Artists and cultural workers are pivotal contributors to social change. They are catalysts who help us to imagine communities rooted in equity and radical love. Breakthrough VOICES is a space for artists to not only amplify their own talents but to use those talents to inspire others.
As Black History Month and Women’s History Month intersect, Breakthrough VOICES kicks off with Alicia Jamison’s “Black Girl Magic.”
Alicia Jamison grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona where she did not see many faces that looked like hers. She was one of five Black people in her graduating class. Naturally, she faced adversity on a regular basis. She wrote “Black Girl Magic”, a spoken word poem, when she moved to New York and began to understand the sorcery of her melanin. Today Alicia is a proud Black woman who loves her skin. She now is working to help other women of color find love for their skin as well as an understanding of the power they hold.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Breakthrough:What is your Breakthrough Voice?
Alicia Jamison:I think my voice is always changing. As we develop, we learn more things about ourselves and that comes through our art. When I wrote “Black Girl Magic,” I was getting more comfortable with being a Black woman. I grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, so I didn’t have a lot of Black women around me, or Black people in general. So I didn’t understand my identity. I didn’t know what my role was in society. So when I wrote “Black Girl Magic,” I felt more confident in who I am.
But I wrote that a year ago, and I’m in college now. They say that these are the years that you find yourself, or at least start to. At that point I was comfortable being a Black woman, but now today I’m more comfortable being Alicia. Alicia is, yes, a Black woman, but also a student, also pre-med, also a trainer. She’s a lot more beyond her race and identity.
It’s really cool to be able to look back at what that piece meant to me then and what it means to me now.
BT: How did spoken word become your chosen art form?
AJ: Spoken word is the stepping stone from regular conversation to rap and hip-hop, or even comedy. It flows. There is rhythm and timing, and it can be really systematic or it can be super super natural. It depends on what your flow is. But there are times when you have to pause. There’s important times when you have to keep going, keep your rhythm, keep your rhyming scheme. Or maybe you don’t have a rhyming scheme at all. When it’s spoken it’s kind of like you’re making the words dance.
BT: How do you use art for social good?
AJ: It’s supplemental. A strong supplement. Change is going to happen when people are going to accept it. But it’s not going to take one thing. It’s going to take a song. It’s going to take a poem. They say it takes a village, and we — people who perform spoken word, or slam poets — we are just part of the village.
BT: Who were some of your role models growing up?
AJ: I think I take a little thing from every single person that I meet. Of course, my parents, they raised me. I think I am an independent woman and a stable and confident woman because of them. Now I work at a gym with a lot of older people. I’m 20, but everyone else is 30, 40, 50. They give me things that keep me going every day.
BT: Breakthrough does a lot of work with young people. What would your message be to young people who see your video and say, “that’s me!”
AJ: First of all, I would cry for a good five minutes before I could say any words. But I would tell them to really enjoy the journey of figuring it all out. The first step is identifying who you are, and that’s so hard. And once you figure that out — honestly, I can’t even tell you what the next part is because I’m still not there yet. That’s probably an everlasting, evolving thing.
But ideally, once you figure it out, then what is your role in society? What is your game plan? How are you going to contribute? But contribute doesn’t mean you have to go out and stand tough — you can just sit down and write poetry just for yourself. Or from time to time, you can help out a friend when they need it.
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Season One of Breakthrough VOICES highlights a spoken word poet, a rock band, a performance artist, and a dance troupe. To be highlighted in a future season, contact us at email@example.com!
Coming up on March 26: Rock group Quantum Split performs “America.”