The Crown & Gowns Project: Empowering Young Black Girls Through Art & Film

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Crowns and GownsRuby Taylor, social worker, author and documentarian has made it her mission to build self-esteem and to empower young Black girls through art.??

Her ?Art Has Soul? project has joined creative forces with world-renowned illustrator, Shaneque Gay, to create The Crown & Gowns Project for Black girls, ages 11 through 20.??

The ?Crown and Gowns? effort will document the personal story and reaction of 12 girls through film and on canvas as they received a gown, tiara, and an original portrait by Gay. Currently, the project is seeking funding to cover expenses and materials. ?

Taylor, a schoolteacher, social worker, motivational speaker, did her first documentary, Mad Believer, on her faith in light of her brother?s murder. Her critically acclaimed film was screened at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, and was accepted into such festivals as the Urban Philadelphia Film Festival. She has also authored two books including, Confidence to Greatness for Teenage Girls.?
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Shaneque Gay is an Atlanta-based artist who was selected by Low Country Luxe and The Congressional Club to create an illustration for the White House, which was featured and presented to First Lady Michelle Obama in 2013. Her artwork has been showcased on the popular BET show, Being Mary Jane, among other outlets. Samuel L. Jackson, musician/songwriter Leon Russell, and event planner to the stars Preston Bailey are a few collectors of her work.?
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TNJ.com: Why did you launch this project???

Ruby Taylor: Searching for the perfect Christmas gift for my niece brought me back to our experience at the Studio Museum in Harlem over the Thanksgiving break. During that time, we saw wonderful contemporary art with an African American aesthetic. One exhibit stood out and that was the ?Jet Beauty of The Week? exhibition. The exhibit showed African-American women who were ?beauties of the week? from the start of the magazine to the present day. My niece noticed not too many women looked like her (which is dark beautiful skin) and we talked about that. She stated she sees that a lot and it hurts because everyone is beautiful.?
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So, I decided to ask artist Shaneque Gay to create a portrait for my niece, since she is our ?beauty of a lifetime.? She agreed and we worked out an agreement. Within 2 to 3 weeks, I received the amazing gift.??

TNJ.com: Why is there a need???

RT: As an ex-school social worker and special education teacher, I saw first hand the struggles all girls had with their self-worth. Specifically, I saw the struggle as a detrimental disadvantage for African American girls. In order for them to feel wanted, the choices they made resulted in unwanted results from teen pregnancy to using illicit substances and never reaching their true potential. The sad truth is the same pain I saw in the girls I worked with was a direct reflection of the young ladies in my family.??

Their pain and my niece?s words made me react and create a solution. Even when I look up the word ?beauty? via Google, Bing, Excite, or Yahoo the first face that pops up never looks like any African Americans. We can change the hurt many Black girls face by celebrating their beauty.?
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TNJ.com: How is the fundraising going??

RT: The fundraising is going slow. At times, I would become discouraged but the words and encouragement from supporters, grandparents, moms, and my nieces reminds me of how important this project is. So, I decided whether I raise the money or not, the film will get completed. But, I hope to reach my goal.??

I have two awesome men who stepped up to do offline fundraising for the project. One is artist Najee Dorsey. He created an original painting and is selling limited prints for the project in the hopes of raising funds. Plus, the McDonald Law Firm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, gifted me with $1,000 because he felt the project was very important. Just when I feel like things won’t work out, God opens an opportunity for me to see that things will be just fine. ???

TNJ.com: Why the name??

RT: The name was from a discussion I had with the artist Shaneque Gay and I was telling her about my niece?s reaction to her gift and it was at that moment that I realized every girl needed a crown and a gown. I said those words to Shaneque and she really loved it. It was at that moment that I realized I should find 12 other African American girls and give them a self-portrait and that is how the name started.???

My niece Bria said that was the best gift she ever received in her life and the fact that she was just gifted with the iPhone 6 made me realize just how huge that gift really was.??

TNJ.com: ?How did you find the illustrator to partner with??

RT: I have an African American art collection and Shaneque Gay is in my collection. I love her style and how she depicts African American women, so it was a natural fit for me to ask her to do the commission piece for my niece.??

TNJ.com: How will you promote the film??

RT: The promotion for the film has already started with the Indiegogo Campaign, which is a way to let others know the film exists and is coming. We also used social media through our Facebook page, which has received over 3,000 Likes in less than three weeks. Next, I will be doing the film festival circuit once the film is completed. Last, but not least, we are working to create a list of organizations, schools and churches that can partner with to show screenings. PR will also be a major part of getting the word out.????

TNJ.com: After this project is done, will you continue with the concept??

RT: Honestly, I don’t know what the future holds, but first I want to reach my fund raising goal, complete the film and go from there. If I did look into the future, it would be something like this work that is hard at getting more diversity into search engines when people look up the words ?beauty? and ?women? and ?girls.? So, the film will be used as a resource to spread the word about black girls? beauty. And in 10 years, I would love to do a follow-up with all of the girls who received a self-portrait and see what, if any, impact the self-portrait had on their lives. Also, another film I would love to do is a celebration all girls? beauty because they all need it. But, I am moving too far into ?what if.? The first stop is to create the best documentary I can create and get it seen.