender? Imagine getting accepted into your dream college, only to be turned away due to an unspoken quota of only two students of your racial background. Now, picture a world with no female DJs, no congresswomen, and no BLACK GIRLS ROCK. As absurd as this imaginary world may seem to you, this was the reality for a young Dr. Dorothy Height, who had been turned away from Barnard College in 1929.

The discrimination that Dr. Height faced from the college would ultimately propel her towards a career in education and social activism. Upon receiving her bachelors (1932) and masters degree (1933) from NYU, Dr. Height set out to ensure that regardless of race, gender, or class, no other person would have to endure the same injustice that she had. Dr. Height would go on to becoming “the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement,” as President Obama has recently declared. In true BLACK GIRLS ROCK! fashion, Dr. Height stood her own as the sole female member of the Big Seven, an activist group that included Martin Luther King Jr., A Phillip Randolph, Whitney Young, and Roy Wilkins. Gender inequality also played a large role in Dr. Height’s activism. At the age of 25, she joined the National Council of Negro Women, an unprecedented organization of which Dr. Height would ultimately become president from 1957 until 1997. For all of the sorors out there, Dr. Dorothy Height was a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta and contributed greatly to the sorority’s legacy by creating leadership training programs and educational services to the community.

In the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Height coordinated a great deal of workshops and activist groups, including “Wednesdays in Mississippi,” a  regular meet-up of black and white women from the North and the South, and pig banks, an organization that helped poor rural families raise livestock. American leaders such as President Eisenhower, President Lyndon B. Johnson, President Clinton, and the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt would repeatedly come to Dr. Height for counseling on national matters. Height’s seven decades of fighting for equality and human rights received the highest national honors in 1994 and 2004, when she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, respectively.Of course, the fact that Dr. Dorothy Height worked towards all of her accomplishments in fabulous signature hats, gloves, and pearls makes her all the more fierce in our eyes.
I want to be remembered as someone who used herself and anything she could touch to work for justice and freedom…. I want to be remembered as one who tried. -Dr. Dorothy Height [1]

Last Tuesday, Dr. Dorothy Height passed away at 98 in Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C. The outstanding legacy that she leaves behind should not become another ancient relic, only to be recovered and dusted off every February. No, just as Dr. Height relentlessly struggled for seemingly unattainable rights, people everywhere, particularly black women, ought to follow Dr. Heights lead and begin taking the initiative. Granted, the social and political climate in the US may not seem as dire as during the 60s and 70s, and so making a difference may seem all the more daunting and impossible, given that there is no current movement similar in influence and strength Civil Rights Movement. The key to remaining hopeful lies in baby steps. Why not try the following:

  • Creating and following a book club focused on Africana scholars
  • Volunteering for the social non-profit of your choice
  • Setting up literacy classes with your friends
  • Beginning a Big Brother/Big Sister program at your school
  • Throwing monthly dinners to honor and remember those who fought and died for our rights

As long as you do not forget to look back and learn, you will be able to face the future as fearlessly as Dr. Dorothy Height.

How do you feel about the passing of Dr. Dorothy Height? How has she inspired you to make a difference?

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Calling All Flawless Beauties!

BLACK GIRLS ROCK! has teamed up with AMBI Skincare to celebrate those special women who go above and beyond whether it’s volunteering, lending an ear, or providing daily inspiration and motivation! She could be your next door neighbor, a colleague, a family member, or even yourself! Whoever its is, she truly embodies a flawless beauty not only on the outside, but on the inside too.

The final winner will receive:

  • Tickets to the 2010 BLACK GIRLS ROCK! Awards
  • $1,000 spending spree
  • Transportation and hotel
  • Dinner at a trendy restaurant
  • A year’s supply of AMBI products

Please head to WWW.FLAWLESSBEAUTYCONTEST.COM now to nominate the flawless beauty in YOUR life!!

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