According to the irreproachable authority of the internet, the hashtag #BlackGirlMagic has been around for about five years. It caught fire after CaShawn Thompson began tweeting the phrase and making merchandise worn by celebrities such as Willow Smith and Amandla Stenberg. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Thompson noted the "magic" referred to how the successes of black women often seem unbelievable, because the work to achieve them goes unrecognized by society at large. Through trademark disputes and criticism, the phrase has endured in realms as public as television and music and as intimate as captions for graduation photos across Twitter and Instagram.
Writer and activist Mahogany L. Browne knows #BlackGirlsBeenLit and recently released a book illustrated by Jess X. Snow of her poem "Black Girl Magic." Browne has long been recognized for her power as a performative poet and currently works with the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and is artistic director of Urban Word NYC. Her previous books and projects familiarized her with the collaborative effort of working with Snow.
"I'm interested in how my work translates into different mediums, but I am not interested in micromanaging the work," Browne says of her collaborations. "I'm pretty hands-off until the artist has had their time with the work. Then we shape edges that may be too hard (or soft) into something we can both be proud of representing."
The book is small considering the weight of its content; generations of systemic oppression alongside personal pain make for what at first seems like chalky ground to find the nutrients for self-love. The brilliance and shine Browne expresses there are deeply rooted in her engagement with community.
"My [writing] has been a pivotal part of my work in the community. I've been working in group homes, alternative prison programs, high school classrooms, college affinity centers, protests, community healing spaces, and museums," Browne explains. Black Girl Magic is inextricable from that work because "it is a poem that...is in service to the mission of celebrating and uplifting black women in particular."
Since its release earlier this month, Browne has begun a small tour of U.S. cities. This Saturday she'll stop by Shinola Wynwood for a Black Girl Magic Mixer that will include swag bags, bubbly, and, of course, Black Girl Magic.
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"This event is about networking and connecting with other forward-thinking black women," says Browne. "The performances by myself, [poet and activist] T Miller, [educator and poet] Christina Olivares, and [painter] Stephanie are just a tip of the iceberg. We're interested in celebrating the resilience of black women and the diaspora."
Even as #BlackGirlMagic continues to thrive virtually, it's becoming increasingly clear that our challenge of what is deemed worthy of being seen and accepted can no longer be relegated to social media feeds. Maybe a hashtag is a powerful start, but it's becoming less and less revolutionary. The Black Girl Magic Mixer could be a start to enacting what you re-tweet IRL. And it seems totally worth it.
"The response has been magical! I've had lines for book signings everywhere I've gone and I'm so humbled and honored," reflects Browne. "The women, of all ages, are moved to tears and it just feels like a win for us all."
Black Girl Magic Mixer. 6 p.m. Saturday, February 3, at Shinola, 2399 NW Second Ave., Miami; 786-347-2994; shinola.com. Admission is free.