Saturday, February 20th, 2021, I was fortunate enough to attend Unapologetically Radical, a one-day virtual experience created by New Haven Department of Arts & Cultural Affairs in conjunction with International Festival of Arts & Ideas.
The overall goal of Unapologetically Radical was to address, amplify, and activate anti-racism through arts and culture.
In Adriane Jefferson’s words, this experience was born out of the desire to “challenge art organizations to look at their internal culture and begin to undo racism within their institutions.”
Before attending Unapologetically Radical, I was drawn to the Hip Hop aesthetic that was prominent in all aspects of the design on the website. The breakout sessions (or “Tracks”) that participants would be attending resembled EP’s (1 or 2), meaning that the audience was given the choice of which session they wished to attend by RSVP’ing via Zoom.
For example, here is the list of my breakout sessions that I attended at Unapologetically Radical:
Track ONE, EP 2: Truth and Reconciliation with Tyler McElrath, Brittany Cooper and Nico Wheadon.
Track TWO, EP 1: Authoring Your Life with Kelsey Senteio, Greg Cally, and Alexandria Ashley.
Track THREE, EP 1: Revolutionary Healing with Hanifa Washington and Eric Rey.
The event schedule was as follows:
Introduction: 9:45 am
Keynote Speaker :10:00 am
Track One: 11:15 am
Game Show: 12:30 pm
Track Two: 1:30 pm
Track Three: 2:30 pm
Healing Session: 4:00 pm
(Disclaimer: I will only be giving you a brief synopsis of each part and my impressions. If you wish to see more, watch Unapologetically Radical in its entirety by clicking here.)
So I officially tuned in to Unapologetically Radical at about 10:00am. Right off the bat, I loved how the most of this event was held on YouTube Live, which meant that I did not have to actively participate with my camera (serious kudos for that).
I must admit that I have never heard of Dr. Bettina Love, the Keynote Speaker and Black Abolitionist who co-founded the Abolitionist Teaching Network (ATN), before Unapologetically Radical. Luckily, the moderator, Dustin Ross, did a fantastic job of introducing the Keynote Speaker and asking her questions that allowed the viewers to learn more about her accomplishments and ethos. For one, the word “abolitionist” still exists today because of the structures in this country that continue to oppress Black people and uphold racism. All of the work that Dr. Love does today revolves around eliminating such structures and fostering Black Joy within all the communities that she impacts. I believe that having Dr. Love as the Keynote Speaker really set the tone for this experience and why it was so important to build community through such efforts. (And yes, twerking is liberation!)
As mentioned above, I chose to attend EP 2’s Track ONE: Truth and Reconciliation with with Tyler McElrath, Brittany Cooper and Nico Wheadon. My biggest takeaway from this session was that it is each person’s responsibility to show up as their most authentic self, regardless of who gets offended. Essentially, to be radically YOU while avoiding energies that do not align.
When the Track ONE session was over, guests were encouraged to attend the Game Show being hosted by Mouse Jones on the YouTube live link. The Game Show consisted of Mouse Jones asking the chosen contestants if certain celebrities or scenarios were Cultural Appropriation or Cultural Appreciation (i.e. Justin Timberlake, Eminem, adding raisins to the potato salad). Yes, it got REAL! Although I was actively participating, it was a great time to stretch and prepare lunch, which exemplifies the thoughtfulness of the programming.
After the Game Show concluded, I joined EP 1’s Track TWO: Authoring Your Life with Kelsey Senteio, Greg Cally, and Alexandria Ashley. I think the main focus of this session was the need for new narratives to be told. Both Cally and Ashley added to this discussion by expressing their desires to produce stories that are both close to home and go against the stereotypical grain that saturates the culture.
For my last session, I chose EP 1’s Track THREE: Revolutionary Healing with Hanifa Washington of One Village Healing and Eric Rey. This session right here was: Right. On. Time. During this Track, we did breathwork, meditation, and honoring our bodies. One of the most salient points made by Ms. Washington is that, “we need new ways of healing and replenishing our bodies in the face of the Western World.” This looks like resting, taking naps, and saying “no” to things that do not resonate on an energetic level.
I must reiterate how impressed I was with the overall programming, design, and fluidity of the event, especially given its virtual nature. Unapologetically Radical had this feel… as though you were participating in a live TV program from the comfort of your own space. The inclusion of chatrooms through YouTube and Zoom allowed for active participation and engagement of the audience with the panelists and other participants. I can’t honestly say that I have ever experienced something like it before.
Even during downtime and between sessions, DJ_JUIC3 was cueing up all the uplifting, Hip-Hop hits that helped re-energize spirits throughout the program. Also, I truly appreciate the inclusion of local and demographic-intentional commercials that played on the YouTube Live channel. Y’all really thought and covered EVERYTHING with this event!
So BIG, BIG shout outs to Adriane Jefferson, Shelley Quiala, and their respective teams: New Haven Department of Arts & Cultural Affairs and the International Festival of Arts & Ideas. Also a shout out to all the panelists, moderators, and other participants who showed up on Saturday and radically celebrated Black Bodies as well as uplift the culture.
And to paraphrase from last speaker of the event, Ala Ochumare, thank you for allowing me to learn with y’all.