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Inspiring Women to be Self-Love in Action


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ARTIST FEATURE: These are a Few of Her Favorite Things – An Interview with Shekinah Shazaam (Video)

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The Phoenix Rising Collective’s Artist Feature, curated by Traci Currie, interviews women artists who use their talents and creativity to fully express self-love, build self-esteem, and nurture their own authenticity while inspiring others. Creative expressions may range from performing to painting to writing to travel and everything in between. Our goal is to share how these empowered women cultivate agency, healing, and happiness through fulfilling their passion.

This Artist Feature is Shekinah Shazaam.

It’s spring, and I have the perfect artist for this blossoming season. Shekinah “Shazaam” Tapplin! Just read the name. Actually, say the name out loud. SHAZAAM! This is a special time for this vibrant, creative being. Not only is she celebrating her 23rd birthday this May, she also graduates from college with a BFA in Graphic Design and a Theatre minor. She is an up-and-coming filmmaker, photographer, actress, graphic designer and writer. Are you exhausted yet?

I decided to approach this feature differently. I wanted to match the colorful in-your-face energy she exudes. I sat down with Shekinah and said, “Let’s play a game.” Her smile told me to ‘Bring it on!’ Our game is called 23 Favorites because she is turning 23 years old. Essentially, I am asking her to share 23 of her favorite things – like the song My Favorite Things from the musical Sound of Music. This is no coincidence. I love the movie for different reasons but the #1 reason related to Shekinah is the vibrancy and joy that resides in the musical’s main character Maria. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying Shekinah is energetic and giddy every single minute of the day. I am simply saying there is a bright light in her. She makes me want to reach for the shooting stars at night. If I am lost, all I have to do is look up.

PhotoGrid_1432690531784To set the stage for the game below, I want to share a few tidbits about Shekinah. She is from a small town in Michigan called Clio. When she mentioned this, she gave me the not-quite-exciting-but-this-is-where-I-am-from look, and I told her this is where the famous people are usually from – a place no one has ever heard of. She chose to attend University of Michigan-Flint because it’s a commuter school. Beyond saving money she also chose this university for the wonderful faculty in her major and minor. She explained, “I love it because I can’t NOT do it. This work is engrained in my soul. I love being able to tell the different kinds of stories in visual, oral, written and performance.” Then she left me with a phrase, “I don’t believe the world is black or white. It’s in the middle. There are so many different types of people in the world that there is no one way.” Indeed. She is willing and able to explore the possibilities without question.

So, we begin the game 23 Favorites. Her responses to the questions are her words. At the end there is a short video explaining some of the responses.

  1. Favorite Attire: Layering in Fall
  2. Favorite Season: Fall but Autumn sounds prettier
  3. Favorite Film: Star Wars – It’s scifi. I love the fact that these things can be possible. It would be very ignorant for humans to assume they are the only life forms in this universe.
  4. Favorite TV Show: BBC’s Sherlock
  5. Favorite Music Genre: Anything electronic
  6. Favorite Artist: That’s so hard. I have so many. I will limit it to four: (1) James Blake – He’s British. He has soul! The melodies meld together with his beautiful voice. (2) Active Child – He’s a redhead. I have a thing for redheads (as she smiles at her own red connection). He has range. The deepest deeps and the highest highs. (3) Lindsey Stirling – She is really amazing. She is a violinist who dances while she plays. She mixes in dub step with the violin. She also makes cinematic films that go along with her songs. (4) Lo Fang – He’s a recent new favorite. He has a very pretty voice that balances well with the electronic sounds beneath it.
  7. Favorite Color: Red
  8. Favorite Number: 13
  9. Favorite Actor: Will Smith. Seeing his transformation from Fresh Prince to more serious roles and him embracing his children’s art and acting…I love his support and passion. And he has a laid back attitude.
  10. Favorite Place: My room. Everything I need is right there.
  11. Favorite Part of the Body: Man or Woman? (I say, BOTH) Woman: Women’s hips. Maybe because I don’t have them. Big womanly hips. They look comfortable to sit on and it looks like it would be easy to squeeze a child out. Man: I have two:  (1) Man legs – they intrigue me because no matter the size of the man, the legs are usually small. (2) Man chest – I like when there is a little something there. When you can squeeze their moobs, they make me giggle (i.e. moobs – the male version of boobs).
  12. Favorite Activity as a Hobby: Crafting – Do It Yourself (DIY) projects
  13. Favorite (Ideal) Career: Filmmaking because it combines everything I love
  14. Favorite Month: May because it’s the birthday month and it warms up then; Then September because Autumn enters the picture
  15. Favorite Person: Though he would be surprised, my Daddy. We have similar personalities and sense of humor.
  16. Favorite Jewelry: Rings because they are very versatile. They are chunky and you can layer. You can wear with almost any outfit
  17. Favorite Book: I have two: (1) Trilogy: The Singer/The Song/The Finale – The Singer Trilogy. It’s written in a long poetic form, kind of like an epic. The language communicates with me personally and reads smoothly. (2) The Hush Hush Saga – It’s a fantasy paranormal romance and it features angels, one of my favorite topics to write about.
  18. Favorite Experience: For my 20th birthday me, my parents, and three best girlfriends went to Chicago and I fell in love with the city. We saw so many different cultures living together, great amount of art, and people were friendly. Just AMAZINGNESS!
  19. Favorite Time of Day: Evening to nighttime when the sun is setting. Things are calmer. I do my best thinking later on at night.
  20. Favorite Word: Shazaam – I love this word because (1) it sounds good with my actual name, which is why I use it as my artist name, and (2) I love the fun way that Beyoncé used it in the Austin Powers movie. That’s where I got it.
  21. Favorite Writing You’ve Done: Not completed but my first novel I began writing at age 13. (She couldn’t reveal the details – work in progress)
  22. Favorite Food: Chocolate
  23. AND FINALLY, Favorite Quote: Wishing does nothing, doing does everything. I came up with this a few years ago when I realized people were whining about everything they wanted. Instead of whining about what you want, why don’t you go out and do what you want. Hard work gets you to where you want to go.

 

 

Please support this talented up-and-coming artist; you’ll be glad you did! Check out her website: Shekinah Shazaam

 

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About the Contributing Writer:

traci_currie[contributor]the phoenix rising collectiveTraci Currie is a Communication and Visual Arts lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years as an art gallery board member; spoken word series organizer; performer, nationally and internationally; and published poet. She believes The PRC will help young women reach their highest potential.  “This organization is about empowering women to take ownership of their lives, claim their identities and be the positive change they wish to see in the world they live.” Read her latest posts.


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ARTIST FEATURE: Wisdom’s Artistic Journey – An Interview with Mama Sol, A Light

The Phoenix Rising Collective’s Artist Feature, curated by Traci Currie, highlights and focuses on women artists using their talents and creativity to fully express self-love, build self-esteem, and nurture their own authenticity while inspiring others. Creative expressions may range from performing to painting to writing to travel and everything in between. Our goal is to share how these empowered women cultivate agency, healing, and happiness through fulfilling their passion. This Artist Feature is Mama Sol. __________________________

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Mama Sol – Photo courtesy of Rynelle Walker

This is a story about Wisdom with a capital “W.” Wisdom is not to be taken lightly. She comes in various forms – sometimes entangled or even cloaked in struggle and risk-prone decisions. But she takes chances. She leaps off high cliffs and transforms in mid-air. It is then that she begins to sprout wings and fully operate in her gifts. Her wings do not sprout overnight, but indeed they begin developing the minute she steps off the cliff. Yes, Wisdom is gifted; Gifted with experiences that some may call impossibly possible. She is, for the sake of this article, a Mother, a Motivator, a Lyricist, an Artist. She is Mama Sol. Let’s begin with her name. This musical performance artist and writer has maternally taught hundreds of children, thus she was divinely named Mama Sol. She explained when she taught in Detroit at the Afrocentric school, Timbuktu Academy of Science and Technology, the children were learning Swahili. All the classrooms included both female and male teachers, Mama and Baba (Swahili for mother and father). Her family and friends started calling her Sol when she started studying Right Knowledge. When she shared that Sol means sun in Spanish, I immediately thought of her influences. She said, “I am influenced by other people’s struggles. When I see other people struggle I can help them see light, especially given my own experience. Darkness inspires me to bring light, which is probably why I am still in Flint…I am from Flint. I’ve lived all over. People have suggested I move to other places where other people are…I think you should bloom wherever you are planted. And Flint needs light.”

I asked her what was one of the greatest challenges in her life and she said, “The toughest thing was the most beautiful thing – quitting my job at Timbuktu.” She was at the pinnacle of her career as a Lead Teacher and the Director of Special Education. Many told her she was crazy when she made the decision to leave, but Sol knew it was time. She explained that although it was important to be with her students, leaving school later than she desired to be at home with her son wasn’t justifying the spiritual means. She said, “I had to do what God intended me to do – WRITE. Write music.” What was running through my mind was my own journey as a teacher. I was thinking, “We compromise all the time. And like a sacred responsibility, we owe our students and their parents the entire package – to support, teach and inspire at all costs.” And it was as if she had read my mind. Sol said without hesitation, “The world is my classroom.” I felt a sudden knock on the inside of my chest. “The world is my classroom.” What an empowering phrase. I’ve often thought that a teacher should teach in a specific space during a specific time. After all, that is what we are taught as we develop into adults – go to school, attend regularly scheduled classes, come home, do homework, go to bed, get up again and start all over. You repeat the process until you meet the requirements and follow the rules that lead to gainful employment, right? Wrong. Let’s consider her statement. If the world is her classroom, she can teach anywhere. Not only that, she can also learn from everything in every possible space. Her highest degree is LIFE itself. ­­Permit me to transition abruptly. It’s important to share why I wanted to interview Mama Sol. Namely, I was familiar with her lyrics. I had seen her on stage perform in packed crowds. What was most piercing was the way her body language matched her words. There was symmetry in her whole being. I observed a whole package that couldn’t be compartmentalized. Thursday, February 19, 2015 I saw Mama Sol sitting in an audience listening to Angela Davis speak. Yes, I should’ve been listening to this iconic being but what caught my eye more than anything was a humble sort of reverence and love that embodied Sol. And I thought of her lyrics from her song Exercise, “I’m just aware that my gift is guided by freedom fighters.” I saw her listening intently to what this regal 70-year old Davis passionately espoused about community activism and reforming education. When I asked Sol about Angela Davis she talked about her connection and interest to the Black Panthers. She mentioned that one of her heroes is Assata Shakur and her mentor was Mama Gloria Aneb House, Human Rights Activist also connected to the Black Panthers. “To hear her [Angela] still speaking and fighting for justice…I can’t be that close [to Angela] and not hear her speak…when I think of Angela I see courage.” It humbled me to watch this artist, who has performed in front of crowds as large as the one on February 19th, quietly listen to Angela share her experiences.
I asked Sol why she creates music and poetry. Basically, “Why are you an artist?” Her response speaks to her being a Motivator, one of the chief identifiers she shared above: “My purpose is to break the destructive cycle of mainstream hip hop. Children need options right now. And they are relying on reality TV and radio and BET. So many parents are doing the same thing. And the music I am doing is giving them options.” This response led me to other questions. She explained that her core audience does not connect with a particular age, gender, or ethnicity. “They are people who understand the necessity for positive change right now!” This dialogue conveyed more than her artistic gifts. She has a spiritual calling that manifests through her desire to empower others and create change. And again I stress, this was not an overnight success. Her lyrical journey actually started in college. Following college she wrote commercial ads in New York for the FUBU clothing brand. This career path was interrupted by a 3-year bout with breast cancer, which she defeated. During her healing she was offered the opportunity to teach in Detroit, allowing her to shift her focus to children. Upon having her own child, she recognized the difficulties she faced with remaining in the classroom setting. “This led to my transition back to what God intended for me; which was writing things that could transform darkness to light – G.I.F.T. God Intended For This.” Her journey has taken years – “practically a lifetime,” she explains. Yes, Sol has great success stories – outputting musical cds, performing internationally, and sharing the microphone with other Hip Hop geniuses like Rakim and Talib Kweli, just to name a few. But she is far from being done. The final point I wish to make about Mama Sol and her continued journey is the importance she places on seeking an inward stillness that comes from meditation. She talked about spending time alone – something she knows well because she requires it in her life. She emphasized the need for quiet. Being in tune with herself, she stated, allows her to go into a big crowd and bring the stillness with her. And being in crowds is as precious as being alone. One of the greatest moments she says is traveling. Now, this may look like I am jumping around, but both her shared space and alone space intersect. Just follow me – one of her best moments was being in the Amsterdam Airport. She saw different people speaking dissimilar languages from various parts of the world. “This is life. This makes you accept every single person,” she says. Realizing that the world is grand yet miniscule is what makes her not only adaptable to situations but also open to the great possibilities her stillness provides. Thus, as an artist she is able to give of herself to a variety of audiences. And she gives 200%! Now that’s a lot of love to give on stage – in massive crowds – among people from all over the world. But remember, Mama Sol acknowledges that this is a journey that takes time. And she has shown us that God willing, she will ride this journey to the very end and continue to give light unto the world with her whole heart. Learn more about Mama Sol here.   ________________________________

About the Contributing Writer:

traci_currie[contributor]the phoenix rising collectiveTraci Currie is the Art + Creativity Contributor for The Phoenix Rising Collective. She is a Communication and Visual Arts lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years as an art gallery board member; spoken word series organizer; performer, nationally and internationally; and published poet. She believes The PRC will help women reach their highest potential.  “This organization is about empowering women to take ownership of their lives, claim their identities and be the positive change they wish to see in the world they live.” Read her latest posts.


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Confessions of a Storyteller: Figuring Life Out As It Unfolds

Gia_Marie_Amella_Storytelling[the phoenix rising collective]

I am a storyteller. But then, aren’t we all? Some stories come out of us in the most cryptic horrifying manner while others are simultaneously flighty and invigorating. Then there are those who tell stories that put us to sleep; unfortunately, we sometimes call them teachers or family.

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Gia Marie Amella, Nonfiction Video and Television Producer

However, occasionally we come across a story that actually doesn’t speak. It simply unfolds. You get to watch it live. You have the great opportunity to pay admission to its viewing – mine being a plane ticket to Italy. Once landed (if you are on the same trip), you drive to your destination, knock on the door and sit down for dinner to feed your face because you’ve been craving good food all day after a long tedious flight. Just when you are ready to take that first luscious bite, the story stops you and suddenly replaces the pasta or pesce or prosciutto con formaggio you were about to ingest. The story is sitting right next to you – vivacious, garrulous, sensitive, and willing to share.

I have met many stories this past year being in Italy. All of them have come in these wondrous packages that have entertained me more than my favorite television programs; and believe me, I love watching TV. But I am losing interest in what TV programming has to offer. I am realizing that much of the programming, in all its glamour and unrepresentative images of real life, just can’t fully capture the essence of how beauty unfolds – how it comes in a 5’8” package, thick dark curly hair, Italian American mystique who waves a magic wand to create and produce media programming for the masses. You are saying, “Get to the point! Who in the world are you talking about?”

Gia Marie Amella

Here are a few facts about this Sicilian American woman who lives in two worlds – Italy and the United States:

  • Born in Chicago, Illinois (like me – YAH!)
  • Raised in Chicago and Northern California
  • Identifies herself as a nonfiction video and television producer and has been working in this industry since the mid-1990s
  • Completed her university degrees in California and became a Fulbright Fellow
  • Moved to New York City and worked in commercial television
  • Launched the company Modio Media in 2006
  • Recipient of the 2011 Public Service Award from the National Immigration Council, Washington D.C.

I could continue listing facts, but I wanted to share a few bullet points and then write about Gia personally. Why? She is charming and smart. Moreover, she is working in an industry where women are not readily in the forefront. I don’t think it is a coincidence that we connected at this particular moment in time. My sister had been telling me about her media experience for a while and agreed to have a dinner that included Gia and her husband Giuseppe (November 2013). My first impression when seeing her was, she gleamed. Not glowed, but gleamed. She had a flare and spunk that was undeniable. I immediately loved her style. This could be because she reminded me of myself – casually sophisticated, classic and comfortable. Granted, I may very well be the only one who describes myself as such, but I am allowed! When we sat down at dinner there was no lapse in dialogue, uncomfortable silence, or pretense to come up with silly questions to mask any sort of weirdness in the air. Gia was fluid, quick, energetic and had stories to tell. Her mind was whizzing, and at times I felt I had to play catch up because her tongue was quick. But get this – her eyes were very intent on listening, even when she spoke. Yes, she spoke and listened at the same time. She also observed and nodded, as if anything I said actually sounded golden. I mean, SHE TRULY LISTENED. And if you were to ask me, “Well, what did you say?” I have NO IDEA. I can’t remember my words but I can remember her eyes, the two semi-vertical lines that crinkled between her brows indicating complexity, thoughtfulness and her interest in wanting to know about little brown ME.

This meeting was only the first of a few others. This led to my requesting an interview with her about the work she does and how she balances her life. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I don’t assume people will say “yes” just because my big pleading brown eyes say, “YOU MUST DO THIS FOR HUMANITY!” I was humbled she agreed, because here’s an incredibly curious woman who tells other people’s stories for a living. And she was willing to sit with me for a few hours and share snippets of her life story. However, the video I have included is nine minutes long. Nine minutes worth of wisdom that you attain through living life the best way you know how…by putting one foot in front of the other.

One last thing, I am a firm believer that certain artistic expressions are meant to be abstract while others should be obviously understood. For the purpose of this article, I want to make it abundantly clear the importance of featuring Gia. I am moving into a unique phase in my life. I am meeting absolutely astonishing women and men who are moving the earth’s axis, as far as I’m concerned. They are shaping their existence by simply operating in what they love to do. While doing this, they create balance and figure life out as it unfolds. Gia does this. She does this in a communal way by offering her skills and services on a global level (after all, media is global). She does this by teaming with her husband to create a business – I love that she and her husband are business partners and live half the year in Italy and half the year in the United States (give or take a few months). And she openly admits that she is figuring life out and it’s not easy. Moreover, it’s not even close to being done. I believe we attract what we are. And if this is a bird’s eye view to how my artistic life is unfolding simply by what I am attracting and vice versa, then my goodness, WATCH OUT WORLD!

Learn More About Gia:

Dream Jobs Can Be a Reality (Gia Marie Amella), Part 1

Dreams Jobs Can Be a Reality (Gia Marie Amella), Part 2

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About the Contributing Writer:

traci_currie[contributor]the phoenix rising collectiveTraci Currie is a Communication and Visual Arts lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years as an art gallery board member; spoken word series organizer; performer, nationally and internationally; and published poet. She believes the PRC will help young women reach their highest potential. “This organization is about empowering women to take ownership of their lives, claim their identities and be the positive change they wish to see in the world they live.” Read her latest posts here.