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Black Girl Genius Week

By Ruth Nicole Brown | with thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile) 

Wednesday, October 24, 2019.

You can’t celebrate Black girls if you don’t listen. They have plenty of stories to tell if, in so many ways, we would stop silencing their thoughtfully beautiful noise — their voices, their music and their movement.

Black girls are surrounded by a cacophony of noise and sensation, entirely of their own making, but they are often punished for it. As Black Girl Genius Week kicks off in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, I am reflecting on my black girlhood and ways I can tap into the frequencies of today’s black girls to amplify them.

When we fail to see the magic of black girlness, we miss a world. So many stereotypes of Black girls are shaped by volume with sound weaponized against them. They are either policed for being too loud or victimized by unreasonable expectations about how they should or shouldn’t show up in the world.

I remember black girlhood vividly: I am from suburban Chicago, from towns called Park Forest and Chicago Heights. I remember lively basketball courts, the neighborhood candy store and going outside to play with friends. I am from beaches with no water.

I am from many places that are “not.” Not the city. Not the suburb you saw on TV. Not the place you aspire to move when you graduate from college. I am from one of many unheard of places where unknown brilliance thrives.

I am from artists. I remember learning form and aesthetics from how Aldi, the low-cost grocery chain, stocked shelves and shelves of generic brands. I am from scholars, Black women educators who taught me how to read, think and question as if their lives depended on it.

Because of them, I am.

During Black Girl Genius Week, my organization, Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths, will pay it forward by celebrating the spirit of black girls and mobilizing them in an imaginary, expansive creative movement that embraces their exquisite noise. In afterschool sessions, film talkbacks, day parties, museum exhibits, orchestrated walks in public parks and mall meetups, we will play, conduct physics experiments, makes arts and architecture, and grapple with big theories of social change. Black girl aesthetics, and Black feminist politics — all of which there is no Black life without.

In this critical Black arts-inspired movement, we will meet with Black girls face to face, to listen to their stories about where they are from, and cherish how they name themselves. We will create music from the sounds we carry deep in our bodies and step to the mic. We will surprise ourselves with truths we’ve maybe whispered to the trees but decided in that moment, are needed to be heard, recorded, and played back, and uploaded.


We will write songs.

Often marginalized by institutions, policies, categories and identities assumed pure and concrete, Black girl genius resides in the in-between. In creating an affirmative home-space, Black Girl Genius Week won’t take our girls’ homegrown knowledge and expertise for granted. We won’t show up without first acknowledging who and how some Black women and non-binary persons transformed an entire institution, changed the entire set design for a Black girl’s laughter to echo into oblivion.

During Black Girl Genius Week, the fifth event of its kind, we will think with our hearts and act in love: This is not the kind of thing they teach in school, so we must teach it for ourselves.

In our space, Black girls are not tone policed, shushed to submit, or otherwise told that however it sounds, is inappropriate. We will create or find a beat. We will sing, spit, rap, breathe, hum or whatever it is we feel like doing on the mic. We will experiment, and learn how to trust one another enough to ask, how do we sound now?

Black girls deserve spaces where they can hear themselves in the echoes. It’s just possible we may hear joy.


Ruth Nicole Brown, founder of Black Girl Genius Week, is an associate professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and a Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project.

Black Girl Genius Week

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