While she was busy getting excited I was busy researching, liking on Facebook, and staying abreast of other events and opportunities The Black Girl Project was organizing and supporting, including a recent happy hour fundraiser. This time my friend was psyched about bar tending at the event. I was psyched that the founder of The Black Girl Project, Aiesha Turman, considered it a privilege to talk with me about her passion turned The Black Girl Project. She took her passion, created a film, and then committed to starting a movement.
Phreedum: Talk to me about how The Black Girl Project started?
AT: The Black Girl Project started as a film before it became any type of movement or entity offering ongoing education and dialog about being a Black girl. I was a program coordinator at a museum for high school students. Many of the girls in the program would come to me with the same issues that me and my adult friends would talk about. The more they talked about it and the more I talked about it with my own friends the more I found it was important to really create something that was going to shatter the monolithic idea of what black girl is. There needed to be the acknowledgement of the different ethnic backgrounds, classes, and so forth. Their needed to be the acknowledgment of the diversity within the similarities.
Phreedum: It started as a film but now you are a nonprofit. Talk to me about that.
AT: Well, I never did a film before, but the idea of doing one was exciting and the girls featured in the film were definitely excited by the idea. Granted the film took three years to make. I just knew I wanted to tell a story, I wanted the girls to have an opportunity to tell their story, and film just seemed like a great way to do it. As I edited the video I felt as though I needed to do more. I went to the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization in Harlem, submitted a proposal for sponsorship and within a week they accepted and Black Girl Project was a nonprofit.
Phreedum: You cover a variety of topics in your film and conferences. Can you talk to me more about how you decided what to address and explore?
AT: I really let the informal conversations I was having with the high school girls shape what the film and discussions are about. We cover everything from how to talk about experiences without shame, not putting your own or other people’s business in the streets, relationships, school, drama, etc. I think the issue that The Black Girl Project really tried to address in film and continues to address today as a nonprofit is creating a space where these girls can freely tell and live their stories without fear, guilt, or awkwardness because it’s not what is portrayed in the media.
Phreedum: What has been a highlight for you so far?
AT: The conversations. The film was meant if nothing more than to get people talking and motivated to create change. The film, the screenings, and the work that we do at the annual conferences allows not only for conversation, but intergenerational conversations. We have screenings of the film and have the young ladies in the film on a panel for discussion afterwards. Women come and bring their nieces, daughters, goddaughters, granddaughters, and we all talk and learn from one another.
Phreedum: What has been one of the biggest lessons that you have learned since starting The Black Girl Project?
AT: Go slowly. I have a million ideas for workshops and it has to come in its own time. The work will be there but if you don’t pace yourself you won’t be there.
Phreedum: What are some words of truth and encouragement that you hold on to as you continue to build The Black Girl Project?
AT: Keep on it and don’t give up. Don’t listen to distracters. Do it from your heart or don’t do it all.
Phreedum: What inspires and motivates you?
AT: I would have to say that my soon to be 8 year old daughter is my biggest motivator. I want her to live in a world where it is easier for her to accept herself in her skin; that she can be whole and be free.
Phreedum: How does The Black Girl Project Change the lives of others?
AT: Having those frank unpretty tell it like it is conversations. I think we allow people to have the expectation they can talk freely which I see as an expression of love at its best, because that means you are freely being yourself. I think The Black Girl Project helps people to be authentic and overcome things that may have held them back otherwise.
Phreedum: What would you consider the greatest sacrifice that you’ve had to make?
AT: Time. I still have a full time job. I juggle balls and drop some and pick them up and go on. When there is a way to do The Black Girl Project full time I will. It’s been hard managing it all. Sometimes I do well and sometimes don’t.
Phreedum: What would you consider to be your greatest resource?
AT: My passion and drive. If it lacked I couldn’t do it. I wake up early and stay up late. It’s what gets me through.
Phreedum: What do you think people underestimate about being a creative independent?
AT: Things it will just start and go and be awesome from day one. There are lots of surprises. I didn’t know what I was doing. When the decisions come, I try to choose what I believe is best for my dream.
Phreedum: Any advice for other creative independents?
AT: Just start. The more you think, that’s energy you could use to start. And don’t do it to say you are, do whatever you are doing because you love it. The passion is the only way you will succeed.
Phreedum: Why New York City?
AT: I believe in starting where you are. Since this is where I am, this is where I am starting. These are my young people and my community.
Phreedum: If The Black Girl Project went Hollywood, who would you cast to tell the different stories?
AT: Ooo, that is a hard one. Hmmm. Okay I wouldn’t really want any superstars. I would primarily want actresses that are fresh and new, but gritty. And the girls in the film are mostly 18 and19 so the actresses would need to be close to their ages. I love the young lady in the film Pariah and I love Jurnee Smollett.
For more information about Aiesha Turman and The Black Girl Project visit www.blackgirlproject.org