Innovation by Black girls and women in the arts creates possibilities for us all

OPINION: Art, culture and ingenuity are integral parts of a continuum of social justice, advocacy and healing. And Black Girl Freedom Week is a chance to celebrate the artistic vision and activism of Black girls, femmes and gender-expansive youth across the country.

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I still remember the day I met Tina Turner at Tower Records as a 5-year-old Black girl. She filled the room with her lovely laugh, big smile and even bigger energy. It was exhilarating to see her, a Black woman artist owning the entire store. I was in awe of the presence of this powerful example of a Black woman artist.

As I got older and my world became bigger, I grew to even more deeply appreciate the power of Black artists and innovators and what they offer to Black people living in a world that is not built for us. This is why I now work to move institutions and donors to invest in the artistic visions, innovation, health, safety, research, brain trust and joy of Black girls and gender-expansive youth. Black Girl Freedom Fund, an initiative of Grantmakers for Girls of Color, is one example of that work. In addition to mobilizing investments, BGFF and the #1Billion4BlackGirls campaign co-host the Black Girl Freedom Week, a weeklong space where Black girls, femmes and gender-expansive youth across the country can see themselves and be celebrated.

The theme of this year’s series of events centers on the artistic vision, activism and innovation of Black girls and gender-expansive youth. From Feb. 13 to Feb. 19, we will gather virtually to spotlight Black women, girls and gender-expansive youth, including award-winning director, writer and producer Gina Prince-Bythewood, who most recently directed the blockbuster hit “The Woman King,” and Leila Mottley, author of the New York Times bestseller, Oprah’s Book Club pick and Booker Prize nominee debut novel “Nightcrawler.”

These luminaries not only light the way for the next generation of Black artists and innovators, but they are the cultural influencers who help us see the full embodiment of Black girls’ and Black people’s lives, beyond tropes of tragedy and sadness, to include the infinite possibilities that await them and the liberated futures they are creating. They help shift the narrative and change hearts and minds about Black girls, femmes and gender-expansive youth, who are essential to achieving a more just world. Yet, we know that Black girls, femmes and gender-expansive youth are the least seen, recognized or invested in. Research shows that less than $15 million, about 4.2%, of philanthropic giving was specified for Black women and girls in 2017, the most recent figures available. Black women and girls received $17,000 less in grant support compared to a median of $35,000 for all foundation grants.

The Black Girl Freedom Fund and the #1Billion4BlackGirls campaign aim to change that. Since 2021, the Black Girl Freedom Fund has invested more than $7 million into over 80 organizations across the United States. From cultivating educational opportunities in STEM to deep healing, leadership development and beyond, the work our grantee partners are doing is not just changing the lives of Black girls, femmes, and gender-expansive youth — they are fundamentally changing how others understand the role of Black girls in our communities and the world.

The #1Billion4BlackGirls campaign is the first-of-its-kind movement to mobilize a $1 billion investment in Black girls, femmes and gender-expansive youth. The eight co-founders of the #1Billion4BlackGirls campaign drive the strategic direction and priorities of the campaign, and they continue to advocate for investment in Black girls and gender-expansive youth through each of their respective organizations and personal advocacy work.

“The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible,” goes the saying from legendary cultural and community worker Toni Cade Bambara. We know that art, culture, innovation and ingenuity are integral parts of a continuum of social justice, advocacy, and healing. We get to invest in our Black girl, femme and gender-expansive creators because they deserve it. They are the light of possibility that is so necessary in these turbulent times.

Cidra M. Sebastien is the fund manager of the Black Girl Freedom Fund, an initiative of Grantmakers for Girls of Color. The organization is a fiscally sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. Sebastien is an auntie, educator, youth advocate, and runner. To learn more and donate, click here.

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