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Ava DuVernay Is The Energy Frequency I Want To Be On All Year Long

"I think any black woman is a queen. It's just, do you know it? Do you see it in yourself? Do you recognize it, do you abide by that, do you define yourself as that?"—Ava DuVernay

Culture & Entertainment

It was almost this time last year that I wrote "Wanna Start Your Own T-Shirt Line? 7 Pros Will Show You How" for the site. I make no apologies for the fact that I am borderline obsessed with a good unisex, Bella Canvas, T-shirt in a large, that has a great message on it. I just like how tees give you the ability to convey a message without saying a single word. Well, aside from the not-lucky-but-blessed sweatshirt, Black Dope Marriage Coach and Harpo, Who Dis Woman? tees that I recently copped, something that I've also been looking for is a T-shirt that represents a woman who I personally think handles herself in such a phenomenal fashion that her name is actually gonna be used as a verb in my life (like "Girl, you just Ava'd that!") all of this year —Ava DuVernay.

To get into all that she's accomplished as a filmmaker and film distributor would require more than just one article. For now, I'll just say that if you're a fan of the OWN series Queen Sugar, thank Ava. If the series based on the Central Park Five, When They See Us, completely moved to you to anger, then tears, then admiration for the strength of the five men in the story, thank Ava. Selma? That's what earned her the bestowed title of being the first Black woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Director and also best director when it came to the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2014. Maybe Black Love on your television screen is what you seek. Thanks to Ava, via her upcoming OWN drama, Cherish the Day, you're all set.

Honestly, to even begin to grasp all that Ava's accomplished, you'd need to get a glass of wine, curl up on the couch and review her Wikipedia page and website (not necessarily in that order either). For now, I'll just say that if you're a creative who's looking for some inspiration to breakout and do something that a shirt that I like says ("Keep Creating Dope Ass S—t 'Til Someone Notices"), unequivocally, Ava can serve as your muse. Case in point:

Can you tell I'm a fan? Indeed, I am. But today, it's not actually her resume that I want to get into. Rather, I'd like to simply take a little bit of your time to express why I personally find her name (Ava, if somehow you end up reading this, have you seen this T-shirt before? At first I thought it was about you) to be a verb—"a word that represents an action or a state of being". Because how she appears to move—as a woman who is gracious, focused, fearless, private and totally unbothered—is just how I want to handle whatever 2020 brings my way.

She's Gracious

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To be gracious is to be "pleasantly kind, benevolent, and courteous". Even though Ava's Netflix series When They See Us did not earn a Golden Globe nomination (I'll touch a little more on that at the end of this piece), if you hop on over to Ava's Twitter page, you'll see her posting words of gratitude to folks like Brad Pitt and Robert De Niro for being co-executive producers on Selma and shouting out other accomplished individuals like Patricia Cardoso who is the first Latina director to be included in the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress. Interestingly enough, I'm not the only one who thinks that "gracious" is an appropriate adjective for her (click here for a really cool example).

There are a lot of narcissists in this world. Selfish and self-absorbed people too. It's a real gift if you've got the ability to still remember to be kind, to help others and shoot—to be freakin' polite. How cool is it that someone with the accolades that Ava has still makes the time to be thankful, supportive and to celebrate others? That is a trait all of us should have. No doubt about it.

She's Focused

If you want to see Ava in a not-so-formal setting, check out her Shine On with Reese (that would be Witherspoon) interview from 2018. She talks about her first job being at a yogurt place, working as a publicist and not even picking up a camera until 32. Something that really stood out to me is her expressing just how much she loves what she does and how, "Your change from one career to another doesn't have to be all at once. It definitely and should be progressive." She also talks about "cobbling through" her film school experience for herself without ever sitting in a classroom (I can relate. I flunked out of college twice and still became a writer; we'll have to talk about that on another day). Instead, she said that she watched over 200 DVD commentaries of directors and determined in her mind, "I only have what's inside of me, and I had to be able to tell myself 'That's enough'."

Talk about drive. Talk about ambition. Talk about focus. No wonder she's able to introduce us to a new project—not just project but quality project—every time we blink. No wonder she also has the time to advocate for others (see "Ava Duvernay Just Hired A 50% Female Production Staff For Her New Series On OWN"). She's a living and breathing reminder that when you are crystal clear about your purpose and how it is designed to affect as well as benefit other people, it's hard to get distracted by…fame, trolls, critics, obstacles or even your own self-doubt. Focus y'all. Stay. Focused.

She's Fearless

There is a doctor by the name of Ashish Patel who once said, "The elegance under pressure is the result of fearlessness." Man, if this doesn't embody Ava, I don't know what does because, looka here—if you never considered her to be fearless before, you should hang out on her Twitter page more often. Shoot, just the straight-up read alone that she dished out to Ms. Megan Kelly and the tweet she sent out to Jack (the CEO of Twitter) to hold y'all's president accountable are enough examples to remind us that our platform should be about more than stacking up followers. We should each use our gifts, talents, social media accounts and influence to stand up for what we believe in, to push back on things that we don't agree with, and to seek justice in the areas we are truly passionate about.

And what if we're disliked for it? Something tells me that Ava doesn't lose a lot of sleep over questions like that. Something tells me she's more in the lane of Margaret Thatcher—"If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything, at any time—and you would achieve nothing." That'll preach. A billion times over.

She's Private

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I want to say that Ava tweeted it out herself sometime last year, but something that I find to be really cool about her is she's consistently active on social media; not her "team"—her. Still, you don't really know all that much about her personal life. Her Twitter bio says that she's (currently) a "Mom of 10" (she's referring to her creative babies). Her bio tells you that she's from Long Beach, California and her alma mater is the University of California. Still, you really don't know much more than that. Is she seeing someone? We don't know. What's her net worth? Rumors say that it's somewhere around (whew!) $60 million, but I've never heard her bring it up. We do know her age and, since she was born in 1972 (she's a Virgo, by the way), I totally get why she wanted everyone to nix the whole "Auntie Ava" thing. Per this tweet, I think she's a vegan. I'm assuming her favorite color may be black (only because I see her in it a lot). But really, what can we confirm?

And that's what I think is so dope. For the most part, all you know about Ava is related to her art—and her advocating for others; oh, and her sometimes putting folks in check. It's like she totally embodies a quote by an author named Katherine Neville— "Privacy—like eating and breathing—is one of life's basic requirements." To be able to pull that off in a world that is oh-so-very-nosey, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is a feat within itself. Then to be able to be private in a way where folks feel connected to you without them being in all of your business? That's an art form. One that more of us could stand to adapt, don't cha think?

She's Totally Unbothered

*le sigh* The Golden Globes. Yeah, I'll spare y'all my soapbox thoughts on that awards program (or the politics of award shows, in general). What I will say is when I saw some of what was nominated while When They See Us was overlooked, I couldn't help but to immediately conjure up some of my own conspiracy theories. It really is crazy, just how much a lot of this world would rather be entertained—mindlessly so—than inspired. But you know what? I did get another Ava-related takeaway from it. If Omarion won the Totally Unbothered Award for 2019 (and he did), Ava has to at least be nominated for 2020. Just peep her tweet about the awards show (see above). Look at how she chose to look at it.

I don't personally know Ava, so I can't speak to why she's so calm, cool and collected about everything. But what I can do is speak to how her energy ministers to me personally—"Shellie, stick to your purpose, do your best and be your own biggest fan. If you commit to doing those things, not only will you be untouchable but unstoppable." Y'all, being unbothered is a superpower because it keeps you centered, balanced and able to keep pressing forward. We ALL need to be on that tip this year. Each and every one of us.

Something else that Ava once said is, "I love to see people just being regal in their own skin; it's just when they know who they are." Regal. Some synonyms for that word include royal, majestic and sublime. When you see yourself in this fashion, it's a lot easier to walk through this life, both online as well as off, yep—totally unbothered.

So yeah, call this a "jock piece" if you want. I don't care. The energy frequency that Ms. Ava DuVernay is on, that is what I totally aspire to this year. So, if somebody can point me in the direction of a really cool portrait T-shirt with her on it, I'd be grateful (sidebar, I'm on the hunt for a Yara Shahidi one too). For me, it's symbolic of the fact that you know you're truly on task when you motivate others.

Ava, big ups for doing that. Keep walking in your greatness, holding people accountable with your tweets and, in some ways, keeping us wondering. It's a part of your charm. Not only can I dig it. I totally appreciate it. It inspires me. It really does. Thank you.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

When They See Us: 5 Things You Didn't Know About The Central Park Five

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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