BRAVE: Black women in the arts are in “A Never Ending Renaissance”

Published April 17, 2023

Design by Elin Choe

When asked what it means to be brave, actress Tati Gabrielle replied, “It means showing the world that you deserve to be taken a chance on. ’Cause you were the first to take a chance on you.”

Gabrielle was the keynote speaker at the eighth annual BRAVE summit, which was founded in 2015 by three Black Georgetown alums to highlight Black women’s narratives. Each year, the event has a different theme inspired by one of the words in their titular acronym: “Black, Resilient, Artistic, Vigilant, Enough.” This year’s theme, “In the Black Fantastic: A Never Ending Renaissance”—an ode to the ‘A’ of BRAVE—celebrated Black women and femmes in the arts. On March 26, creatives from both on-and-off campus gathered to discuss various forms of self-expression and equip college students with the confidence needed to enter the professional world.

Speakers at breakout sessions included CEOs, musicians, and psychologists who spoke to their positions as Black women and femmes in the industry, each hoping to encourage the gathered students.

Courtesy of BRAVE

“Growing up I never had anyone that looked like me that was, like, popular,” Fannita Leggett, a TikTok creator with almost two million followers, said. “I never imagined that I’d amass this many people that like me for me that don’t know me.” 

“It’s really inspiring,” she added. 

Leggett was part of the panel “Picture Perfect: The Conflicts of Presence and Perception” in which participants discussed balancing an internet presence while staying true to themselves. Other speakers included well-known Instagram and TikTok creators Promise Elisa and Anayka She.

When asked if social media use should be fun, Leggett replied with a decisive “yes,” framing it as a form of resistance: “Black girls on the internet get beat up from the ground,” she said. “I’m gonna show all the fat Black girls that we can have fun.”

For her part, She emphasized the importance of representation and expressed her appreciation for the ways social media provides a platform for multitudes within the Black community. “In today’s age, you can be any kind of Black woman: a goth, a baddie, a city girl. TikTok has helped us find all these different nations.”   

“I’m so happy to be a part of that,” She added.

Though the panel was mostly positive, the creators acknowledged that there are certainly still obstacles in their field. Elisa warned the young audience about the dangers of looking to the internet for self-worth: “Everybody will hype up this new Black woman, this new star, and the next day there’s smear campaigns everywhere,” she said.

“I think Black women get a really bad rap,” Leggett said. Attendees nodded as she listed the stereotypes that were all too familiar: ghetto, loud, aggressive, stuck-up. But from her personal experience, she affirmed that “nobody sees you like another Black woman.”

Through it all, the camaraderie between the young women was comforting. As they shared stories of the first time they met, teased each other for laughs, and praised each other’s efforts in their industry, their solidarity seeped through the room.

The support found in the breakout sessions carried into the lunch period as we shifted from learning about Black self-expression through art to witnessing it: Georgetown’s own “Dancing Diamonds” dazzled with choreography in matching blue leotards; underground artists shared original music; and D.C.’s 2022 Drag Queen of the Year Cake Pop!, who spoke on art and intersectionality at the “Different Colors, Same Rainbow” session, captivated the room with an engaging performance, sauntering through the pink tables where members of the crowd sat. 

The final event was a Q&A where Dr. Brienne Adams, a professor in Georgetown’s department of African American Studies, engaged in conversation with Gabrielle, known for her roles on popular Netflix series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, You, and Kaleidoscope

A self-proclaimed “hyper-optimist,” Gabrielle spoke to the need for joyful narratives about Black people to be showcased more in Hollywood. “There weren’t enough Black stories at that time,” she said, reflecting on her college days. “Our struggles were always shown—I was like, ‘Can we be seen celebrating our own coming of age?’” While she acknowledged that there has since been an increase in Hollywood’s diversity, she is adamant that there is still a long way to go.

Courtesy of BRAVE Gabrielle (front left) with students at the BRAVE SummitCourtesy of BRAVE

For young Black women looking to pursue a career in the arts, she had memorable advice: “This industry is not nice, particularly to us. Make sure you have an intention of why you wanna do this.” Gabrielle added that even though she’s faced obstacles, she remains compelled to pursue her acting career by expanding Hollywood’s vision of possibilities for Black narratives. To Gabrielle, her involvement in the industry is something bigger than herself. 

“I’m exhausted but my ‘why’ is so loud in my head,” she said. “I cannot stop fighting against an industry that is fighting me back as hard as it can.” 

As the floor opened for questions, the conversation became even more relaxed: Gabrielle gave details from head-to-toe on her fashionable, all-white outfit with gold jewelry and whipped out her phone to list out artists found in the playlist she’d curated for her role as Marienne in You (such as Jorja Smith, Edith Piaf, and Nirvana); a student’s request for her to AirDrop the link elicited laughs throughout the room.

Eager rounds of applause marked the end of the event; the first wave honored Gabrielle’s powerful contributions to the gathering, before growing even louder when directed towards the BRAVE team behind it all. Organized by and for Black women, I left the event confident that I can step into the world and find us in all corners of the creative world, flourishing in a never-ending renaissance.

Adora Adeyemi
Adora is a Contributing Editor at The Georgetown Voice. She loves to watch television, go to the movies, listen to music, and be annoying about it.

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