Celebrating Black History Month
In celebration of Black History Month*, we are focussing our lens on four young black womxn who are doing incredible work in their community.
*we celebrate and respect ALL humans ALL of the time - but felt it was especially poignant to use our platform to speak up and out during this month.
Amandla Stenberg: actor + activist
In their acceptance speech for winning the Trevor Project’s Youth Innovator Award, Amandla spoke these words:
I have to be honest, it feels a little strange to me to be honored in this way, when I feel like I have yet to do the work that I want to do in celebrating queer identity.
Although I’ve been out as queer since I was 15, I didn’t come out as gay until 6 months ago, so I still consider myself a baby gay. And I am just now stepping into my unadulterated and uncompromised truth.
It can definitely be daunting to be vulnerable in matters of personal identity when you’re navigating it in a public manner. And I am really thankful for the recognition of that challenge. But I also know that there are so many others who do not have that support, and receive no recognition because they haven’t been afforded a public platform.
We have been following Amandla on their journey both as an actress, activist and advocate for people of color and the LGBTQ+ community, and have consistently found ourselves drawn to their candor, grace and integrity time and time again.
Authenticity and humility run hand in hand with Amandla and the way they approach their role as not only an actor, but an activist for change.
Playing the role of Starr in Angie Thomas’s film adaptation of The Hate U Give (our Girlvana Tale Blazer’s book of the month), Amandla found alignment and truth in this character’s growing understanding of a world which devalues their community because of the color of their skin, and that silence only enables this culture to remain.
In all respects, Amandla begs to be heard.
We listened to them when they told the world they feel more comfortable using they/them gender pronouns.**
I have felt at times that she/her pronouns weren’t entirely fitting, but I’ve never felt uncomfortable with them. It’s more important for me to open up that conversation around pronouns and how gender itself is a construct that doesn’t make much sense in our society.
We listened to them when they wrote about their own experience with sexual violence in an op-ed piece written for Teen Vogue, in response to Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony.
I am in awe of all survivors who have had no choice but to confront their trauma during this period, whether personally or publicly. I honor you, I hold a space for you, and I wrap you in love. I am in awe of Dr. Ford’s bravery, honesty, and the selflessness she exemplified by sacrificing her personal safety for the sake of “civic duty.” My heart can’t help but feel sore that, once again, it has become a survivor’s responsibility to sacrifice self in the name of public safety.
We listened to them when they called out a media source for mistaking her for Normani Kordei at the VMAs with the simple caption, ‘they think we all look the same.’
We listened to them when they walked away from a role in Black Panther because they didn’t want to take that opportunity away from a darker skinned actor.
These are all dark skin actors playing Africans and I feel like it would have just been off to see me as a biracial American with a Nigerian accent just pretending that I'm the same color as everyone else in the movie… I recognize 100% that there are spaces that I should not take up and when I do take up a space it's because I've thought really, really critically about it and I've consulted people I really trust and it feels right.
And we continue to listen to them because they will always fight to make their voice heard - and that is what we need more of in this world.
At a time where our identities are under so much scrutiny, constantly being picked apart on social media especially within celebrity culture, Amandla is constantly exploring ways to be an advocate for their community.
**thank you to one of our Instagram community who pointed this out to us - we want to do whatever makes a person feel their best and most comfortable. Always.
haile thomas: founder of happy org
We may have been late to the party, but we caught wind of Haile Thomas when Amandla Sternberg posted a video by Nike in which Haile was featured as a member of Nike’s Future Varsity program.
Let’s start with the facts: Haile Thomas is a Jamaican-American youth health activist, international speaker and the youngest Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach in the United States. On top of all that, Haile is the founder/CEO of the nonprofit HAPPY, which works to empower youth by offering nutrition and health education, particularly in at-risk communities.
Oh, did we mention that Haile founded this company at 12 years old?
HAPPY stands for Healthy Active Positive Purposeful Youth. Haile was inspired to start this organisation after her family successfully reversed her father’s type-2 diabetes with healthy eating and lifestyle choices. Haile is an advocate for educating kids aged 6-13 in health and nutrition, particularly in communities where accessibility to this information is scarce.
In a time where health is being misdirected on social media, where #thinspiration has existed in this digital space and wellness is a buzzword amongst privileged communities, Haile is a beacon of hope for ALL humans to be empowered and take control of their health.
ALL humans deserve the information and accessibility to a healthy lifestyle. Money should never be a barrier. Race, culture or faith should never be an obstacle. It’s incredible to witness such a young and powerful force use her platform for the greater good.
To learn more about HAPPY, head to their website.
nupol kiazolu: founder of vote 2000
Watch out, America. Nupol Kiazolu is gunning for candidacy in 2036, and we think she might just get it. The 18 year old college student, former President of the Youth Coalition of Black Lives Matter NYC, now President of Black Lives Matter, Greater New York (NBD), part of Teen Vogue’s Under 21 Class of 2018 AND founder of Vote 2000, an initiative to get young people of color to vote - Nupol is a force to be reckoned with.
Now attending school at Hampton University in Virginia, a historically black college, where she is continuing her integral, essential work with Vote 2000. An early campaigner in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murder, Nupol aged 13 wore a black hoodie which bore the words “Do I look suspicious?” to school.
Nupol is unafraid, unapologetic, strong in her convictions and hell bent on changing the justice system to help people of color. We don’t see much getting in her way.
We could not be more excited to have Nupol join us on the panel for Girlvana’s first ever NYC event on March 23rd. Details are coming soon - watch out New York!
yara shahidi: actor, activist
founder of eighteenx18
You might recognize 19-year-old Yara from her roles in Black-ish, its spin-off Grown-ish and the upcoming adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s YA novel The Sun Is Also A Star (watch out #TaleBlazersBookClub) - but if you want to get beneath the surface of the Minnesota native, you just have to look at her work in activism.
Founder of Eighteenx18, “a platform to engage our generation, get active + vote in every election”, as well as mentorship program, Yara’s Club, a partnership with The Young Women's Leadership School that brings high school students together to discuss social issues and how to take action; Yara is passionate about enriching the lives of America’s youth and widening their eyes to the impact they can have in the world.
Having worked with Michelle Obama on the First Lady’s Let’s Learn initiative, Yara earned herself a letter of recommendation from Michelle herself, one which secured her place at Harvard University, where she is furthering her education in sociology and African-American studies.
When asked by Forbes (in which she appeared as part of Forbes 30 Under 30!) about her greatest achievement, Yara answered: “Shifting the perception of what is deemed possible within my generation of actors and entertainers as it pertains to societal contribution.”
We couldn’t be more on board.
Thank you for reading and responding to this month’s celebration of young black womxn making change in the world. We have profiled 4 incredible teens, but this by NO MEANS is the extent of the incredible change we are seeing, made by courageous young black womxn all over the globe, whether they are internationally recognized for it or not. If you know of anyone doing important work, please slide into our DMs or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have also donated to Rachel Cargle’s Go Fund Me page where she is raising money to sponsor therapy sessions for black women and girls. If you can spare the money, or know someone who can - we encourage you to do so. You can find more information here.