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Life, Love & ‘Ellevation’: Elle Varner Gets Up Close & Personal

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It seems like just yesterday, I was singing along to Elle Varner's "Only Want To Give It To You" as it blared through the radio while cruising down the street. And let's not forget the countless times my girls and I blurted out the lyrics to "Refill" anytime we found ourselves at a restaurant. Varner's soulful voice and reflective yet catchy sounds undoubtedly provided a backdrop to some of my most memorable moments. And it's for that reason that I was excited to chat with her on a busy midweek afternoon, as she poetically and transparently spoke on life and love lessons she's learned over the last several years.

Like all of us, Elle wasn't and isn't exempt from let-downs and lessons that come with navigating the murky waters of love and relationships. And if her new EP, so aptly entitled Ellevation, is any indication of the growth she's undertaken, then fans are definitely in for a treat.

xoNecole got the chance to talk with Elle, where she dished on her musical evolution, personal boundaries, and what she needs to have in her next relationship. Here's what she had to say.

xoNecole: Your EP is called ‘Ellevation’ and for good reason, I’m sure. In what ways do you feel you’ve evolved both personally and musically?

Elle Varner: This, for me, was a big growth spurt and kind of an end of a chapter. I kind of liken it to a graduation, because when you come into the music industry professionally--it's a lot like being a freshman. Everything is exciting and new and then stuff gets hard, stuff gets challenging, tiring. But you have to push through those couple of years, then you're rewarded. You've not only completed this milestone, but you have all this knowledge and wisdom to take with you into the "real world". I definitely feel like I've graduated into that space as a woman, as an artist.

You mentioned in an Instagram post that this album had been a sort of healing agent for you. When you're going through a rough patch or combating self-doubt, what do you do to heal and get back to your highest self?

It's really about what's around you. You can't control certain life circumstances, but you can control the people you have around you, the types of food you intake, the type of energy you intake. So for me, one of those big changes was going to church on a regular basis and having a community in the church that really supported me. Reading books, watching TED Talks, all these things that feed you with nourishing uplifting experiences.

Elle Varner

"This, for me, was a big growth spurt and kind of an end of a chapter... You've not only completed this milestone, but you have all this knowledge and wisdom to take with you into the 'real world'. I definitely feel like I've graduated into that space as a woman, as an artist."

Your song “Kinda Love” is pretty straightforward and honest on the type of love you seek now in this season as opposed to what you may have tolerated in the past. What did your last serious relationship teach you about love?

It pointed me in the direction more so of self-love. From my very first relationship in high school up until now, I would say that love doesn't have to be complicated or possessive or consuming. It can be a complement to your life, something that enriches your life, and adds value in certain ways. But it shouldn't be something that consumes you completely, or makes you afraid or holds you back.

What boundaries have you put in place now to ensure that your next relationship is as enriching and valuable as you'd want it to be?

I think I have to come first honestly. When you think of all the extraordinary circumstances of being a woman: we're able to give birth, we carry life in us for nine months, we have to menstruate every 20-something days. And we still go to work and do the things everyone else has to do. So it's not to say that women are better, but it's to say that I'm fully okay with the feeling that my needs have to be super met and that I am a queen and need to be treated as such. That's it. I used to think that somehow that was a bad thing, but no. And I also have to have the kind of dynamic where he understands that I'm fully committed to my work, that this is a lifestyle for me. It's not just a job. I'm giving to so many people, so I need to be fulfilled in a way where it allows me to do that or I just have to leave it alone, you know?

If you could describe your ideal relationship in three words what would they be and why?

"Fun", "love", and "trust". I'm pretty easygoing, a fun person. But I think trust and love are important because people have to really deal with themselves in a way that allows them to be in a relationship with someone else and give them their all when it comes to love. I've experienced things where the person holds back or they were just not able to correct themselves--because they haven't dealt with certain issues. You want to be with someone who's kind of already resolved their issues or is able to come into the relationship whole. And I say "trust" because, you have to keep it real. I don't want you to paint a picture or tell me what I want to hear. I want you to present your truth and I can take it or leave it.

When you do find that whole person, how would you like your man to cater to you?

Right now I'm so focused on my goals and aspirations, I don't know if I have a whole lot of space for that. And I'm really okay with that. That's just the place I'm in, but anyone who does come into my life has to understand my commitment level to my work and not try to compete with that or feel slighted. It's nothing personal, it's just what I do. I'm doing ten interviews a day, running a business. I'm building a legacy.

"This was God's way of reminding me of how I laughed at doubters and kept going. He was reminding me of the perseverance I always had as a child, how I always went against the grain, and the fighter I always was. Who I am. He was reminding me of who I really am."

What do you know now about yourself that you didn’t know before?

There's this scene in Lion King where Mufasa says, "Remember who you are." And I think that, sometimes it's not that we change--it's that we forget who we are and why we started. And being on a public platform, having a public image and a lot of influence can definitely affect how you think of yourself. It might heighten your self-image, then you create an identity around how people see you. But I'm really glad that a lot of things were, for lack of a better phrase, taken away because at first it felt like, "Oh my God, oh my God." But then I realized, this was God's way of reminding me of how I laughed at doubters and kept going. He was reminding me of the perseverance I always had as a child, how I always went against the grain, and the fighter I always was. Who I am. He was reminding me of who I really am.

Featured image by Jennifer Johnson/Elle Varner

Ellevation is available to download and stream now on all platforms. And be sure to keep up with Elle by following her on Instagram.

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
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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