All Introductions by: Know Your Rights Camp members Miabelle Bocicault, Dr. Ameer Hasan Loggins, Dr. Christopher Petrella
Nessa — co-founder of the Know Your Rights Camp — embodies the spirit of Ubuntu, a term from the Nguni Bantu people of southern Africa often translated as "I am because we are." Her "humanity toward others" philosophy exemplifies the idea of service grounded in empathy and love. Whether using her platforms on NBC, MTV and HOT 97 to challenge the racial status quo or starting the Nessa On Air Scholarship Program at the Lower Eastside Girls Club, where she also pours her heart into the young women participating in their Center for Media and Social Justice, Nessa's life, work and commitment to the struggle show that the right to be loved reflects the right to thrive on one's own terms and the imperative to lift as one climbs. Simply put, to love is to liberate.
Dress: Alice + Olivia, Jewelry: Erickson Beamon, Shoes: Stuart Weitzman
Why is expressing love viewed as a weakness?
Nessa: To be able to share with someone, Hey, I love you, I care for you, I'm here for you, I see you, know that I'm here for you and whenever you're ready, just know that I'm here to give you everything I have — that is not weak. That is beautiful, and unfortunately, I believe those who are in positions to continue to oppress have convinced us to think that expressing love is weak.
How does someone who hasn't known love break the cycle and show and accept love?
N: There are so many different forms of love. There's self-love, there's community love. There's an intimate type of love. And I think for the first initial idea of love, it is loving yourself... I think a lot of times people think, Oh, this is what I've been dealt with, this is what it is. But you deserve more. You're worthy of more.
What responsibility do we have to show love to people we care about?
N: It's important that we show love to people that we care about because it reminds them of their worth, their greatness and their strength, even when they don't feel strong. I think the first step to understanding how you can love others is that you have to love yourself. If you love yourself, you can love someone like you. When you love someone like you, then you could love a community like you.
"It's important that we show love to people that we care about because it reminds them of their worth, their greatness and their strength, even when they don't feel strong."
How does the feeling of being loved help someone feel empowered?
N: It's liberating when you love people. It's liberating when you want to see goodness happen because you love them. For me, I know loving Colin has liberated me to a point where, if we can't do good for this world, I don't want to be here. And if I can't do it with him, I don't want to exist here.
What does the phrase "You have the right to be loved" mean to you?
N: The phrase "You have the right to be loved" means to me that you can be yourself, be unapologetic, realize that you are worthy of greatness and everything that comes with it, and you deserve it all! And you deserve it all not some of the time, not to feel it once in your life, but to feel it every single day, every single minute, of your entire existence.
For more resources related to You Have the Right to Be Loved, visit: www.knowyourrightscamp.com.
Artist's Statement by Shawn Theodore:
My style of silhouette photography is a direct acknowledgement of philosopher Alain Locke, the "Dean" of the Harlem Renaissance. His intellectual contributions to the artists and scholars of the Black Arts revolution gave a new sense of pride and advocated dignity in African American culture. His writings impacted painter Aaron Douglas, who created works in stylized silhouettes, which connected the aesthetics of the Motherland to the newly minted agency of the "New Negro." These depictions of Black life and spirituality are at the root of my pride, process and practice, and are evident in this portfolio.