Black Power

When I was growing up, I did not know anything about being a black/African American woman. I knew nothing of Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, the founders of the Black Panther Party, but I could tell you in a heartbeat about our first president, George Washington, or that “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492.” The first thing that I was taught about being a black/African American woman was that I descended from African slaves who were brought here on ships by white settlers. I’m now in college and have learned that I am not only a descendent of slaves, but of royalty such as Mansa Abu Bakar II, who was said to have traveled to the New World in the 1300s. I descend from a lineage of scholars such as W.E.B. Du Bois, activists such as Angela Davis, and artists such as Nina Simone. Though systematically oppressed by white privilege, I am still great.

Having this knowledge has encouraged me to be this transcendent black/African American woman that I am becoming. I have learned to endure hardships but still remain soft and transparent enough that I can be empathetic towards almost everyone with whom I come into contact. My brown skin should not offend those around me; it does not make me “loud,” “aggressive,” or “dramatic.” My curly hair is not a “toy” made for anyone else's amusement. I have had these prejudices placed on me since birth, of which many people would consider to be burdens. But I am able to overcome all of these afflictions, because no matter what is bestowed upon me, I can still find it within myself to love those with whom I come into contact. No judgment and no prejudice. I am Black Power.

Photos by Somiah Nettles
Words by Alaysia Ross

Nka Agha: Artistic Warfare

These photos are an ode to Black History Month, showing strength and love through art and photography.

By Gosnel McDermott

The Concept of Vulnerability

I came up with the concept for this series while taking a shower in the community bathroom of my dorm. I was thinking about how lucky I am to be able to shower (as silly as that sounds) and how much truly happens while in the shower. To elaborate, I believe that many of us become our most genuine and vulnerable selves while we are in the shower. First, we are wet, naked, and virtually defenseless. But beyond this, I think that many of us use showering as a refuge to escape from the real world, and are consequently left with our thoughts. While in the shower, we sing, dance, think, or cry, among many other things. However, what I think it really boiled down to for me was that I am my most vulnerable while in the shower. In the most literal sense, I am vulnerable due to my lack of clothing, but I believe that this vulnerability also comes from the fact that I am left alone with myself and my most genuine thoughts.

I wanted to submit this piece because vulnerability is a significant part of who I am. I truly believe that I reveal my insecurities without hesitation in hopes of making whoever is around me feel that they are not alone. So, this project functions as a kind of self-portrait for me, as well as an exploration of why I believe vulnerability is so beautiful. Vulnerability truly can be scary, but that's what makes it worth it.

By Anna Maestas

I'm Not Successful. And That's Okay.

In a recent episode of Freeform’s grown-ish, college freshman Zoey, portrayed by Yara Shahidi, lamented her lack of accomplishments in comparison to other woman her age. She compared herself to Rookie Mag founder Tavi Gevinson and female education activist Malala Yousafzai, two of the most inspiring women of this generation, and complained about how she felt like she just hadn’t done enough up to that point in her life. I was watching the episode with my fourteen-year-old sister, who absentmindedly stared at the screen while texting. Maybe Zoey’s short monologue didn’t affect her or maybe she simply didn’t care, but the grown-ish scene had struck a chord within me.

The truth was that I had always felt the same way about myself, like I was a failure in comparison to my peers. Whether it was classmates scoring higher on the SATs, writers publishing their own works, or artists with their own exhibits, my happiness for my friends and those in my network was confusing. I was proud of them, but saying ‘congratulations’ or ‘that’s awesome’ felt strained, almost fake. It wasn’t jealousy. The feeling was something much more innate; I was ashamed. And with each congratulatory hug and exclamation point-filled text, I was left feeling guilty because I couldn’t genuinely celebrate my friends’ successes.

After talking to a few of my creator friends, I learned that my emotional turmoil wasn’t unique to myself. In this digital age, we’re constantly exposed to teenagers with platforms that far surpass our own. We follow their careers, sometimes almost religiously, and it can hurt to know that they’re accepting Golden Globes or sitting in the FROW at New York Fashion Week while we’re still making art in our bedroom.

This made me think about what it means to be “successful.” Why had I determined that my friends were and I wasn’t?

If there’s anything I’ve learned from all this, it’s that success is relative. There will always be another award to win, another movie to direct, another book to write. In grown-ish, Zoey was successful in that she graduated high school and is attending college, but her journey doesn’t end there. And I’ve accepted that I can’t set a standard for myself that will mark that I’m finally “successful” because I know if I do, I won’t be content anyways.

I’m a creator. I’m successful when I finish a painting or video or article because that’s the goal of starting it. And I’ll always continue to create, even if I were to meet a self-imposed standard. Sure, the awards and praise that come along with making something that other people appreciate is cool, but they’re the perks, not the purpose. I have to remind myself that the accomplishments of amazing women like Malala and Tavi should inspire me, not discourage me. What they’re doing is helping the world in so many ways, and if what I create can do the same, that’s a bigger success than any award could ever be.

By Sarah Kearns

On Being Materialistic and Poor

I stroll into malls, gold underneath my feet. Instantly, dollar signs form over my pupils and all I can see is fabric and steel hangers. Wrapped in tulle and price tags, I stagger to dressing rooms, arms aching from the heaps of clothing I carry.

This is sometimes what goes on in my head as I shop, products weighing me down. When I was younger, I wore hand-me-downs and every trip to the mall was regarded as a privilege, not a right. Truly, that’s still how it is for me and my family. We count every dollar we have.

My father is a high school teacher, worn and weathered by the bad treatment he has received in his years of educating others. My mother is always on the hunt for jobs, doing ten times the work any person should have to. My sister is a senior in high school, about to graduate and head to college, making our reserve of money thinner and thinner.

My mom is worried about how she is going to pay for everything and how she's going to make the funds stretch for everyone. I see her paying taxes, sighing as she punches numbers in her calculator. My father recently bought a television with a 70-inch screen. The first thought in my brain was, how are we going to pay for this?

I often spend my time watching clothing haul videos or scrolling through Instagram, liking photos of different outfits. Mood boards of perfect lives flood my discover page and glittering, gold chains are slathered over poised, suntanned models. I do not regard the materialism portrayed on social media as a bad thing; it's just a bad thing for those in my circumstances. It is difficult to see others with the objects that I so dearly desire. Yet, this is not just a reflection of my greedy mind. It is a reflection of the type of life that I wish to have. It's one unburdened by financial struggles and constant headaches from nonstop work. It is easy and fun. It's a good-looking life of success and unmarred happiness.

So, I work my ass off. I don’t ask my parents for extra money. When I shop, I budget, analyzing the price tags and making sure I don’t go over my set limit. I try not to complain that much, even when I sleep only six hours or lay in my bed, head pounding from stress. But for the sake of my family, myself, and our financial status, I deal with it. To do so, I live in the future, where I am satisfied with my work. Or where I spend thousands of dollars without batting an eyelash, or breaking a nail. For now, I will be satisfied with my dreams of shopping; an act so innocent yet so damn hazardous.

By Sophie Sebastiani

Love Is a Lie Unless You Say It in a Poem

Human language, in all of its iterations and forms, fails and triumphs in various ways. Love is a grand subject of both. For example, in English, you and I love things. I love music and you love poetry, but neither of us love our significant others like we love sunshine. We can love objects and concepts and people without worrying about specifically defining how much we like them. In Spanish, there are many specific ways to express your fondness of things, varying from if you like objects and concepts, to if you get along with someone and your love for them. We can communicate specifically how we feel about various parts of our world and have no fear of being misunderstood.

But, English fails because it’s so vague. It should seem obvious if someone loves you more than they love poetry, but it’s often not. If we don’t have clear context, we’re clueless as to how much others love us.

And Spanish is also at a loss, because if clear context is missing, we often can’t express ourselves fully. Amar, to love, is seen as so blunt and specific that children and parents use querer, to want, instead. It’s as if the words that are viable tools for communication are also well disguised booby traps, making it awkward to effectively communicate.

However, poetry is able to conquer all. Poetry allows for you to communicate your honest feelings to an audience, leaving no room for misunderstandings.

it's moments like this
of pure domestic life
when my heart sings

being together but separate in our distractions
walking and talking

being there as you fell asleep returned to me fantasies and dreams of hypothetical

being able to see you curled up clutching that pillow gave rise to hope for such a physicality

we talked about what we'd do if we were in our own partnerships
would we change or maintain together?

your hand in mine feels
right, or exciting, or both
you didn’t let go until we got closer to scary adults and scary peers
i wonder what my hand feels like in yours

i still think about how stupid i was that night
and i still feel that i was unfair to you that night
and even further i don’t understand that other night
you only say so much
and i imagine so much more
i wish i didn’t need you to translate everything for me
from now on, you lead and i’ll follow

i would give anything
to see you smile forever
to remove the bags from under your eyes
and to keep your hair softer than silk

i would give so much
for you to be happy

listening to songs about love never got me anywhere

but still

i know how to describe love
in harps and cliches
in tonal poetry and emotional warmth

and that is the key to emotional reproduction
the key to creating new life from dying bodies

tu flâne dans ma tête
après j'ai essayé pour te faire partir
ici tu es
dans mes rèves
quand tu quitteras?

quiero saber tu cuerpo
dejáme entrar
y ver todo

quiero oír tu corazón latir
con la sangre de tu padre y su padre y su padre

dime todo de tu vida mientras yo exploro tu piel
dime tus mortales temores mientras yo respiro de tu pecho
dejáme tocarte y por favor enseñarme

quiero aprender tu cuerpo como un lengua extincta
quiero movar mi lengua con tu lengua en sincronía perfecta

enseñarme, carajo enseñarme

By Michael Jones

Soft Spots

I can't blush naturallyonly when wine is in my system can color flush my cheeks and turn them that sweet, rosy red. Thus, developing a piece around something I find challenging was just that: challenging. I am not a Valentine's Day person. I'm not into hearts or lovey-dovey goop and gop. I don't wear blush with my make-up, and I own one pink shirt (as seen on Jarret, and it's only due to it being a band t-shirt).

I stepped out of my comfort zone to allow myself, my creativity, and my photography to mesh with those feelings I push away so often. To find solace in softness and tenderness, things I tend to reject, was an interesting path for sure. I hope these photos depict that journey.

Photos by Sonya Alfano
Photos by Modeled by Catie Reynolds and Jarret Bird