Flourishing: The art we love


When I think of Black strength and resilience in art and media, my mind immediately jumps to Marvel’s Black Panther. I remember seeing the movie in theatres, and I was speechless. On a superficial level, the cinematography was amazing to look at. The traditional African-style clothing was stunning, as it was a nice reminder of the outfits that I enjoy wearing in my daily life. Seeing characters such as Shuri not shy away from acting in a way that society has generally criticized as being “too Black” was inspiring. The characters embraced Black humour, culture and style by unapologetically displaying their true personality.

I finally got to see the superhero that I imagined for myself when I was still in elementary school. Tall, athletic, cool and Black. Black Panther embodied all the qualities I dreamt of having when I was a child. Thanks to Black Panther, an entire generation of children, including myself, no longer have to know the feeling of not seeing themselves reflected in the superhero film industry. Black Panther is the embodiment of Black excellence, a cultural phenomenon that left a positive impact on me and the Black community worldwide.


When I think of resilience, the song that comes to my mind is “Almost There,” sung by Anika Noni Rose and written by Randy Newman, as part of the original soundtrack of Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. To me, the song represents Black strength, passion and determination. Tiana broke down the racial barriers of who can be seen as a princess, but more importantly, I was able to relate to her struggle and her ambition.

Growing up, my parents always emphasized the value of a good work ethic because we reside in a world that demands people who look like me to work twice as hard to achieve half as much as our peers. This constant pressure is beyond exhausting and sometimes I can be hard on myself as a result. “Almost There” encourages resilience in the face of “trials and tribulations” by acknowledging that you have gotten yourself so close, you’re “almost there.” This song inspires listeners to give themselves credit for their achievements but to continue persevering by finding joy in their journey. Personally, I resonate mostly with the meaning behind Newman’s song: valuing grit, Black strength and self acknowledgement. This song inspires me to take pride in my work ethic but to also take breaks to appreciate where I am.


When I look at the art and media I consume, especially music, I find that most of my favourites are Black artists: SZA, Summer Walker, Jazmine Sullivan and Brent Faiyaz, to name a few. This means a lot to me because it shows that the stories they share, whether they are about being young, being in love, being lost… are relatable to other Black people like me on some level. I am very passionate about music, and I enjoy finding new voices that inspire me. R&B is undoubtedly a genre dominated by Black artists; however, year after year these artists release top-selling albums while the Recording Academy continues to disregard and exploit them. It’s unfair that they tokenize Black artists, as we see only a few names reserved for a few categories. For me, this raises a question: do we really need non-Black organizations to recognize us? There are thousands of young Black people who admire and relate to their favourite Black artists — I find that in itself to be the essence of resilience.


The art that made me think the hardest and made me feel the greatest sense of belonging over these two tumultuous years was Black art. I found comfort in my identity and experiences, and felt tethered to a community through Black literature, music and film. Two works that spoke to me were Caleb Azumah Nelson’s book Open Waters and Negro Impacto’s single “Lockdown Syndrome.” Open Waters explores Black love in a way I have never read about before. It is artistic, graceful and self-aware. It fuses a love of music with literature, exploring the protagonist’s passion for jazz and life. It was one of the most enjoyable reads for me in 2021. Negro Impacto’s first release, “Lockdown Syndrome,” perfectly captured the thoughts and feelings I struggled with during lockdown. Based out of Dundalk, Ireland, their music is a warm fusion of genres, giving listeners a bit of funk, R&B, soul and jazz. They are a lovely reminder of how global Black art can be.


Solange’s 2017 album A Seat at the Table immediately comes to mind when thinking of Black beauty, strength and resilience. This work’s ability to encapsulate the struggles of Black womanhood, while building on its sense of empowerment, is a feat. Songs like “Weary” and “Mad” are deeply authentic snapshots of the exhaustion and devaluation of Black women. In contrast, the interludes between every couple of songs deliver words attesting to the strength, love, beauty and power Black people hold. Anthems like “F.U.B.U. (For Us, By Us)” and “Don’t Touch My Hair” reclaim aspects of Blackness that are continually depreciated by society. Solange’s deeply authentic ode to the Black experience never fails to reaffirm my pride in being a Black woman. This album is a must-listen from start to finish.


2021 was transformative. I learned about how my intersectionalities affect me. My biggest takeaway was how unequal power structures, through classism and racism, could cause other Black people to look at me with disgust. Some understand how race affects them but don’t notice when they put others down due to class. I’m glad that I know this now. Knowing gives me the wisdom to centre myself and create plans and social structures for my success as Stephanie Okoli: the loud, ‘aggressive,’ passionate Black girl from the hood who has a lot to say.

Various artists helped me get to this point. An obvious example is Beyoncé. She made a song called “Be Alive,” with lyrics like “It feels so good to be alive/ Got all my family by my side/Couldn’t wipe this Black off if I tried/That’s why I lift my head with pride.”

This song encapsulated so much of what I felt because, despite all the pain, I was just happy to be alive and Blackity Black.


When envisioning Black excellence, artists such as Jacob Lawrence, Kendrick Lamar, Damini Ogulu and Lupita Nyong’o come to mind — artists from all across a wide dynamic of mediums. A perfect encapsulation of this theme is American painter Kehinde Wiley. His piece Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps was the first and most prominent of his pieces to come to my attention. Much unlike the usual neoclassical art that features pale Caucasian men atop symbols of power, this atypical piece depicts a young Black man on a steed emitting an aura of aristocracy and authority. Indifferent to the art and culture of 19th-century neoclassicism, Wiley seems to have unveiled something of a third eye within me, giving power to contemporary Black culture in such an unanticipated and innovative manner.