solution sessions: where art and activism intersect
By Piotr Orlov
August 25, 2018
The Solution Sessions Live panel, ‘The (re) Sisters,’ kicked off the AFROPUNK weekend with glorious style, full of poignant moments at Roulette in Downtown Brooklyn, on Friday night.
Bridget Todd and Yves Jeffcoat, co-hosts of the critically acclaimed AFROPUNK SOLUTION SESSIONS podcast, welcomed an incredible line-up of women speakers (activists, social scientists, poets) who displayed a boundless breadth of black women’s experience and stories, before a near-capacity audience that gathered from all over the country —and distant parts of the world— to celebrate (re)sister-hood on AFROPUNK weekend.
The nearly three-hour program touched upon many parts of our lives and offered insights, and yes, solutions, as to how to move forward to make our communities stronger, more empowered —and maybe even more soulful.
Linda Sarsour, the Palestinian-American immigration, and police reform activist who’s become one of the faces of The Women’s March, kicked things off with short, political remarks about the messiness of creating an intersectional movement, and about the need to better support each other’s struggle.
Next came a poignant conversation between Todd, decked in a fierce “Punch More Nazis” t-shirt, and Tarana Burke, the Bronx activist who founded the “Me Too” movement over a decade ago. In a loose style that balanced insight and self-effacing humor, Burke spoke freely of the roots of Me Too to fight sexual and gender abuse in the community (not the media-created narrative of taking down powerful white men —though that’s useful too). She also told an excellent anecdote of adapting to the media spotlight, thanks to a few strong Hollywood women of color that she called the “blacktresses.”
Young Yasmin Reis, from Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, followed with a presentation that mixed her Portuguese narrative (with an English translation scroll) and short films about the state of racism, colorism, and homophobia in her country. Reis, who was present thanks to the help from the evening’s co-producer, Red Bull Amaphiko, is the co-founder of Circuio Rolezinho, a community initiative of young people creating music, film, art, dance and other culture, and presented short videos of the group’s work.
Brittany Young, a Baltimore-raised engineer, and educator, followed by a truly uplifting presentation about her non-profit B360. Young helps kids see that the love of dirt bike culture so prevalent among the young people of her Baltimore community, is a pathway to learning opportunities not usually associated by the structural racism of the city’s education system – how fixing dirt bikes can lead to mechanical engineering and onward. Brittany Young and B360 are doing real work.
Dancer, activist, and scholar Shamell Bell brought a different type of energy to the room, by kicking off her talk with a film about her critically conscious 7yr old son, Seijani, who is also a young activist teaching mindfulness. She then took the audience through breathing exercises and asked them to ground themselves and becoming present (by meeting their neighbors in the audience), before discussing her diverse experience as a co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter.
The legendary feminist poet and playwright Notzake Shange, whose 1975 Obie Award-winning play “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf” has been an inspiration to generations of women of color, then blessed us with a trio of poems. In one she mourned for Puerto Rico, afterward reminding the audience that many towns on the island still have no running water after 2017’s Hurricane Maria.
The final and most technologically frightening talk of the evening was given by Joy Boulamwini, an academic, writer, poet and researcher who is also the founder of the Algorithmic Justice League. She presented a truly frightening talk about racial flaws in Artificial Intelligence systems, and about how their flawed programming —engineered by predominantly white men, as we’d seen in stats presented by Brittany Young— distorted and erases black women’s existence. AI couldn’t even identify pictures of Michelle Obama and Serena Williams, and now these systems are being used by police and armed forces all over the world for targeted violence and prosecutions.
The magic and the brains and the audience’s admiration flowed through the Roulette theater. If you were an activist, looking to impart change, or just needed to learn something to help solve the world’s (or the community’s) problems, there were few better places to be on a Friday night.
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