October 11, 2018 marks the 7th annual “International Day of the Girl,” a day declared by the United Nations with the goal of advancing rights and opportunities for girls everywhere. This year’s theme, With Her: A Skilled GirlForce, aims to promote and provide girls opportunities for professional development in order to build skills and transition successfully into the workforce.
Enter Destiny Brown, a 16 year old student from Baltimore who not only juggles school and acting classes, but also works with Wide Angle Youth Media, a youth development organization that provides Baltimore’s youth opportunities and exposure to careers in the creative arts. In line with this year’s theme of providing work opportunities for girls, Destiny was tapped for an international film assignment, documenting the inaugural cohort of Black Girls Global Exchange. Through this assignment, Destiny gained valuable skills and experience including project management, videography, editing, and more. The result? An inspiring and engaging documentary featuring young girls from Baltimore, Swaziland and South Africa.
What is Black Girls Global Exchange?
Black Girls Global Exchange is an organization focused on peer learning and cross cultural exchange. The mission of BGGE is to bring the experiences of shared humanity to black girls from different countries through a celebration of the arts, culture, education, and service. The global initiative is the brainchild of Baltimore, Maryland natives Regina Salliey and Dawnita Brown, who envisioned a revolutionary peer learning and cross-cultural exchange movement, empowering girls across the world to tackle global issues. The 2018 trip brought together 191 girls from America, Swaziland and South Africa to inspire one another and learn to see themselves as resources, rather than problems, for their local and global communities.
Girls in each country participated in an eight-week pre-exchange workshop series that culminated in a joint exchange experience when the group from Baltimore and the group from Swaziland traveled to meet the South African group at the Ikageng Itireleng AIDS Ministry in Soweto.
The organization is currently identifying a host country and prospective partners for a subsequent excursion from Baltimore to Africa in 2020. Until then, they will continue to engage the cohorts with programming including a conference, workshops, service activities and fundraising efforts to establish the BGGE Give Back, an endowment for service projects in Swaziland and South Africa.
Interview with the Director
Under Armour: You’ve already begun your film career, but you’re still in high school – how do you balance the two?
Destiny Brown: I’m a senior at Baltimore School for the Arts, which is a high school where you receive pre-professional arts training in addition to formal education. This year I’m taking all of my academic classes at a local community college, so I can get a feel for higher education, and also to free up my mornings so I can work more with Wide Angle and intern with the Baltimore City Public Schools media team.
UA: How did the opportunity to film the Black Girls Global Exchange come together?
DB: BGGE kind of came out of nowhere. It was this shot-in-the-dark type of opportunity from the beginning. I had never been on a plane, even domestically. I didn’t think my Mom was going to say yes at first, but when I told her about the mission of BGGE and what we would be doing over there, she felt like it was something she couldn’t hold me back from. In the beginning it was kind of up in the air, but when Under Armour said they would cover everything, it was like whoa this is really happening.
I’ve learned from Wide Angle that there are so many great things that happen, even just around our city in Baltimore, that don’t get recorded or documented, so they have that short immediate impact but don’t travel from there. I truly felt in my heart that if something like this was going to happen, it was my responsibility as a filmmaker to document it.
I’m biracial; my mother is African-American and I was raised by her, so I identify as black. Going with BGGE, it wasn’t just that I was filming this incredible experience, I was living it. There were so many times that I had to put the camera on autofocus and just let it run because I was crying myself at the amazing experiences that were happening.
The girls were so strong. The program was set up so we were talking about issues like HIV/AIDS, domestic abuse and teen pregnancy. And there were so many girls that were victims of these issues in the group, so as we were having these conversations it stimulated deep responses. There was a lot of sharing because the girls felt like they were fully understood and accepted.
UA: What was it like when all 191 girls finally met?
DB: There was one day when we met the girls from Swaziland and from South Africa, and you can see it in the video, it was the biggest dance scene. None of that was planned. There was so much that I captured, but so much that couldn’t fit into that video, so much that you just had to be there for. We’re just walking, thinking we’re going to meet and greet them, and we hear this chanting, and it gets bigger and bigger, and the girls are dancing, and as soon as the groups collided – I’m getting chills just thinking about it – all the girls just started hugging each other. I’d never seen anything like that before, people from different backgrounds, it didn’t matter, they just all felt like sisters. That was a big message, that we all come from different places and have different stories, but we struggle in the same ways and share a common bond.
Miss Dawnita is one of the founders who was in Swaziland. Her girls thought that Americans just had it easy, that it was just this land of opportunity and everyone is treated equally, and they didn’t truly understand some of the realities that Americans face, but specifically what Baltimore faces.
Service was a big part of the experience, so we went to an orphanage and met these beautiful children who may not have shoes but who still had these big smiles. They had so much appreciation for these little things. Girls said they were truly changed, and they were going to go home and appreciate their lives and the things they do have, even having a mother to come home to. I think it really gave everyone a different perspective or lens to view their own lives.
UA: After you came home, did you notice that your perspective had changed?
DB: Yes, it was when we went back to school after Spring Break. Someone made a joke about it being hot like Africa. And I realized how desensitized we can become. Even I was desensitized until I looked these people in the face, held hands with them, played with these children. There’s a real issue in our world with how we decide to deal with people’s problems, or not deal with them. We can’t just push them to the side or make them into caricatures.
UA: You’re very active in your own community. Do you plan to stay involved with the girls you met on your trip?
DB: We met some children who don’t have clean water. I’ve been trying to figure out how to raise funds to help them get some type of system. There are straw filters that you can drink water from, but there are also water reserves that could supply a whole school.
UA: How did your experience impact your goals as a filmmaker?
DB: It really made it concrete in my mind that I’m not interested in shooting sitcoms or superhero movies. I’m interested in using art to make a difference. I see with Wide Angle how they use their resources to tell meaningful stories about nonprofits, and I want my work to be meaningful, to make an impact and change my community.
UA: What do you want people to take away from this video?
DB: There were so many talented children! We didn’t even ask them, and they came up to us like, “Can I do a poem, can I do a rap, can I show you this dance I made?” And they were good. You could see that it took them to a different place. It uplifted their spirits even in the worst situation. I think that’s my takeaway, looking at every situation and seeing how I'm either negatively or positively impacting myself and the people around me. What are the issues I care about, what am I passionate about? Everyone has that thing they know is an issue, something that bothers them, but they may not do anything about it. And I think that’s the call to action, what do you want to see globally impacted using your voice or your work or your art?
Under Armour believes that community is the ultimate team and so we invest in people and places around the world that use the power of will to make their team better. To bring this vision to life, we leverage the power of the Under Armour brand to form critical links between the public, private, and non-profit sectors to elevate opportunity for communities around the world. Our investments in education, activity, and mentorship power the growth and development of people and improve equality of opportunity. With community - the ultimate team - as the center point of our investments, we’re committed to drive change around the world for generations to come.
For this initiative, Under Armour provided financial support and product for BGGE’s inaugural exchange. In addition, Under Armour provided the opportunity for the Wide Angle Youth Media team to capture the experience and tell the story through film.