SOLHOT’s Black Girl Genius Week

bggw2Last week, while many of you were working, going to school, or visiting and following the polls for midterm elections, something amazing was happening in a small college town in central Illinois. SOLOT (Saving Our Lives, Hear Our Truths) presented the first ever Black Girl Genius Week in Champaign, IL. It was a week-long event of creation, celebration, and knowing, all in honor of Black girlhood and its collective genius. BGGW consisted of teach-ins about the work of SOLHOT and Black girlhood, studio sessions, concerts, house parties, video shoots, and actual SOLHOT sessions at high schools and middle schools in the area.

For me, #BGGW was a reunion, or better yet, a homecoming. More than the return to my former university, I was grateful that Black Girl Genius Week brought me back to the SOLHOT space. As a physical space, SOLHOT serves to document the lived experiences of Black girls. Using art and other ritual traditions, we nurture an affirming space with the potential for healing, expression, and resistance. Black girls (usually middle through high school aged) and their allies are invited. The space is organized by a group of older “homegirls” made up of college students and/or community members. I started doing SOLHOT in 2009 as an undergraduate and it remains the best decision I’ve ever made. SOLHOT has shaped the way I practice self-care, love, sisterhood, scholarship, and activism. Black Girl Genius Week prompted the return of many seasoned or “OG homegirls” and a submergence into the practices that united us in the first place. Local Black girl MC’s, students, professors, producers, and poets (including Nikky Finney) migrated to Champaign for the #BGGW turn up.

Affectionately dubbed an “anti-conference” as a way to resist the coaptation by institutions, Black Girl Genius Week was an opportunity to show up and show out, especially for We Levitate, a musical group that “unapologetically using digital wrongly to reimagine the collective, resound complex Black girlhood, remember relationships, reclaim the dirty work, and reverberate love for self, each other, and every kind of Black girl every where.”  Our studio session allowed participants to collaborate with We Levitate on afrofuturist sounds and beats, created by and for Black girls. Bars were spit. Poetry was read. Songs were sung. Using sound and lyrics we addressed patriarchy, anti-blackness, sexism, hoe shaming, violence, death, oppression, capitalism, racism, and a range of other issues that Black girls resist. We also utilized this time to embrace freedom, sisterhood, love, light, movement, resilience, and survival.

Black Girl Genius Week was magical in it’s ability to transform spaces. For example, during a video shoot for one of the drill tracks, we turned an abandoned campus building (ironically, the former site of the university’s “Black House,” which was a place for fellowship and community building for Black students at the predominantly white university. Black students fought against it’s closure) into a disruptive performance piece. And by conjuring images of the Black people engaging with their community by sitting on the stoop we symbolically transformed university space, traditionally hostile to black girls and women, into a Black girl’s home. Through our collective artistry we were able use SOLHOT practices to shift, or at least clap back at, power relationships.

Embedded image permalinkSOLHOT is the brainchild of Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown, a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, one of the canons of Black girlhood studies, and my fairy god homegirl. Her work with SOLHOT and, by extension, Black Girl Genius Week reflects her commitment to celebrating Black Girlhood in all of it’s complexity. Her program is one of the few for Black girls that is not rooted in risk-reduction, trauma, violence prevention, reform, or other intervention strategies rooted in pathology. It is a radical program that celebrates Black girlhood and acknowledges their creative potential and capacity as knowledge producers or “knowers.” If you’d like to know more about her work, SOLHOT, Black Girl Genius Week, or the work of Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown follow her on Twitter.

Feministing's resident "sexpert", Sesali is a published writer and professional shit talker. She is a queer Black girl, fat girl, and trainer. She was the former Training Director at the United States Student Association and later a member of the Youth Organizing team at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She received her bachelors in Women's and Gender Studies from Depaul University in 2012 and is currently pursuing a master's in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. A self identified "trap" feminist, and trained with a reproductive justice background, her interests include the intersections of feminism and: pop culture, youth culture, social media, hip hop, girlhood, sexuality, race, gender, and Beyonce. Sesali joined the team in 2010 as one of the winners of our So You Think You Can Blog contest.

is Feministing's resident sexpert and cynic.

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