Read our interview with Cassey Andrews for our Living Black Genius program, funded by ArtReach.
Living Black Genius is a program designed to illuminate the living Black Canadian geniuses of today. Created out of the necessity for adequate representations of Black Canadian role models beyond the minimal depiction in the media, Natasha, the founder of Living Black Genius, explained, “the stereotype would be a rapper, musician, entertainer, or athlete … when we asked the kids in our program who a Black Canadian role model (was), we got blank stares – and Drake.”
“When (we) think Canadian, (we) must think all Canadians. Especially if you’re a Black Canadian, you want to be represented in your country.”
With youths’ aspirations tied to these scarce representations, it was vital to the LBG team to fill in the narrative. Natasha told us, “When (we) think Canadian, (we) must think all Canadians. Especially if you’re a Black Canadian, you want to be represented in your country.” So, the team took on the task of broadening the spectrum. The program, which happens twice a week, has brought in a variety of professionals, “we wanted there to be a mixed bag (of professionals), because some are going to speak more to others than others”.
Youth suggest the types of professionals they would appreciate hearing from, and research the professionals before they come in to the program, “We don’t want the workshops with outside facilitators to be a pinpoint of reference on leadership”, Natasha explained. Youth direct the program the whole way through, with some even assisting with workshop facilitation.
Natasha talked to us about a West African drummer who came in to discuss the rhythm and meanings behind drumming language, and the connections that have crossed from West Africa, “One of the youth was from West Africa and it was amazing what he could chime in! He supported the drummer as a secondary assistant drummer and was telling us what he knows. He even showed us a song that he knew!”
“Share your dreams. You are living Black geniuses”
Leadership within the program has been carried out by everyone in the room, “We’re learning from the kids, too. We want them to know that just because you’re young, or just because you’re a young Black youth, doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to contribute. Share your dreams – you are living Black geniuses.”
She went on, “We want to share that you don’t just have to be a leader in your community, but with everyone in your life … you don’t have to stick yourself in a box … leadership is infinite”. Natasha and the Living Black Genius team, which consists of: Natasha Adiyana Morris (founder); Amanda Nicholls (co-program lead); and, Dennis Langley (media director), have documented the experience through video, and the youth have led the direction every step of the way.
Check out their video here.
She talked to us about how, in January when the program began, preparation, participation, and confidence seemed low. Now, an atmospheric change has occurred. Time is utilized. Each participant has the confidence to share and contribute ideas, and each one ensures that the other has lines within the documentary shorts. She told us that the youth strongly understand that these documentaries are not just for them to gain skills, but to educate the public who sees them – to fill in the narrative.
“Most importantly, we could extend the program until Christmas and keep these relationships going!”
When we asked her exactly what it was that ArtReach helped fund, Natasha proclaimed, “EVERYTHING! We could pay facilitators an honorarium. We could purchase the camera, the lens, and the lighting. We could pay ourselves. Most importantly, we could extend the program until Christmas and keep these relationships going!” Natasha hopes that some of the youth leaders within the Living Black Genius program will help assist her in initiating the program in other areas of the GTA, such as Mississauga, “The program has been organically growing and so I want to keep that going”!
“The program has been organically growing and so I want to keep that going!”
Author: Cassey Andrews