Saturday, March 5, 2011

Media Makers Salon: Aiesha Turman Part 1

cross posted from my Media Justice column

This is the fourth interview in a series of interviews with various media makers who have agreed to share with us their motivations, process and hopes for the media they create. Read past interviews with Nezua, Nuala, and Espie.

This interview is long overdue! I asked Aiesha to do a virtual interview with me back in January of 2010 and then life happened and lots of exciting opportunities came up for both of us. During that time Aiesha asked me to join the advisory board of The Black Girl Project, an organization she began, which stemmed from the documentary film of the same name she directed and produced. So, I have to be honest, I’m totally biased and in support of not only Aiesha’s work, but of The Black Girl Project as well. I thought now was the best time to share part of her interview with Amplify readers (although I’ve mentioned her work before) and share ways you can get involved with the media she is creating!

I can’t remember where I met Aiesha Turman first, but I’m sure it was on the Internets because the first time we met in 3D I was bringing art supplies to her home in Brooklyn in an attempt to clean up my own space to move into a new one. Aiesha identifies as a “Black, working class, woman, hetero, over 30 mama.” She’s stunning, the kind of stunning that makes you feel seen, that someone is really witnessing your life, and that is a gift not many folks have yet to embody.

Aiesha is the founder of Super Hussy Media, The Black Girl Project, Okra Stew, and The Adventures of Pecan Tan. She shares that she “ had the domain name Super Hussy for a few years. It's evolved from a somewhat personal blog to what it is now once I finally got the nerve to go for it. My initial motivation was to just have a space on the web.”

When did you create Super Hussy Media? What were your motivations?
On the name Super Hussy: “hussy” was my maternal grandmother’s favorite/only swear word. Regardless of your age, if you pissed Nana off and you were a female, you were pretty much a hussy. Now, after looking up the etymology of the word, I found out “hussy” was derived from the German for housewife and began thinking about how patriarchy (particularly the white supremacist brand) twists, labels and misconstrues anything that does not fit into its neat little power structure. Hussy became to be known as a wanton, lascivious, ruthless and sexually promiscuous heathen. Language can be used to both uplift and nourish or belittle and hurt. Any woman who goes against the grain and/or lives by her own rules, not the ones forced upon her, has been labeled something or other (“bitch” and “whore” come to mind) which seeks to minimize who she is in the world. As far as the "super" goes, I've always loved comics, so I might as well be a hero!

Tell us about The Black Girl Project?
The Black Girl Project (BGP) is both a documentary film and a non-profit organization. I have worked with young people in New York for over a decade, with the past few years being dedicated primarily to high school students. It was in this work, I began to hear the stories of young women, many of whom were outwardly accomplished, but were dealing with a lot of issues from homelessness to sexual assault and depression. I was lucky enough to be trusted enough by them that they would talk to me. Their lives reminded me of mine as a teen-aged girl. I was highly accomplished academically, but when it came to dealing with issues, many of which were shared with my peers, I turned inward for fear of embarrassment or disappointing my parents. The non-profit is an outgrowth of the film and my commitment to helping young women reach their fullest potential. The Black Girl Project provides tools, guidance and support for girls to prepare themselves physically, socially, emotionally and culturally for the responsibilities of young adulthood. We confront the issues that most-impact girls head-on all within the context of being a Black female in an ever-changing world. We utilize literature, the arts, individual and group work, along with a host of interdisciplinary modes to help bolster self-esteem, critical thinking and leadership skills. The Black Girl Project is a documentary film which asks pretty much one question: who are you? Of course that question morphed into other, follow-up questions, but that singular question lies at the heart of the film.

In a culture where Black women and girls are either venerated for their saintly accomplishments which strips them of any other character attribute except that of martyr/mammy, or demonized and used as the fall gal to explain away all that is wrong with the Black community and society-at-large, it is important to hear and see Black girls speak their truths. Traditional media continues to have a problem with realistic, multi-faceted portrayals of Black women and girls, and for that matter, all females of color. It is our hope that the film adds to the discussions about Black women and girls across the country and that it will contribute to a paradigm shift in how they are seen by others and how they see themselves.

The film is dedicated to the memory of Shannon Braithwaite. I met Shannon when she was in 10th grade, in fact, I hired her as an intern for a youth program I coordinated in Brooklyn and had hoped that she would be one of the young women I interviewed.

Shannon was bright, outgoing, feisty, a great dancer and fiercely loyal to her friends and family. She was well-liked by her peers and the adults she interacted with. What I loved most about Shannon was her critical thinking skills. You could always see that she was thinking and she’d pose questions to me out of the blue. She was really a model young woman.

This all ended on a late September evening in 2008, just after Shannon’s 16th birthday, she was brutally murdered by her cousin Tiana Brown, just 15 years old herself.

I’ve sat in on part of the trial, seen the knife that slit Shannon’s throat and stabbed her over 30 times, puncturing her heart. It was because of Shannon’s kindness that Tiana was staying with her and her mom in the first place. A troubled young woman, Tiana had few other options.
While the film is dedicated to Shannon, on the flipside, it’s also dedicated to Tiana; all the young women and girls who have been hurt, damaged and have unexplored/unhealed anger, pain and rage.

The film, workshop, seminars, etc. are for all of our girls, dedicated to helping them become the self-actualized people they deserve to be.

Share with us the importance of naming in your media. How is language important to the work and projects you are creating?
I define "Black" as folks who are of African descent throughout the Diaspora and who acknowledge their "Blackness" by having some type of social or cultural connection or just awareness of/to their internal "Blackness". This doesn't mean that you are wearing dashikis or celebrating Kwanzaa (though I have no problem with that), but it is recognizing and embracing the fact that you are part of the Diaspora, regardless if you live on the continent of Africa, the Americas, Europe, Asia...wherever.

I define "girl" as simple a female human whether biologically or socially. While your sex is supposed to determine gender, I know that there are folks who have been assigned the sex "male" but in all actually are girls. The lines are blurry, but if you consider yourself a girl, so do I.

What is going on now with The Black Girl Project?
(Collaborated response by Aiesha and Bianca) Currently we are fundraising for the educational arm of BGP. We have the trailer of the documentary available for people to watch online, are touring with the documentary screening it at various places all over the US (let me know if you want to screen the documentary at your school or community), and working with community organizations focusing on health and wellness. Our PSA for World AIDS Day called “Prevent, Don’t Manage” featuring some of the young women from the documentary discussing the importance of testing, education, and valuing ourselves as Black women, has been very well received.

We had panel in December 2010 of speakers discussing how HIV/AIDS impacts our community and had one speaker from Love Heals, Kim, a young Black woman born with HIV spoke about her experience growing up positive and her relationships now as a married woman and mother to a one year-old son. She was joined by Carmen Mendoza, Miss Kings County 2011, who is using her platform to discuss reducing the stigma getting tested for HIV.

We’ve just collaborated with Ghylian Bell of Urban Yoga Foundation to create Urban Holistic Girl, a twice-monthly workshop for young women where they can learn yoga, tai-chi and other movement and meditation practices/techniques. In addition, the participants learn healthy ways to create teas, locations and body scrubs to learn how to take care of themselves inside and out. We are meeting on Saturday’s in Harlem at Neighborhood Holistic and the sessions are FREE! Tickets must be reserved though and are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Our next session is Saturday March 12th and 3:30pm. Click here to reserve your ticket.

Fundraising efforts on our Kickstarter page are under way! You can see the many supporters of our work and the important need that we are seeking to fill. More Black girls need to tell their stories and we are seeking to raise the funds to ensure that can occur. Consider donating whatever you can, even if it is your time, sharing this interview, or working to arrange a screening of the documentary!

You may follow Aiesha on Twitter @SuperHussy and The Black Girl Project @blackgirlproj. Stay tuned for part two coming soon where we discuss mamahood, her other projects and media, and her suggestions for texts, training, and equipment for aspiring media makers.

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