When 17-year-old ‘Hunger Games’ actress and activist Amandla Stenberg spoke out on Instagram against reality star Kylie Jenner’s cultural appropriation of black hairstyles in 2015, her activism garnered mainstream attention. Soon afterward, her YouTube video on the topic, “Don’t Cashcrop My Cornrows,” went viral and she starred as the February 2016 cover girl of Teen Vogue’s #BlackGirlMagic issue and video series.
Now, Oprah’s tapped Stenberg to join the second installment of her popular Super Soul Sessions speaker series, along with world-renown spiritual teachers like Eckhart Tolle and Grammy-winning singer/song-writer India Arie.
In their sessions, which air in May on OWN and SuperSoul.TV, both artists/activists Stenberg and Arie expressed the pain and frustration that comes from being boxed into identities and ideas of being, due to systemic oppression and how they each got free.
"...When you’re experiencing these struggles and you choose to do your thing and love yourself regardless, it’s like a revolution.”
Stenberg shared why living authentically as a bisexual young black non-binary person is activism. India Arie’s session “Songversation: Worthy” expressed Arie’s 20-year journey as an artist/activist in an industry that sought to limit who and how she could be. From breakdown to breakthrough, Arie shared how she learned her worth using songs from her chart-topping 2013 album Songversation.
Backstage at a media round-table for the Super Soul Sessions part 2 taping, NBCBLK caught up with Stenberg and Arie to discuss how to find your purpose and how to maintain joy in the midst of oppression.
“How do you say, ‘I am light; life is beautiful,’ when there’s all this ugly stuff in the world? Those two things don’t have to be hinging on each other when you realize that they both do exist,” Arie told NBCBLK.
“You need to be able to look in the mirror and be like, ‘I look good today!’ And then go out into the world and help the girls who have been victimized by sex trafficking,” she said. “I don’t think you should feel guilty about having both. The better you feel when you walk out of the house that day, the better able you will be to [change the world].”
Stenberg echoed those sentiments, saying, “You can’t deny that there is a struggle and you also have to find positivity at the same time.”
“That’s what Black Girl Magic is,” Stenberg told NBCBLK. “Any struggle, any difficulty you’re facing is giving you a tool that you can utilize in the future. That’s why when you’re experiencing these struggles and you choose to do your thing and love yourself regardless, it’s like a revolution.”
“There’s a beauty in realizing you might not be like the people around you, but there are people like you.”
On finding life’s purpose, Stenberg isn’t sure she’s found hers yet, but is open to “purpose” being fluid and changing over time. She shared that youth of color shouldn’t try to actively seek out who they are or what they’re supposed to be, but rather “allow yourself the freedom to settle into who you are.”
“It’s a release of constructs around what you feel you have to be in order to be an acceptable version of yourself in society,” she said.
For those who are growing up feeling awkward or out of place, Arie suggested getting online, if you can’t travel, and finding people who are like you.
“There’s a beauty in realizing you might not be like the people around you, but there are people like you,” she says. “There are people like everyone.”
As to why there seems to be a social and spiritual revolution happening in America and globally, with Black Lives Matter, Arab Spring, Free Palestine and more, neither Stenberg or Arie find this time period to be necessarily unique in history.
“I think social pushback comes in waves,” Stenberg said. “We’re just experiencing another wave right now. We’ve had civil rights movements in the past and this one manifests differently because of social media.”
Arie said, “Humanity evolves and this is just where we are.” But she hopes we’re headed towards a world that allows for “more oneness, where we won’t have to go, ‘I accept you,’ because there won’t even be a question.”
To get there, Stenberg believes “something more tangible” than social media activism alone is going to need to happen.
“In order to pushback even more on police brutality, in order to fight misogyny and sexism and transphobia and homophobia, I feel like there’s going to be something that’s rooted and grounded more in reality as opposed to the social realm,” Stenberg said.
“We’re in this period of preparation getting ready for that to happen.”
Watch India.Arie, Amandla Stenberg and more on part 2 of Super Soul Sessions in May on OWN or SuperSoul.TV.