Tag Archives: BlackGirlMagic

09Dec/18

NATURAL BORN LEADERS

Black women have often been seen as a liability rather than an asset in many careers. This can be especially true for Black women with natural hair. As the year comes to a close, Taji Mag reflects on two strong Black women leaders with natural hair.
Shauntrice Martin and Wyllene Turner come from different backgrounds, but they are both Black women focused on improving the lives of young people. They are both leaders within an organization called the Bay Area Urban Debate League (affectionately known as “BAUDL”). There are dozens of urban debate leagues across the country and BAUDL has the most diverse staff along with such accolades as National Champions, League of the Year, and Champions of Diversity. They are truly making moves. I was able to interview these brilliant young women recently to learn more about what it means to be a leader and part of #teamnatural.
DapperDrFeel: Tell me a little about your organization.
Shauntrice Martin: The Bay Area Urban Debate League is an after-school program focused on marginalized youth in Title I schools. The goal is to engage students in policy debate to improve academic performance and college acceptance.
DDF: What are your titles?
SM: I am the executive director
Wyllene Turner: I got involved in Baudl in my 10th grade of high school. Then when I graduate in 2011 I came back to work and a regional coordinator until I worked my way up to Program Coordinator.
DDF: Ok, let’s get right into it. What does it mean to be a Black woman in a leadership role?
WT: It means that I have the opportunity to show represent, especially in a sport that is primarily a white male sport like debate.
SM: More than half of my time is spent on fundraising and development. Most of our donors are affluent white males and a lot of the “experts” in the field don’t look like me or the students we work with. I’ve dealt with microaggressions (being asked how I learned to speak so well, assumptions that I never met my father, etc.). When confronted with these issues, I’ve had to make decisions about whether to react in the moment and what the consequences might be. While this is not unique to a person of any race in a leadership role, my actions are seen as a representation of ALL Black women. As a Black woman, I have the added responsibility of representing the entire race as if we have monthly meetings of the Black Monolith.

 

Three students holding trophies after a win. Hesten, Ne’Jahra, and Jessica.
DDF: So how does being a Black woman with natural hair impact your work?
WT: I’ve been natural for about 7 years now! And I decided to go natural to find my self again, as I see it black women are so held back by their hair because it is seen as a symbol to show a multitude of things. Growing my locs where a way to take my crown back and make my own image!
SM: It gives me confidence. I know I will usually stand out in a crowd. At the same time, I went natural in college because I had people around me who celebrated me without trying to change me. We all deserve that feeling. In that way, it has a positive impact on my work. Conversely, I have been told to “tame” my hair in previous positions. I have been hyped up by white colleagues and supervisors when my hair was pressed straight as a signal that my naps were not welcomed in the workplace.
DDF: Speak more on that Shauntrice–are you saying that it is a bad thing to have natural hair in a corporate environment?
SM: I’ve had hundreds of white colleagues over the years and many of them don’t know how to react to my hair. I’ve had strangers reach out to touch my hair. I’ve had donors comment on my skin tone. Several years ago, before I had my son, I was asked in an interview whether I planned to wear afro puffs to the office. There is nothing but love growing out of my scalp so if someone attributes negative characteristics to my hair, it means they have a problem, not me.

 

Executive Director of BAUDL Shauntrice Martin
DDF: Ok, right on. In what other ways does being a Black woman in a leadership role present challenges?
WT: The challenges I face are people in different spaces act as if I don’t know what I am doing…which is funny because they’ll usually do that at an event I’m hosting.
SM: Yes. Hiring Wyllene was one of my best decisions as an executive director. She was hired based on merit, and as she said, she worked her way up to a full-time position. Because of the way she looks (dark-skinned woman with natural hair) people underestimate her. I have seen people disrespect her in situations and they end up looking like fools when she comes through. She cares about her job and if people could stop projecting their bias onto Black women, they would see that.
DDF: I noticed your organization is quite large for an after-school program. How many students do you serve?
SM: This school year we are on track to work with almost 1,000 youth in the Bay.
DDF: That is impressive. How do you maintain a program like this?
SM: Having people like Wyllene is absolutely essential. Our staff is one of the most diverse groups in the country. Most of the people who work at BAUDL graduated from the program. Our budget is just around half a million dollars and thankfully we have a dope volunteer base. I also do this really innovative thing when hiring people–I trust Black women.
DDF: Well there you have it. Now how can people get involved and support the work you do?
SM: The two biggest things we need right now are volunteers and donors. We have an end-of-the-year campaign called the #MakingMoves campaign. This is a Black-run organization and we hope to keep it that way. If you want to donate $5, $50, $50,000 use our link: www.tinyurl.com/wedebate. You can also share our story and encourage others to support.

Wyllene Turner

22Apr/16
Samuel L Jackson

That Time Samuel L Jackson Gave Me #BlackGirlMagic

In 1997 I was a skinny tomboy with a ghetto name at a predominantly white school in the midwest. I lived with my father – let’s call him Tom – and his white wife whose daily message to me was that my hair was unkempt. I was going through a somewhat punk\alternative phase because that’s what the other kids were going through, and I wanted to fit in. I wore those super wide leg pants with holes in them and a pocket chain. Revolutionary adult me would have been embarrassed by such fashion choices, but 90s awkward preteen me was just trying to make up for the fact that I was dark skinned. It was a lonely and depressing time.

And then there was Samuel L Jackson.

Wait… the dude who yells in all his movies? The slave from Django? The ‘motherf—er’ man? Yes! The very same. I saw the film Eve’s Bayou, written by a Black woman named Kasi Lemmons (Caveman’s Valentine, 2001; Talk to Me, 2007). Set in the deep south, featuring an all-star Black cast (Lynn Whitfield, Debbi Morgan, Meagan Goode, Diahann Carroll, and, of course, Samuel L Jackson), the story was not centered specifically around the issue of race. Rather, it followed the experiences of Eve, a budding clairvoyant who could communicate with spirits. Eve was Black, and close to my age, so unlike my response to Shirley Temple, whose movies were pushed on me by my step-mother, I found myself moved by Eve’s character. The mother, father, aunt, and older sister all had darker skin like me. Eve was light skinned from a dark skinned mother. That had an impact on me because it meant that I was just as beautiful as a light skinned girl. Eve saw her mother as gorgeous and so did I. Every shade of Black was represented in the movie which made me feel like less of a pariah. Eve was curious and insightful. She cared deeply about her family and her heart was heavy with compassion. Those were qualities I felt trapped by as a child because I was oftrn described as ‘too sensitive’ or weird. I was captivated by both the literal and metaphorical presence of magic in the film.

A Black female director had little to no chance of having her film financed ny a major company in 1997. Knowing this, Samuel L. Jackson not only starred in the film, delivering what I still consider to be his best performance to this day, but he also produced it. In fact, this was the first film he produced. Younger me had no idea at the time, but a producer is basically the person who pays for the magic to happen. So, in many ways, Samuel L. Jackson is partly responsible for the ways in which Eve’s Bayou changed the trajectory of my self-image. I went from wanting to perm my hair to embracing my natural kinks (both Eve and her aunt had thick hair like mine). I felt more confident about my non-traditional spirituality. This was the first time I saw Afrocentric, non-Christian beliefs valued. Seeing Eve and her aunt as these women connected so closely to God and so comfortable in that connection was empowering. I learned the importance of patience and research when making decisions, after seeing Eve reflect on her own decisions towards the end of the film.

When I celebrate the Black artists in theater who influenced me – and cringe at fair-skinned, Zoe Saldana being cast as Blackface Nina Simone — I think back to the time Samuel L. Jackson and Kasi Lemmons brought me Black girl magic in Eve’s Bayou. So, instead of complaining that the beautiful and talented Uzo Aduba should have been cast to play one of the greatest musical activists of our time, I realized that we can, and should, make our own films. Samuel L. Jackson did it. Nate Parker did it. Love him or hate him, even the big homie Tyler Perry did it. We have everything we need to create our own magic. More than that, though, we have a responsibility as creative intellectuals to embrace and celebrate our natural shade. Some caramel colored girl will see Zoe Saldana in Blackface and think less of herself. I think about 1997 me being confused and turned off by Blackface Nina. Hopefully no Black children will see the film and will instead write, direct, and star in their own art that features them falling in love with their melanin, no matter the shade.