• Keyaira Boone

C Letter Scene: Newark Youth Encouraged to Curate Their Lives

Ninth grade writing teacher Deja L. Jones gathered a group of young black professionals to spend their Saturdays empowering and educating a group of Newark teens. Designed to provide girls from “Brick City” with the communication and leadership tools required for them to foster relationships with one another and aid in the developing of their community “through a series of well-planned and well-executed workshops” the Curate Your Life Summit was held at a Newark, New Jersey charter school. KIPP: NJ Collegiate Academy is a progressive institution that falls under the nationally recognized Knowledge is Power Program. It’s cafeteria bear encouraging reminders to students that “if there is a better way we find it” and “if we need help we ask”.

The young ladies attending the summit were spoken to by Barnes & Noble Social Media Specialist and digital media maven Lenora Houseworth, Rutgers University alumnae and branding expert Nicole M. Binns, Trenton Native, Kean University alumnae, Inspirational Speaker, Life Coach and Self-Help Blogger, Ayana Gibbs, marketing professional and Strong and Elite founder, Charell Strong, editor-in-chief of Bryanda Law, and other strong women who have carved out places for themselves in the fields of law, entertainment, media, and wellness.

During a panel discussion on Media Literacy & Social Media Etiquette entitled “Life Behind the Browser” the girls in attendance were given the chance to learn about the dangers and opportunities that lie behind the share button. Gibbs reminded attendees to “be intentional” and shared that she had secured multiple speaking engagements as a result of the way she’s curated her social media presence. “I try to be a source of light and positivity online” she said.

When asked about pressures to defy negative stereotypes of black women in the media the women were firm in their stance on not speaking for anyone but themselves. “How I live my life daily combats stereotypes” said Strong “it doesn't have to be some huge thing to make a difference, it's how you carry yourself. You don't have to carry that weight.”

“You don't have to have some special sauce to be awesome” chimed in Law.

Houseworth stated her refusal to detract from what makes her unique by engaging in what has been labeled “codeswitching” saying that if she is to slip a neckroll or a head nod into a presentation that she is fully prepared for "you're gonna like it and you're gonna get into it."

In reference to maintaining a sense of personality online Binns cautioned the ladies to “do you but just realize where you want to be. Sit down with yourself and figure out what direction you want to go in.”

During the Q&A portion of the panel a young lady questioned how the creatives were able to handle their business affairs without worrying about being perceived as “a bitch”. “I'm a mother and my child has to eat” said Gibbs “I didn't go to school not to get paid my worth”. Law stressed the importance of having a buffer between yourself and potential clients, while Houseworth cited the value of employing a tactful no saying “for example you say I can’t but if budget becomes available let me know I’d love to work together.”

Sponsored by Prudential, Cantu, Mary Kay, and Amazon, the day’s activities also included workshops on “Communication, Accountability, Sisterhood & Relationships Building” and “Tackling Social Justice and Community Issues of Teen Girls”.

Following the final panel discussion attendees and speakers were treated to a home cooked meal provided by Jones’ own family members who donated their time, resources, and culinary talents. After lunch the girls were then treated to a yoga session led by wellness blogger Janay Jacobs who reminded them that self-care is a critical part of striving for success.

Many changes have been made in the city of Newark as legislators, business owners, and property developers seek to return the city to its former glory. The Curate Your Life Summit is a change that fails to forget the city’s most valuable resource- it’s children.