Saturday, March 23, 2013

Interview: Live Unchained (or How to be Terrifying, Strange & Beautiful)

Hola! I’ve got something a little different for you today. Back when I started this blog, I said that in addition to talking out of the side of my neck, that I would try to introduce you to interesting people doing cools things. Recently I had the chance to chat with Kathryn Buford, chief visionary officer and lead editress of Live Unchained, an arts organization founded in 2009 that definitely qualifies as cool and interesting, as well as inspiring. Check out the interview and learn how you can support them!

What is Live Unchained?
Live Unchained is a media and events organization that features works by women artists across the African Diaspora. The artists come from various backgrounds, including music, photography, film, TV and from all different parts of the world. We’ve interviewed over 100 women artists from 15 countries.

Live Unchained has different components. There’s the online magazine at, and then there are events, which include art festivals, exhibits, film screenings, concerts, and now with our Indiegogo campaign, an awards ceremony.

What’s the origin story of Live Unchained?
I got the idea when I was in undergrad at the University of Illinois. I was studying sociology and African-American studies and my roommate was an art major. We were both frustrated with the under-representation and the misrepresentation of Black women in dominant media outlets and the historical basis for it. We were originally going to create an anthology satirizing what we found frustrating about the media representation of Black women. But as we grew, we decided we wanted to do more than just criticize what we didn’t like in the media. We wanted to do something that would celebrate what women artists were doing and honor Black female artists. The vision became more inspirational rather than critical. So, we changed the focus and Live Unchained was born.

What’s your next big project?
We are preparing to bring London-based, Somali poet Warsan Shire to DC for our first annual “Terrifying, Strange, and Beautiful” awards ceremony. Shire is known internationally for captivating poetry that focuses on womanhood, love and social justice. “Terrifying, Strange and Beautiful” is a line from Shire’s popular poem, “For Women Who Are Difficult to Love.”

Shire will perform at the ceremony and be honored for her work, along with various Live Unchained artists. Leading up to the ceremony there will be a series of events, including a workshop on healing through narrative, a panel discussion on cultural activism and a film screening. The ceremony and the events are set to take place in fall 2014.

How can readers support your efforts?
The theme of the campaign is “Terrifying, Strange and Beautiful.” You can go to to make a contribution and learn why we chose this as a theme.
We need financial support to make this awards ceremony happen, but I really want people to understand why we’re doing this. All those things that give us layers as women, that fire, vulnerability, that complexity, deserve to be celebrated. And that’s what “Terrifying, Strange and Beautiful,” is, a celebration.

We’re happy with how people have connected with what we’re doing. I think when people can connect with why we’re doing this, it makes it that much easier to spread the word and get other people involved.

In terms of giving, we have different rewards for different contribution levels. We’re also asking people to be creative in what they contribute and spread the word when they do it.  We’re also open to partnering with organizations to help cover some of the costs.

Why is it so important to celebrate women in the arts across the African Diaspora?
We attract artists who are truly committed to community and sisterhood. It’s really important that we have a platform where we honor ourselves and support each other creatively, professionally and personally. There aren’t that many media platforms that are doing this. Too often dominant representations of Black women in the media don’t reflect the diversity of our perspective, experiences, nations we come from and even languages we speak. These women artists that we pull together represent that diversity. As an undergraduate student who was frustrated, this is something that I would have wanted and would have helped me, a platform that I could go to hear women speak their truth.

It’s also important because there so many artists that are making some of the best art out there, but they’re not getting their props. So, that’s what we want to do as well.  

How important is social media to your mission?
It’s essential. I don’t know if this organization would have worked if we weren’t online because that’s how we connected with so many artists. It’s allowed us to connect, build community and extend our brand.

What does it mean to live life unchained?
The definition grows, but I can give you two ways to define it:

It means putting the love for myself, my community and my creative life first without needing or expecting anyone else’s approval, applause or understanding.

Living unchained is also about allowing things to evolve naturally without feeling the need to control the outcome.

Thanks Kathryn!
Go to to learn more, and give them lots of money at! Also, follow their every move on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest

As you live unchained, remember to stay random ;)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Confess Yo Mess

I was always fascinated by the idea of confession in the Catholic church when I was a kid. The idea of unburdening myself of all the bad things I said and did to someone who was required to keep my confidence, without getting in trouble with my parents, just made so much sense in my young,  impressionable mind.

As I got older, with my Baptist self, I obviously began to see the Catholic version of confession differently (and apparently so do many Catholics). While I don't feel the need to confess my sins to a priest, pastor or any other religious leader, there is something freeing about being honest with yourself and confessing your mess. 

I realized that I needed to make a confession when I did something that was totally selfish and inappropriate to a friend. Why was I being a jerk? Because I have issues. It shouldn't have happened, but it made me realize that I had some explaining to do.

So, that's what I did, not to justify my jerkiness, but to help my friend fill in the gaps and make sense of my senseless behavior.  I took a deep brief and just started typing, typing things that only a few people know, that I don't like saying out loud, and that I try to forget. The email ended up being the equivalent of three pages and took forever to write (I almost missed Smash!). Once I finished the email, I sat on it for a day, for a reason, and still hesitated before hitting the Send button the following morning. It's scary to reveal your mess, because when you do, you're opening yourself up for judgment and criticism. Will it bring a person closer, or will it make them go screaming for the hills? Well, I took the plunge because they say confession is good for the soul, and my soul was in bad place.

I won't get into details. Like Beyonce, I'm going to make you think I'm telling you something w/o telling you anything, but I essentially said the following: I'm sorry. This is me, and this is my mess. It's bad, and ish has got to change.

The reaction, thankfully, wasn't negative. However, even before I talked to my friend about my epic email, I felt better after it entered the interwebs. I finally got some icky stuff out and off of me. It also made me clearly see the path I was headed down if I didn't change course. It was humbling, helpful, and cathartic. 

Confessing my mess forced me to be honest myself and my friend. Self-honesty (that's a thing, right?) hasn't always been my strong suit, but if I want to be better, I've got to stop doing the same thing repeatedly and hoping for a different result (i.e., the definition of insanity, and not the Shaun T. kind). As Jennifer Hudson would sing, Look at me. I am changing :)

Stay random,