Category Archives: Self Image

Miami Activist Is Changing Black Threat Narrative Leading New Movement

Justin Hill, also known as J.A. Hill professionally, is a threat. It’s not because he dresses like a thug. It’s not because he looks suspicious and is on the wrong side of town. It’s not because he is perceived as the most likely to go to jail.

Hill is a threat because he is a black man in America who chooses to challenge negative perceptions of the typical black experience by promoting examples of black excellence through his movement, Become A Threat.

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Hill uses social media to inspire others to act in their own lives. Courtesy of Instagram, @road_2_zion quotes Hill while referencing his parenting style.

Like many other students in their 20s, Hill, 24, began to self-reflect on what compiled the fabrics of his existence. He questioned his lineage. He questioned why he only learned about the civil rights era, and knew nothing about black existence prior to the slave-trade throughout his school-career. He even questioned why he never questioned it. Hill realized there was a void in learning about his culture, history and ultimately, identity.

He spoke to his best friend of 10 years, McKenzie Valentin, 26, and realized he was not alone. They spoke about the complexities of the African-American experience and their foundational ties. Frustrated and inspired by the accomplishments of Malcolm X and other civil rights leaders, he self-educated in areas where the American school system failed him. He read books on black history, culture, and challenged what he learned in the classroom.

As they grew into adulthood, they spent a lot of time reflecting on the broken education system and how it was failing them, sharing personal experiences. These enlightening conversations later inspired Valentin to become an educator and mentor for black teens.

“As a teacher, I’d work specifically with freshmen and the Head Start program,” Valentin said. “There were some things that came to light. Students would confide issues they would experience at home, such as lack of shelter or food.  Some only ate at school, but funding has been cut from the program and continues.”

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From left to right: Youth educator & friend, McKenzie Valentin, 26, and J.A. Hill, 24.

As a political science and pre-law student at Florida International University (FIU), Hill became inspired as well. He gravitated toward researching police brutality cases, which eventually opened the door for his research into the American justice system.

He garnered a passion for mass incarceration, a term used to describe the increasing prison population over the last 40 years since the War on Drugs in the ‘80s. Most of those affected by this era were people of color.

“According to one of my favorite reads, The New Jim Crow, during the War on Drugs, brown and black people were heavily targeted,” Hill said. “Although, countless studies showed discrepancies between drug use and race. Prison is the new form of slavery.”

Further into his research, he was intrigued by the school to prison pipeline.

“Valentin mentioned the most distressing fact for him as a teacher is that by third grade, zoning and institutions know whether a pupil will remain a student or a criminal. He says, ‘They haven’t even had a chance to develop their minds yet. The education system continues to fail us,’” Hill said.

Per an article published by Tavis Smiley, zero-tolerance policies, increasing security and police in schools are creating a culture where students get harsher punishment for smaller offenses, sometimes just behavioral issues. In these cases, the student spends more time at home which tends to be the epicenter of the behavior problems in school. Most of these kids feel forgotten and drop out and are the most likely to commit a crime.

“These kids get labeled as problem starters and are treated as such. The more you go into poverty-stricken areas, the more zero-tolerance policies are implemented, and the higher the statistics,” Hill said.  “The same private corporations that consistently build prisons are the same ones making desks and chairs in the classroom and using free prison labor to do it. It’s disgusting.”
In January, Hill began posting viewpoints on social media surrounding these topics, backed up with facts and resources. After some time, fellow students and friends began commenting on the stories he shared. Many other black students were in-cognizant of the information he came across and would engage in discussions, likes or reposts.

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“Give felons with minor charges the right to vote, equal opportunity to get housing, employment, right to proper medical help. They need to be reintroduced to society. They’re still human and paid their dues, they should not be outcasts,” Hill said.

“Justin draws from his personal experiences and that fuels his passion. It also incites passion in others because many find him relatable and his message resonates,” Danielle Lyn, a close friend of Hill, said.

Lyn and Hill became fast friends on campus when she created a student broadcasting organization.

“Justin applied for the e-board and since then we’ve been allies,” Lyn said.

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From left to right: Hill, 24 taking a study break with Lyn, 24 at the Wolfe Student Union on campus.

Over the years, Lyn became passionate about human rights and they encouraged one another to apply to law school shortly thereafter.

“He has always been into social activism. I believe the Become a Threat movement is only making an impact because of his passion for activism,” she said.

As cases of police brutality surfaced on the news, Hill continued to write and speak about them relentlessly. Almost every paper he submitted in school was about the corruption. Hill had had enough.

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People pay attention to him when he speaks and engage with him in complex conversations. That’s more important than how he speaks because people are getting the message,” Valentin said. “Tupac had that ability once.”

Hill chose to promote images of black people on his social media who are an inspiration to their communities and may have survived adversity.

“Black leaders were considered threats because they knew how the system worked. They were outspoken, charismatic and had influence to unify,” Hill said. “Instead of people seeing black people as a negative threat, I am changing the power and meaning in the word.”

People became attracted to the concept and began re-tweeting the phrase. Some have reached out to Hill to encourage him to continue making a difference.

“While I was at work, a follower of the movement from Facebook recognized me. She said, ‘I love your movement and you inspire me every day to be better.’ That was the moment I realized this movement is something bigger than myself,” Hill said.

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A collage of reposts from followers on different social media platforms.

The woman approached him in Jan. 2017 and since, he has gained more momentum. He did one interview in late Feb. and has just completed an interview with FIU’s school newspaper.

And he is already starting to get requests for more interviews.bam 6

“This movement will be different from others, in the sense that we will be making some bold statements,” Hill said.

 

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Netflix Fails to Disappoint in 13 Reasons Why

This was an absolutely well-written show. Netflix fails to disappoint in this original series. I love the creative direction they took with the series. The writers sent a real message about the realities of bullying, teen depression, alcohol/drug abuse, rape and suicide.

It’s the ugly side of being a teenager, but every one can relate or knows a story relating to many of these topics, but no one really talks about it.

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Sometimes, as you grow up, you can even just write it off as, “That’s high school. I’m glad I survived it.”

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among teens. Which is why I feel that this show opens up a dialogue that not only teens should hear but also parents and friends. Its not about being cheesy or overly dramatic.

The most raw and authentic part of this series was seeing the emotions of the parents who are left to bury their own child.  I can’t even fathom what must go through the mind of a parent who has to deal with the loss of their child but also feel helpless in knowing they could not do anything to stop it.

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There wouldn’t be a need for a show like this if it weren’t a real issue. To all the high school students who have felt similar to Hannah Baker, or know a Hannah Baker, just know it DOES get better. There is more to life than the halls of your high school, keep looking forward.

I feel like a part of the reason this show resonated with me was because it promotes the idea of standing in your truth. Your truth is your truth. It may be ugly, it may feel big, it can even feel scary…but from what I have grown to realize is one thing: Your truth is only as big as you make it out to be.

“Once you stand in your truth, you can BREATHE.”

Yes, you may feel pain, hurt, frustration, whatever, and that sucks. It really does, but EVENTUALLY it will stop. You will realize it will be okay. Nothing is ever so bad that you need to take your own life. Sometimes, you can be your worst enemy, which s why it is so important to talk to someone.

If you have experienced something that has affected you…BE vocal about it. No one can help you, especially if you don’t share how you feel. Even if you can’t talk to someone around you, write it down and give it to someone, even anonymously if you have to.

Find a healthy outlet to express those feelings, if you feel you can’t share it with someone right away like writing in a journal or art.

It will get better with time.

 

What ‘Black Excellence’ Means to Me

According to the Urban Dictionary:

“Someone that is black and portrays great qualities and abilities that make the black community proud.”

Don’t start thinking, “Here we go, another read about the trials of being black in America—”

It’s not. Not really. It’s more about a soul journey, for me as a black woman, because, well, let’s face it… I’m black. Ha ha. But for others, it may be a different connection.

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Photo Cred: Maria Chacon

My journey roughly began around the same time as my hair journey. I was 23-years-old and unhappy with my direction in life and self. Nothing was right, I was doing ‘life’ but it didn’t feel like my life. It was almost as though I was going through a mid-life crisis, except I wasn’t even a quarter of a century old yet.

But that’s another story, which I will get into one of these days. I decided to cut my hair which was a big deal because my hair–for a black girl with relaxed hair—was considered long. My Dad even called me crazy for taking a pair of scissors to it. But it was liberating!

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Left: Relaxed BSL Hair Right: TWA Stage Natural

Nevertheless, it was the catalyst for starting fresh and RIGHT. At first, it was about my hair. Researching hair care techniques and following a regimen. Then it flourished into mind, body, and soul. As I did research, I followed blogs and social media pages dedicated to natural hair care, I began to realize it all boiled down to one thing: self love.

Take care of you on the inside at first, and everything else will fall into place.

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I don’t mean to get all Oprah-y but after that, I had a craving to get fit. I’ve been in decent shape but never in great shape, so I wanted to see if I could do it. I began falling in love with my journey, discovering different parts of myself I didn’t know I was capable of or didn’t realize I craved!

The next thing I decided to do was go to school for Nursing. I was an A/B average student, I got into the program and felt super accomplished. That was also the first time I received a D on anything in my life. I was devastated. I really started to look at myself and began questioning my abilities. After several crying sessions, I realized I was a “Triangle.”

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Literally…me after failing Nursing Fundamentals. Ugh!

Yes, a “Triangle,” trying to fit into a “Circle,” not realizing my sharp edges weren’t setting me back. I had to embrace my “sharp edges” and stop trying to change their shape.

You get me?

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Why yes, Willa! I’m following you! Continue, girl!

In other words, I had to live for me. I think that was the first time I made a decision for myself and my happiness, and not to please anyone else.

Growth.

It was the best decision I made in my life. Everything feels right! Although, I am still on my journey, it feels like I am on the RIGHT path. I’m on the path to excellence.

Black excellence, to me is basically a path to self discovery narrated by a person living the black experience.

Some may think it’s not different, but it actually is.

There are things culturally, a black person has to sort through within their households, within their community that others may not experience or have a hard time relating to because they frankly don’t tend to share those same experiences. When the narrative in a systemically prejudice society, whether it’s intentional or unintentional, (your viewpoint may differ depending on many factors) is basically, “You’re the underdog and forever and always will remain the underdog. There isn’t anything you can do about it, so get over it!”

It kind of becomes the silent doubt that lingers in the back of your mind. Not just your mind, but we are talking about generations…from all over, not just Black America, the entire African diaspora, just putting their pride aside and getting by, surviving not living. It’s complex because of different experiences around the globe, but what is interesting is Black people in different cultures understand this feeling.

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Yep, they get it.

However, going on a self- love journey, understanding who YOU are (for us, the earlier in life the better), and staying true to yourself will lead you to personal excellence FIRST. You’ll grow so much that you don’t care about the statistics within your own community. YOU will defy them. YOU will change them, just by understanding who YOU are, naturally.

 

YOU break the mold.

Black millennials are waking up and we are rewriting our narratives. We are stepping into our ‘happy places’, it’s not about competition. No, no, no, never that. It’s about embracing who I am individually and aiming to be the best version of me I can be possible, and uplifting other Black people who are trying to do the same because we KNOW what it is taking to get us there. The footnote is that we are Black. A perfect way to understand this is to question one thing:

In 2017, a world full of progressive thinkers, why are there still so many “First Black” anythings right now?

Growth.

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Essence Magazine on SnapChat: Be unapologetically you, what I aim to do on my blog! Kehlani speaks her truth on the daily.
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We all have been there, embrace whatever you have, just OWN it! Teyana Taylor’s body though…***SPEECHLESS***
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Understand, be open-minded, and be aware. Janelle Monae: the epitome of Black Excellence to me!

We are growing as a collective, inside and out and it is a beautiful, BEAUTIFUL thing to see. I know I am, and I’m loving the me I am today, and the me I will become.

 

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“Chin up and always tilt your Crown, Queen.”

 

Black History Month

It’s February, which means it’s Black History Month. As the month comes to a close, I’d like to take the moment to touch on a few important freedom fighters that have not really been given the proper spotlight in grade school. I’m still learning about black history, the meat and potatoes before the slavery era, but I realize there are many interesting characters that tried to spread enlightenment and self confidence to the black race. Click on the photos for links to their biographies. Here they are:

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Marcus Garvey

 

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Malcolm X
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Angela Davis

 

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The Obamas
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Dr. Sebi

Watch Dr. Sebi expain his life’s work on The Rock Newman Show.

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Nelson Mandela

Am I Unattractive Because I have an Afro?

No. Never that. If that is not the most absurd remark I have heard in a long time, I don’t know what is. But–according to a new study done by Shea Moisture and the Perception Institute, that statement is valid.

NPR caught wind of the study and so did the ladies on The Real Daytime, which is where I initially heard the news. I stopped what I was doing just to watch the segment because I too, am a “Naturalista“.

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As I continued watching the segment in disbelief, it dawned on me that I was subconsciously aware of these biases, it is sort of an unspoken understanding in the black community.

As I’m scouting for an internship, I took myself to the Career Services office to sharpen my resume and take advantage of any resources I could get my hands on. I sat down with my counselor, and discussed my blog and resume. Then I mentioned that I’d like to take some updated professional head-shots with my hair straightened out.

“If you don’t mind me asking, why do you feel that is necessary? Your blog slogan is, ‘Where authenticity is always expected’ so when you straighten your hair isn’t that sending a different message?” he said.

Valid point.

Being that he pointed that out and he was black,  I knew chances were high that he’d understand my concern.

“Although times have changed, and my generation cares less, I am fully aware that in corporate america there is always the possibility of being overlooked, prejudged or told to change your hair.”

To avoid these situations, I usually style my hair in a more socially accepting way and once I know I have the job, I eventually introduce the ‘fro. It was my way of making sure that my personality was remembered and not my hair, especially to someone who may have their own subconscious reservations (sometimes, they may not even know they’re being biased).

He literally told me, ” I understand your concern but times are different now; and it’s a lot more relaxed in the workplace.” That thought made me smile. However, a month later, this study comes out and just reassures these insecurities.

It was nice to hear Tamera and Loni discuss on national television the inner dialogue that you deal with, it’s usually two conversations: your inner voice, and then your black inner-voice. It’s basically having to think for yourself (what everyone does) and then think of how people may view you or perceive you to be based on black tendencies (and weigh the pros and cons in each situation).

With my generation, it’s not really much of a topic. However, in previous jobs I can recall many times my hairstyle became a topic or someone was just fascinated with it. I’ve heard the following, and I’m really not kidding.

From curious white women, some admitted they aren’t exposed to this type of stuff:

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“Is that all yours?”

 

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“How do you wash it?”
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“Do you wash it? If so, how often?”

From older white men: 50’s and up:

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“Oh, you straightened your hair, I prefer your hair this way. It makes you more attractive.”
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“You finally tamed your hair.”
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Did you get electrocuted?”
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“Sweetheart, take that atrocious wig off.”

From a white friend:

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“Can I touch it? Oh, it’s like a pillow. I thought it’d be different.”
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“Your hair is wild and untamed.”

Now, granted I also got plenty of great feedback from customers about my hair as well. Also, some people really just don’t know and they want to be educated, which is okay with me.

However, imagine if any of the people who disliked it had a say in hiring me, this could be a problem.

The point is: my hair isn’t a political statement, it’s not a pillow and it’s not untamed. It’s hair. If women from every other race can wear their hair and NOT have someone tell them what to do with it, so should black women. It grows this way, let it be already.

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