Genesis Be is a multi-platform artist challenging systemic racism and injustice in America. She uses poetry, hip hop, painting and other art forms to confront and address some of the most important social justice issues facing our country today. We met en route to Ron Clark Academy and I was immediately taken by her story and work to remove the Confederate symbol from her home state flag of Mississippi. It was a true privilege to share the opening ceremony and prayers with Genesis during Shabbat at Breakout ATL, which took place June 1st-4th.
Ethan: When we start REALITY journeys, we always ask participants to share the answer to this question: You can ask me about _____. How would you answer that?
Genesis Be: You can ask me about anything you want, as long as you keep an open mind and come from a place of genuine curiosity with respect for my experience & time.
Ethan: What was the highlight of your time at Breakout ATL?
Genesis Be: The tour of the Ron Clarke Academy was definitely the highlight of my time at Breakout ATL. I've never seen a happier or a more energized group of Middle Schoolers! I do youth work in my community in Mississippi using Hip Hop as an education tool and it was very eye opening seeing an establishment that uses daily structure, a creative stimulating space and educator training as modes of achievement. I feel that all children are worthy of this type of education experience, and made me realize how youth in Mississippi just don't have the same State or private resources as many kids around the Nation have. It refreshed my focus you can say.
Ethan: You were a great leader of the Shabbat dinner rituals. How did you take on that role and what did you do to prepare for it?
Genesis Be: Thank you for that compliment. When The Breakout ATL teamed asked if i'd write a guiding prayer for the ceremony, I felt honored for one, and then I felt insecure. I shared this with the attendees before the ceremony because it was a reflection worth analyzing. I was insecure because I wanted to be respectful of the ceremony and I had no experience to contextualize Shabbat or any Jewish observances for that matter. I wasn't sure why they asked me to lead the Shabbat dinner and was really questioning myself about my ability. I am a Hip Hop performer who has just recently begun to explore public speaking and though my art is a personification of my spirituality, I have little to no experience speaking in spiritual spaces. Also, I was raised Muslim... my father is black and my mother is white and they both converted from Christianity before I was born. I was raised with such a multi-cultural, open minded environment and this has birthed a philosophy that inspired my art. The philosophy is "People Not Things". So I felt shame around my insecurity regarding hosting Shabbat, because I was betraying my own ideals of not obsessing over labels that are ascribed to us. I was focused on what I wasn't (Jewish) instead of focusing on what I am, a unifying artistic force operating in a divided society... an advocate of revolutionary love and reconciliation. So it was challenging and transformative for me.
Ethan: In the moment, can you describe what it felt like to lead the Shabbat dinner rituals?
Genesis Be: I had intense emotions (conflicted, nervous, apprehensive) while preparing for the ceremony, up until the microphone was handed to me. Once we were in motion, the performer in me kicked in. During the time when we have our platform, nothing else matters other than to strongly express our message and to shed any ego that may muddle or confine the light, that waveform or spirit that has to be digested by the audience. Artistic intention and audience interpretation dance with each other with a delicate dynamic. My intent was to provide a respectful, vulnerable and thoughtful guiding consciousness that did the ceremony justice, while perpetuating a message of unity that transcends linear time and personal religious objectives. (see the transcript for example). Like any piece of art, once it is delivered, we are powerless over how our audience will interpret it... but my hope is that by opening my heart, they will reciprocate and hold my intentions as their own.
Ethan: What is a ritual you observe in your life?
Genesis Be: Every day I proactively live the philosophy "People Not Things". My daily practices reflect my ambition to see a World where we understand the significance of people rather than material things and also unlearn our societal behavior of compartmentalizing groups of people based on the labels we ascribe to them, or that they ascribe to themselves. The barriers we place upon others are synonymous with the barriers that we place upon ourselves, and this limits our own ability and potential. These rituals include smiling at people I pass on the street, acknowledging those who ask me for things even if it's just to say I have nothing to give, communicating often with my family even if I don't feel like it that day, forcing myself to have a conversation with those whose beliefs differ drastically from my own... while keeping an open heart, asking new acquaintances what gender pronouns they prefer, listening without speaking (that’s the hardest for me lol) and sitting quietly with the intention of gratitude while remembering my ancestors.
Ethan: How do you view the role of daily or weekly rituals in fulfilling your life purpose?
Genesis Be: My rituals just help me remember not to take myself too seriously and they strengthen my resolve so that my intention, my art and my message are as clear as possible, to myself and to my audience. Rumi says "remembrance gives strength and wings to the bird of the Spirit." Our daily practices are a reflection of our spirit. My rituals keep my heart & mind balanced… and open.
The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.