Four Young Protagonists of the New Black Renaissance
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Four Young Protagonists of the New Black Renaissance
February 10, 2021
There’s a new Black Renaissance going on. Black voices are shaping the present and future of our society, challenging the predominant white gaze, and claiming a space that goes far beyond a one-month celebration.
Each of these four young personalities is bringing pride to the Black community uniquely, honoring the complexity of being Black. But all of them have one thing in common: they are leaving a mark by having the courage to express their genuine self.
Amanda GormanThe enchantment of Amanda Gorman reciting The Hill We Climb at the Biden-Harris inauguration is well described in the words of Michelle Obama: “The power of your words blew me away—but it was more than that. It was your presence onstage, the confidence you exuded as a young Black woman helping to turn the page to a more hopeful chapter in American leadership”, said the former FLOTUS in her recent interview to Gorman on Time magazine. “There is always light, if only we are brave enough to be it”, she states in her poem. And Gorman actually is illuminating: her hypnotic gestures and the fierce look in her eyes are just a captivating prelude to the substance of her impressive curriculum and ambitions. At 22, she’s the youngest poet in U.S. history to seal a presidential passage, an ambassador for front-line workers serving during the coronavirus pandemic at Super Bowl LV, the first National Youth Poet Laureate, a promising author and activist with three upcoming books at the top of Amazon’s bestseller list, and a self-proclaimed aspiring candidate for US presidency in 2036.
“We’re living in an important moment in Black art because we’re living in an important moment in Black life. We’re seeing it in fashion, we’re seeing it in the visual arts. We’re seeing it in dance, we’re seeing it in music. In all the forms of expression of human life, we’re seeing that artistry be informed by the Black experience. I can’t imagine anything more exciting than that.”
We’re living in an important moment in Black art because we’re living in an important moment in Black life. We’re seeing it in fashion, we’re seeing it in the visual arts. We’re seeing it in dance, we’re seeing it in music. In all the forms of expression of human life, we’re seeing that artistry be informed by the Black experience. I can’t imagine anything more exciting than that. Gorman's work addresses issues of oppression, race, marginalization, and feminism - see her spectacular opening performance for the 2019 Women in the World Summit, accompanied by a troupe of dancers led by Sherrie Silver, the choreographer behind Childish Gambino's video “This Is America”.
Tony Weaver Jr.
“Superheroes have always been very inspirational. I am enthralled by stories that feature protagonists that don't quite believe they can get to where they want to go, but have the courage to take that first step anyway. And I think that where we are as a nation right now, a lot of people don't quite think we can get where we want to go in terms of equality, in terms of justice for all people. We're not going to get there unless we take that first step.”
A gifted child who had to go through bullying and implicit biases for the color of his skin (he was accused of plagiarism by his English teacher), Tony Weaver Jr. grew up grappling with profound fears and insecurities, which led him to depression and suicidal ideation in middle school. The ability to embrace his own quirkiness made him discover the superhero within himself, marking a turning point in his life: in 2014, while still a student at Elon University and volunteering at a local elementary school, he was inspired to create Weird Enough Productions, a non-profit organization that fights the misrepresentation of black people in the media, challenges the toxic norms that exist in popular culture, and encourages self-acceptance. His motivation was clear: “I can’t rest knowing that there are kids that look like me that want nothing more than for someone to look at them and say ‘I believe in you. You’re worth something’”, he said.
The company partners with lesson plans and other educational programs to produce books such as “The Uncommons”, a comic series in which black superheroes fight insecurities, past failures, and other monsters people dread in their younger years. The book was the backbone for a free educational program distributed amid the Covid-19 pandemic to 50,000 households: over 400 pages of free comics lesson plans and projects, aimed to empower people in the Black community to try something new and “be a change agent for good even at a young age” said Melanie Dukes, curriculum writer for the company. Weaver was the first comic writer to ever be selected for the Forbes 30 under 30. In 2020, he was recognized by CNN as one of the “Champions for Change”. He is now writing his semi-autobiography titled “Weirdo”, a book about the hardships of growing up as a young Black geek and finding the path to happiness and self-determination.
RihannaFounding the Fenty Beauty make-up brand in 2017, Rihanna has become a global ambassador for inclusive beauty and has set new standards for the whole cosmetic industry.
“Fenty Beauty was created for everyone: for women of all shades, personalities, attitudes, cultures, and races. I wanted everyone to feel included. That’s the real reason I made this line.”
For the first time in make-up history, Rihanna put in the market a 40-tone foundation range to perfectly match all skin colors (expanding year after year since then). She launched the “Beauty for all” marketing campaign, openly challenging unrealistic, Eurocentric aesthetic ideals. And obtaining a huge success: in the Pre-Fenty era, women could only choose among a limited foundation palette, which was clearly designed for white skin - this explains why the darkest shades of the new Fenty foundations were the first to sell out. Although Rihanna’s popularity and the backing of the LVMH group surely played an important part in the project’s kickoff, Fenty Beauty is no “celebrity brand”. Rihanna’s idea is strong because it is authentic, and as such it truly resonates with women of color. She cares about making them feel seen and represented. And she also cares about the environment: “Should I mention that our SPD moisturizer is also coral reef-friendly?”. Fenty Beauty products do not contain any harmful ingredients, their packaging is reduced to the minimum, and recyclable materials are used whenever possible.
“I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.”
Taking home her 25th medal at the 49th World Artistic Gymnastics Championship in 2019, Simone Biles became the most decorated female gymnast of all time. She is currently the gymnast with the most gold medals and the female gymnast with the most world all-around titles. Her eponymous skills - like “The Biles”, a double layout with a half twist and a blind landing - involve doing things that don’t seem physically possible.
But what’s so inspiring about Biles goes far beyond her athletic merits. Despite being 4ft 8in tall, she is such a woman of stature and courage; one that is not afraid to protect her own body and emotions from impossible demands. Such as the ones of Márta Károlyi, the women’s national squad team coach and coordinator: she would ask Biles not to cheer or laugh while training or performing, and once requested her to perform a dangerous move for the first time during a competition. Not many teenager athletes would dare to keep smiling and say no, but she did - without hesitation. And she affirms she didn’t resent being asked in the first place: “I already knew the answer. I wasn’t doing it.” She also took a stand when reporting team doctor Larry Nassar’s abusive conduct in a tweet, shortly before he was sentenced for sexually harassing young gymnasts in his care (including Biles). Her lion heart is probably what makes Biles the best in the world. In self-discipline she found strength, and in sports a healing joy for the bruising experiences in life.