• AAPF

Transcript from IMKC "Black Girls Speak: Creating Community in the time of COVID"

Updated: Mar 2

Kimberlé Crenshaw: Today, I have a very special guest host on Intersectionality Matters, my friend, my shero, my muse, Dina Wright-Joseph. Now Dina, in addition to being an extraordinary talented dancer, and educator. Founding member of Purelements: An Evolution in Dance, and faculty at Ailey Fordham and Professional Performing Arts High School. She's also an artist in residence at AAPF and she's been an integral part of our arts and activism work. Most recently, and the topic of our conversation today, she directed AAPF's Young Scholars Program this summer.

It took place virtually over the course of six weeks this summer, and it was designed to confront what we have called the knowledge desert that exists relating to Black women and COVID.

We want it to center Black women as authorities of their own lived experience in this moment. And in the final days of the program, the young scholars sat down with Dina and with the Intersectionality Matters team to discuss the profound impact that these dual pandemics are having on their lives, in their communities, and in their goals for the future.

Joining us virtually from all around the country these extraordinary young women spoke candidly about mental health, about policing, about their thoughts on returning to campus this fall, and their experiences working together this summer. We're thrilled to bring part of that conversation to you today on Intersectionality Matters. And if you'd like to listen to the full conversation, you can find it at

So Dina, before we dive in, I thought it might be fun to reflect on our working together over the last five years and how we sort of transitioned into this particular moment. What drew you into AAPF?

Dina Wright-Joseph: Well, my introductions at AAPF was very swift.

Kimberlé Crenshaw: As many of these inductions have been over our history.

Dina Wright-Joseph: I committed to the summer camp before I really had a chance to be introduced to the mission of AAPF.

Kimberlé Crenshaw: Now that summer camp, Breaking the Silence was an arts, activism, and healing summer camp for Black women and girls. And we ran it from 2015 to 2017.

Dina Wright-Joseph: Yes, but as soon as I joined the team at Vassar, initially the offer was to make sure participants were moving and energizing the participants throughout the day. When I met the women, all of the brilliant participants, they were from age 14 to 75, I was saying, well, number one, that's going to craft the way I'm going to create movement because our bodies move differently depending on where we are in our age range. But then also the activism piece was so important.

And I remember just sitting up the night before and being like, all right, now, what am I going to do? Because this is definitely not simply about the craft of dance. I had to make sure that I chose music and movement and a theme that brought the entire community together. So it completely changed the way that I worked from that moment on. And I actually took that structure and that frame and I've continued it with my younger students as well.

Kimberlé Crenshaw: And what is so brilliant about what you did was you chose themes, each of the three years that we did Breaking the Silence Summer Camp, that amplified the work that we were doing, that amplified where Black women were located in that particular moment in political history. And that, as you said, allowed all of us across our age ranges to participate. We started every morning with movement, followed with meditation and then breakfast. And you know what, it was a challenge too, because some folks are like, "Wait, I can't do anything without breakfast. I can't do anything before 10 o'clock in the morning." We're like, "You know it's summer camp, right?”

And then after summer camp, we continued to work together and did a few productions, including Harriet. So, that's another sort of adaptation, I guess, starting from the summer camp and moving to something more discreet, but also something that was explicitly telling and recovering stories about Harriet Tubman using dance and movement and drumming and spoken word to create an immersive experience, both for the participants and for the audience. Our first performance of that was in Washington, DC.

Dina Wright-Joseph: That was Washington DC, yeah. We were at the Smithsonian for the performance.

Kimberlé Crenshaw: We keep inventing and moving. So this summer presented another opportunity to invent something new. And of course when it comes to all things artivistically oriented, I have my go to people. And so we started thinking about what could be a way of providing a community in the face of these pandemics? How do we step into this space, given the fact that we are virtual?

So that of course became the moment that I called you up and said, "Dina, we want to do something. And we want it to be in the spirit of Breaking the Silence. We want it to be specifically empowering by addressing what is happening right now." So that was a big sort of, here, do something. So walk us through your approach to taking up this mantle and actually developing it into what is, clearly from what all the young women have been telling us, a beautiful experience.

Dina Wright-Joseph: Thank you for that. I can say walking into it was terrifying for me because I consider myself one of your get it girls, like Julia and some of your other team where you just give us the idea, we get it in terms of concept. We don't understand what we necessarily need to do. We get the resources and we get to work. That’s how I really approached this program.

And because our scholars, most of them didn't identify as artists, I had to make sure that I crafted it in a way and designed the program so that they felt comfortable being creative. And they didn't feel as if, oh, well, this is not for me because I really came here specifically to become a researcher under the African American Policy Forum. But, my initial conversation with the scholars was that, it's important to be a creative and it's important to find different ways to share information, especially with our community, because we respond well to storytelling.