How Dr. Yaba Blay’s ‘Professional Black Girl’ captures the creativity and artistry of Black Girl Culture
The everyday beauty of Black culture, and particularly Black Girl Culture, sits at the root of the Professional Black Girl Movement.
Editor’s Note: April is Black Women’s History Month. Throughout this month, Black Youth Project is celebrating Black women. This month is also National Minority Health Month, Autism Awareness Month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Child Abuse Prevention Month. We are interested in publishing works that address these topics and the things surrounding them.
by Josie Pickens
When I had an opportunity to chat with Dr. Yaba Blay about one of her newest passion project, season 2 of her Professional Black Girl YouTube series, she let me know that she was in bed resting, finally, after a hectic, marathon couple of weeks. I was grateful to hear her say that—that she was taking the rest she so indisputably deserves, as I imagined she was still recovering from hosting her second season’s premiere viewing (and celebration!) held recently in New Orleans.
But, Dr. Blay is doing so much more than shifting narratives of Black girlhood and womanhood through documentary filmmaking (which I know already sounds like plenty). She is also co-leading the #metoo HBCU Tour with the founder of the #metoo Movement, Tarana Burke, conquering press and promoting the weekly release of new episodes of Professional Black Girl, and guiding young minds as the Daniel T. Blue Endowed Chair in Political Science at North Carolina Central University. Blay offers all of us, and especially Black girls and women, a model for what is possible if we continuously step into the boldness of our dreams and our power, and if we earnestly and relentlessly commit to our work.
Professional Black Girl is a global, ”multi-platform digital community,” and the ongoing Professional Black Girl documentary series represents this communal reverence of Black girls through film. The newest season of the series celebrates both the city of New Orleans and the Black girls and women who help to make it one of the most unique, and culturally rich, destinations in the world. It features a wide variety of ordinary—but extraordinary—Black girls and women, a list that includes Wuzam Supa, the popular online personality turned makeup mogul, everyone’s favorite soul-deep poet Sunni Patterson, and Tarriona “Tank” Ball of Tank and Da Bangas fame. The success of the Professional Black Girl community, and the film-work Dr. Blay has produced with their help, continues to surprise her and makes her quite emotional.
Blay’s closest friends—many of whom joined her onstage at her series premiere—call her “the queen of bright ideas,” and they’re spot on. The culture worker’s mind is always moving, hoping to produce new ways to remind Black folks of their immeasurable value—value that spans past our income, class, or education levels. The everyday beauty of Black culture, and particularly Black Girl Culture, sits at the root of the Professional Black Girl Movement. Blay explained how, ironically, the hashtag and movement came to be.
“The thing that’s so crazy about Professional Black Girl is that I didn’t set out to create it. This wasn’t a well-thought-out plan, per se. I had my sights on another show, other content I was hoping to release, and I saw #professionalblackgirl as an ending segment for each show,” she tells me.
“But even before either of those projects, I started using the #professionalblackgirl hashtag—as early as 2015. It was a way for met to hashtag certain images in the Instagram universe, especially of little Black girls. I love little Black girls—just in terms of who we are and how we do our thing. I started using the hashtag just as a way to celebrate what I saw, especially things that other folks might call ratchet, or shake their head at. I wanted us to see ourselves in that, I think, and learn to celebrate it.”
#professionalblackgirl went from a hashtag Dr. Blay used to chronicle her own Instagram research, to a hashtag used by Black women all over the world hoping to connect to an authentic, accessible, and global Black Girl Culture aesthetic and experience. The movement now has over 90,000 followers on Instagram, and thousands of viewers have watched all 15 available episodes of Professional Black Girl from seasons 1 and 2. Since season 1 of the documentary series focused on the connections between all the Black girl experiences Blay shared with so many of her friends, she thought it only right to move on to celebrate the city that helped mold her into the #professionalblackgirl she is today.
“My decision to highlight New Orleans came really from my training in the Black Studies Program at Temple. You know, Afrocentric thought is about centering ourselves, and so whatever work that I do, I’m not disconnected from it. I was born into two cultures that are highly culturally centered—that’s New Orleans and that’s Ghana. And there’s just no place like New Orleans,” she beams proudly.
“When most people visit New Orleans, they’re ideas about it are confined to downtown or The French Quarter, or they only visit during events like Mardi Gras of Jazz Fest. Most Black folks in New Orleans rarely go to these places or events. That’s not our New Orleans. What you see on TV [about New Orleans], that’s not all of who we are. I just wanted to highlight Black women in New Orleans, and offer—through their lived experiences—pieces of Black girl New Orleans culture that people might never see.”
Mostly, Dr. Yaba Blay wants the Professional Black Girl community, and anyone else interested, to understand that she is committed to creating and maintaining a space that centers Black women. Period. With no desire to educate or explain our particular kind of Black experience to anyone who sits outside of it. Digital spaces like Professional Black Girl are part of the glue that is holding us together, as we collectively maneuver through this moment that seems to desire to punish us as much as possible for simply being Black and woman.
Here is how you can support our sister as she continues to support us: Subscribe to Dr. Yaba Blay’s YouTube channel, where you can catch up on and catch new episodes of the Professional Black Girl docuseries. Follow Professional Black Girl on Instagram and Facebook, and grab your Professional Black Girl gear here.
Josie Pickens is a professor, cultural critic, writer and griot. Follow her on Twitter at @jonubian.