Tag Archives: Black Excellence

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.

 

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.”

 

Jidenna adds Afrikaan heritage to Western Hip-Hop on The Chief

Most known for the legendary debut of “Classic Man,” Jidenna has proven to be just that. Earlier this year, Jidenna released his first album titled, “The Chief.” I am a fan of Jidenna and the talented artists that make up Wondaland Records, but I would like to put a disclaimer out there that as a fan, it’s only fair to critique the album as honestly as I can, being that honesty is my platform.

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Jidenna with girl-boss extraordinaire of Wondaland Records, Janelle Monae

I’m not a fan of the cover art because the feminist inside me just can’t sit right with it. Being in communications, I’ve learned about advertising and sexist ads and the like, and I’d prefer it to be different. There are many layers to the cover art alone and I can probably write a whole separate blog about it, so I won’t. Plus, let’s be real, this is prevalent in Hip-Hop and it didn’t start with Jidenna.

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The Chief

The overall album tone and theme revolves around Jidenna paying homage to his late father, stepping into manhood and taking his place. He was quoted saying his father would say, “The day I am gone is the day that you become a man.” This is reflected on the album. The music has hints of Afro-beats and trap music. It is blended eloquently and some ballads have hints of other cultures mixed in as well.

There’s No Place Like Home

In “Bull’s Tale” and throughout the album, Jidenna’s Uncle gives him drunken advice on running a village, how to get girls, how to treat your woman and family. It’s comedy but it almost gives me a “home” feeling. Everyone has that one crazy family member…and that’s his Uncle.

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Jidenna is well-known for his signature dapper style.

The best song of the album is “Long Live the Chief” which I believe is the theme song for the album. He references his father, who was a chief in their Igbo village in Nigeria. He was also a noted engineer and created the first African computer. He touches on the type of man his father wanted him to be and him fulfilling that destiny.

He even touches on why he always dresses up in suits. He raps, “Now they say, ‘Jidenna why you dressin’ so classic?’ Cuz I don’t want my best dressed day in a casket.” Jidenna mentions in interviews that his father, like many other Afrikaan families are obsessed with black excellence and perfection. I feel other countries involved in the Afrikaan Diaspora can relate to this, as I do. I’m of Haitian heritage and every point on those A papers would count to my Dad. His song “2 Points” touches on that lightly as well, another song where you’re softly reminded of home.

Turn Up, We Shall

My favorite “turn-up” song on the album is “The Let Out” which is heavy trap beat  and catchy hook that talks about leaving the house to go hang out at the local popular nightclub. It reminds me of broke college kids trying to find something to do but you want to look cute doing it. The local hot spot  where you really just want to dance and not think about anything else.

Sing to me, Darling

I’m a hopeless romantic so it is only right that my favorite tracks on the album are the following sweet-crooning tracks.

I instantly fell in love with “Bambi,” when I first heard the song and music video. It is a lullaby where he is heartbroken over losing a girl that he did wrong but claims as the love of his life. He realizes his mistakes but of course, it’s too late.

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Bambi

The story-line is classic but I love it because it’s usually more difficult for a black man to emotionally express himself and when he does, the words tug at the heartstrings. He also touches on Afrikaan beliefs in polygamy, which in Western culture can relate back to playboys and serial cheaters. He wonders  if he did not grow up learning these behaviors, if his darling would be the love of is life.

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I also find it clever he had a play on words like, “Bambi, my dear, my dear, my dear” when Bambi was actually a deer. My favorite line is, “Oh Bambi, it’s my design, to run the jungle I must be a lion, or be a cheetah but neither is fine. I don’t wanna hurt my dear love of my life.” The wordplay is clever because lion signifies liar and cheetah signifies cheater. Nowadays, it’s no that common to have puns and deeper lyrics in mainstream music.   I love this song so much, I’ll be nice and share the video. You’re welcome.

” I don’t wanna hurt my dear love of my life.”

Another fave of mine is “Adaora” which has  Spanish guitar and piano (so beautiful) over a trap beat. He sings on this one and his voice is both raspy and soulful which works organically. It gives me vibes of the 1950s crooner ballads while simultaneously reminding me of West Indian artists. The tone he carries gives me haunting elements of a reggae love song.

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A Little Bit More” is light and flirty and reminds me of the islands because of the music video. I must say the music definitely has Afrikaan beats and the dancing is traditional Afrikaan style. It definitely makes me want to learn. I love that the lead is a natural-haired beauty. I feel they challenge the typical beauty standards and are actually showing something a little different by Western culture standards. It’s refreshing.

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There is a song called “Some Kind of Way” which has a mixture of what I can describe as calypso, electronica, and trap. It has a nice techno feel but the message is pretty valid. “No matter what you say, or where you or what you do or how you pray; somebody is gonna feel some kind of way about you.” You wish it weren’t the case but it is the truth. Haters will hate, just always continue to be you. Just be in competition with yourself and shine! “C’est la vie.”

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