A Distinctive Path: A conversation with Raquel Wilson

Live Unchained had the pleasure of asking Raquel Wilson about her many projects and thoughts on activism, culture, and art. Raquel puts her many creative talents and knowledge into projects that enhance peoples lives and the world around us. She is a remarkable voice in art and activism, we are pleased to share her thoughts here.

You’re described as an: “artist activist culturalist.” What do these terms mean to you? Is there anything else you would include to describe what you’re work and beliefs are about?

The first two are literal.  I am an artist — I’m a graphic designer, I am a painter and I curate art and photography shows.  I am an activist — I use my voice and talents to inform and speak out about injustices around the globe.

Culturalist is a mash up of two words — culture and anthropologist. I am an anthropologist that studies the language and traditions of people of the world, a cultural anthropologist.  I think we could all learn more about tolerance by just studying another language or culture.

You’ve mentioned: “It is important to me that the playing field is equal for everyone – regardless of gender, race, religion, culture or class.” Was there a particular event, or series of events, that helped you come to this understanding?  Why is this important to you?

Being a woman of color I have had to endure everything from having racial slurs and lit cigarettes thrown at me as a child to overt discrimination in the workplace as an adult.  My experiences have made me aware of the injustices that many have had to brave due to culture, class, sexual orientation, religion and so much more.  Based on my history alone, I think it would make me a hypocrite not to support civil and human rights for everyone.

Do you think “activist” and “artist” are terms women should be more comfortable with embracing?

I have had to come to terms with calling myself an activist.  There are so many preconceived notions about who or what is really an activist.  The fear of being labeled the “angry black woman” or people not listening to me because “oh no here she comes again with that gender rights b.s.” hindered me from wanting to always be vocal about the things that matter to me.

I got over being labeled “angry”.  I figured it’s okay for people to call me angry because I am ANGRY about the quality of life for women and children everywhere — including right here in the United States.

Can you tell us about your role in TEDx? How did you become involved? What were your major goals for TEDx?

I was the curator for our TEDx event, TEDxYouthInspire, which took place in Accra, Ghana on April 10, 2010. As the first TEDx event exclusively for young people on the African continent, we were able to engage 100 young people with “A Good Head & A Good Heart”, the conference theme.

I worked with an optimal all volunteer staff, most of whom were under the age of 25, in Ghana.  They all made sure we remained true to the mission of TEDxYouthInspire, which was to create an open space for Africa’s youngest visionaries to collaborate and re-evaluate the possibilites of creating a better global community.

Our youth speakers also encouraged and reinforced the idea of inspiring young people to make communal and sustainable transformation.

TEDxYouthInspire was about exhibiting how extraordinary youth learders combine radical thought and integrity of spirit to create unlimited possibilities for a brighter future.

Can you tell us about the “No Tees Please Campaign”? It reminds me of Femi Kuti’s criticism of G8 concerts. Do you think the problem is that t-shirt campaigns just publicize social problems, but don’t inform people about how they develop? Why do you think Africa Aid programs fail?

Actually “No Tees Please” is a crowd-sourced eBook I edited with G. Kofi Annan of social brand agency Annansi.  It was a case-study of how Africa aid programs are sometimes misguided.  The book was focused on a recent campaign to collect one million t-shirts and send  them to “Africa” (no exact country was specified).

There was an uprising in the  aid community regarding the invalidity of the campaign and other campaigns like it.  We decided to put together an eBook that details all the blog posts from professional aid works and the feedback from the campaign founders as a way to show others why campaigns like this don’t work.

People may think that art doesn’t matter as much as other things in dire situations.  What do you think artists can do that aid programs, for example, can’t? Or, can’t accomplish entirely alone?

There have been several successful empowerment initiatives that are proof of how art can help youth overcome grief, trauma and stress. Many of the programs that utilize photography, performing arts, dance and painting have shown how involving young survivors of exploitation, abuse and conflict can promote courage and vitality, while capturing the hopes, dreams and experiences through the eyes of the young people that participate.

You have a strong global consciousness? How did you become interested in international affairs?

As an anthropologist, I have always had an interest in the lives of people around the world.  Although, I wouldn’t necessarily say I am interested in international affairs.  I am more interested in leveling the playing ground for all underrepresented people.

Can you tell us about Dream the Planet? We love this project! =) What was the impetus?  What are your goals for this project?

Dream the Planet is an international program focused on allowing young women and girls, across six continents, to become leaders and catalysts for communal transformation.

Designed to allow young women to connect through the use of video conferencing technology and online collaboration tools to find solutions for common social issues, the program has three initiatives in addition to the core program: Global Village a bi-annual, interactive forum that combines the concepts of a town hall meeting and the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”; Girls Guide to World Domination, a guidebook series that gives a glimpse inside the lives of Dream the Planet students from around the world; and Girls’ Guide to World Domination Mapping Project, an online world news mapping service that visually depicts innovation from girls in the areas of social, economic and environmental justice.

The goal of the program is to reinforce how young women and girls view themselves as individuals, with a distinct and important place in the worldwide community.

By enabling young female leaders to become catalysts for change, while promoting education and leadership through technology, the program breaks down long-established gender roles that lower or dismiss personal goals and aspirations of girls. Simultaneously, the program goes on to reinforce how they view themselves as individuals, while preparing them for new roles in society.

Are there any upcoming goals and/or projects you want to share?

At the moment I am focused on preparing for graduate school and launching a pilot of Dream the Planet in a minimum of three countries in 2011. I’d also like to conduct the first Global Village in 2011.

I also remain dedicated to my pre-destined path of ensuring that young people around the world have access to all the resources and opportunities they require for accomplishing any dream or desire they may have for themselves and the global community.

Finally, what does living unchained mean to you?

Not believing the naysayers.  Many people are quick to express opposition to innovation and transformation as impossible tasks. Few challenge the status quo. However I encourage your readers to always give their ideas a try and turn their dreams into goals. The only way to find out what works is to try, modify and try again.

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