Brick City Native Asserts Her Right to 'Rock'
Tomorrow evening accomplished black women from all across the nation will be arriving at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) to participate in an annual celebration of all things #blackgirlmagic. The Black Girls Rock! Awards, which aims to celebrate Black women who “are trailblazers, change makers or dynamos in their respective fields”, has been held in Newark before. In 2013 Honoree Queen Latifah gave what some called a “passion-filled” and “empowering” speech about what it meant to her to be honored just minutes away from her birthplace. This year though the event is being openly criticized for what some feels is a lack of effort to intentionally involve local activists, media outlets, and entrepreneurs.
After attempts to connect with, contribute to, and collaborate with the events organizers were unsuccessful digital influencer, model, podcast host, and newark resident Christina Bright decided to start a conversation surrounding the criticisms. On Thursday August 3rd she publicly questioned the reasons for the oversight in an instagram post that has sparked a dialogue about the need for intentional inclusion in the rapidly changing “Brick City” using the hashtag #blackgirlsrocknewark.
“I’m someone who is transparent and I speak up for things that matter to me” says Bright who is affectionately referred to by some of her fellow Newarkers as the “Brick City Princess” (her previous causes have included taking on the inadequacies of the state’s transportation system).
She shared that she felt it was necessary to start the conversation because “a lot of times black girls we don’t feel comfortable speaking quote unquote against people who look like us.” This fear may stem from the lack of opportunity presented to women of color that is highlighted through initiatives like Black Women's Equal Pay Day.
“I’m not trying to tear them down or come at them in any negative or disrespectful way but by coming into our city every single year... maybe after the first year I could understand, but after years of people not feeling included... at that point it's a conscious decision. You’re intentionally leaving us out and I want to know why.”
Bright pointed out that many Newark residents have no idea the event is even being taped in the city stating that when first heard about it “I saw it on TV”. She says later as result of her professional connections “someone asked me to be a seat filler for Janelle Monae’s performance”. She “thought that I was going to be apart of the actual awards show” but was “disappointed.”
Bright’s ultimate goals to work with the organization and represent her city extend beyond just being able to say she was on television and when friends and family contacted her to congratulate her on what they saw as an accomplishment she didn’t share their excitement. “People kept texting me like ‘oh my God! You’re on Black Girls Rock!’...but I really wasn’t apart of it at all. I was just there because I knew someone who knew someone.” The industry standard practice particularly perturbed her “why are we looking for seat fillers when there's people right here who would die to be in the room?”
She maintains that “For every seat filler that you need all those seats should go to people in Newark, whether it’s community leaders or young people in our high schools and middle schools. Reward them! Give them some kind of incentive. ‘Hey the person with the highest GPA or the person who wins this award gets a ticket to Black Girls Rock! I think that there's so many ways that you can incorporate people in the community even if it's like on a volunteer basis.”
Volunteering has the potential to expose young women up to the possibilities of having a career behind the camera like previous Black Girls Rock! Honorees Shonda Rhimes and Ava Duvernay. “I don’t know what happens with the production but I know that our girls need to be involved.” She states that a lot can be accomplished by “ just putting them in the room so they can see it for themselves because we as we all know if you can't see it for yourself it’s really hard to make it happen.
She says by working together with the event’s organizers to integrate them into the community women of Newark can create positive change for some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.“There are so many things that we can do to change their lives and show them a different way instead of coming here quietly and leaving quietly.”
Bright is joined by others who share her views. At the time of publication she received 161 comments on the original post many from other Newark natives who echoed her argument.
“If no one speaks up then nothing's gonna change. So I felt like I’m tired of hearing people complain. I’m tired of feeling excluded. It broke my heart knowing Michele Obama was two blocks away from my house while she was first lady and I wasn’t there to see her. I do work in this community. We have to see it on tv and even then we don't because they don't even really [publicly] acknowledge that it's being taped in Newark, New Jersey.“
Bright tagged entrepreneurs, activists, journalists, chefs, caterers and other fixtures in the Newark arts scene in the post in the hopes of gaining exposure for their long-term efforts to change the perception of people of color in Newark and the surrounding areas. “When I think about Black Girls Rock!, I think about making a statement. There’s an exclamation...It’s standing up for ourselves. It’s including ourselves because other people won't acknowledge us. Ironically that whole mission is the very reason I’m speaking up for the black girls who rock in Newark.”