Uncomfortable Conversations Create Change

Zae is a past winner of the Student Voices Campaign and is now Video Production Assistant at RYSE Center

In his experience:

Keep the fight going-don’t take no for an answer

Take constructive criticism, take advice, don’t feel discouraged, it’s not a critique of you personally, learn how to grow from it

Challenge yourself to do something new with an art medium, experiment and figure out what you’re trying to say

Make a statement

How did your journey as an artivist start?

I am part of RYSE’s staff pipeline, where you start out as member and once you’ve shown enough leadership and participate in enough workshops you move to intern, to fellow, to contracted staff: part time to fulltime staff. It was kind of a long bumpy ride, before I was a video intern, I was a YO (Youth Organizer). I was on the front lines fighting for what’s right for my community. When I was a YO I started to realize the problems that were inside my community. I noticed that we had police but didn’t recognize police brutality, a lot of liquor stores but didn’t recognize we lived in a food desert. It was very rare for me to recognize anything problematic in my community. 

But now with my experience, I recognize the little things. All of these things are happening because of systemic racism and I don’t want the next generation to be blind-sided when they grow up. I want to prepare the next generation for the realization. Systemic racism plays a part in the problems of our community. Richmond police are not all bad. We don’t have as many resources as other cities because Richmond gets overlooked.

I pivoted from YO to Video Production because video was my passion. But YO taught me how to fight for my community, and gather my community together to fight for what’s right, and how important it is to teach other people to use their voice to help others who have been silenced. Transitioning to Video Production has fueled my passion because I realized I can use video to tell my story and bring awareness to certain topics. Some conversations are difficult to have because they’re uncomfortable. But uncomfortable conversations need to happen to create change.

And you’ve been leading some of those conversations. What was it like participating in a national call with Arts Guild and what advice do you have for other youth speaking out?

Being a youth on a national call, if you feel overwhelmed, acknowledge that and be clear and transparent about it. a lot of youth might not express that they feel overwhelmed, that they have to go through the big presentation without expressing. Take a moment and breathe and acknowledge that they were chosen to do this role for a reason and that they are dope. Hype yourself up. You got this. There is no what if, there is I did this. For my generations, we’re all dope at what we do.

Keep doing what you’re doing, don’t take no for an answer and don’t feel discouraged because you were put in that situation for a reason. If you do feel out of place or awkward, it don’t hurt to ask questions to get yourself situated.

I consider all youth up and coming artists. And I support any aspect of their work.

How will you continue your own work in art and activism?

Video plays a part to open the conversation. It plays a part in my journey as a poet, and as a video creator, those two things go hand in hand to tell stories. I feel like video can get the conversation started-asking people what they got out of watching gets the ball rolling. I know for youth, especially, you feel like you can’t talk as much, or are not comfortable about speaking up. Now, with video, I can speak volumes.