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Alicia White Leading Project Petals to Repair Communities

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Alicia White, CEO of Project Petals

Nonprofit organizations are driven by a social cause. They help families in need, repair communities, teach children new things, and give hope to those who need it most.

Alicia White, the founder and president of Project Petals, had all of this in mind when starting her nonprofit. She is an advocate for all those living in low-income and under-resourced communities. Not only is she an entrepreneur, but she has also worked with the United Nations and done grant work with domestic justice civil rights issues within her community.

BLENDtw had the opportunity to interview White regarding her history with Project Petals and moving forward with her program. 

1.) You started Project Petals with the vision to help low-income and under-resourced communities. Can you tell us a bit about what the process of starting up a new business was like? What were your struggles along the way? 

The process of starting my organization has been rewarding, and I learned so much through the process. My organization started out as a volunteer-led project in Queens, New York. It was important for me to form an organization to improve the environment, support communities and future leaders.

It was challenging starting my first environmental project, and I wanted to make it less difficult for anyone coming after me. Also, to help youth learn the leadership skills needed to make an impact in their communities.

Starting a new organization for me had its challenge, but I learned so much along the way. I had to essentially learn what it was to set up an organization in what felt like overnight. Through extensive research, I had to file paperwork,  create a website, the logo, the structure of the organization, and just typical start-up activities fell on my shoulders.

Like most black women founders, my biggest struggle was finding and securing funding. For example, in 2019, Black-led organizations received less than 4% of grants and funding. That percentage dwindles when you are a woman.

2.) COVID-19 has been challenging for many small businesses and has caused people within many communities to struggle to make ends meet. How have you seen this affect them and what has Project Petals been doing in response to this? 

COVID-19 has hit the communications that my organization works, extremely hard. My organization had to change from working on the ground with large amounts of volunteers to working remotely, with fewer volunteers on the ground.

Through all of this, we were still able to support our community leaders and neighborhoods with the tools and resources that they need to improve their environments. Like every other organization, we have to abide by COVID-19 safety restrictions and guidelines to keep everyone safe while still actively providing the services that are needed to make an impact.  

3.) Going forward with Project Petals, what do you envision with your company? Where do you see it going in terms of growth? 

I see Project Petals eventually moving to a national scale. The need for environmental support and community development is needed now more than ever. With the climate crises on the brink of causing further catastrophe, it is vital that Project Petals is able to serve as many communities and leaders as we can. 

4.) You have a program called, “Youth Builders Program.” Can you elaborate more on what it is and what sort of programs it offers? And how this program can be of help to those participating in it?

Our Project Petals Youth Builders Program helps young people gain the leadership skills they need to improve their communities and futures. Our program connects youth in grades 4-12 to engineering, architecture, urban planning, environmental science, tech, and design professionals who can offer mentorship, experience, internships, and inspiration through monthly workshops.

We work to catalyze the next generation of environmentalists, community leaders, and professionals in these fields. Our program inspires them to develop a passion for these fields, thus working to create a more sustainable, diverse, and equitable world. One hundred percent of all of the youth show great leadership potential. We believe by fostering this leadership and giving them access to a network of professionals; we will start to build more resilient communities. 

5.) Before Project Petals, what sort of jobs were you doing? What led you to want to become an entrepreneur and what advice do you have for anyone also planning to pursue entrepreneurship? 

Growing up, I always had ideas that I wanted to bring to reality, but as a young person, I didn’t know how to, and I didn’t think it was possible for me to do so. As an adult, social entrepreneurship gave me the opportunity to take my ideas and actually use them to make a positive impact in other people’s lives and the environment.

If I had to give any advice, it would be to have confidence in your ideas and in your skillset as you may face many obstacles, nay-sayers, and challenges along the way. Failure is par for the course and is a good lesson plan to succeed. 

We hope that by understanding Project Petals, White, and how entrepreneurs can shape the future of the community around them, we can then better understand how to make our community and the world around us a better place. Thank you to Project Petals and White for this opportunity and we hope this program thrives in the coming years! 

Spotlight

Meet Thais Drassinower: A Latinx Woman Film Creator in Hollywood Pushing for Diversity

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A black and white photo of Thais Drassinower wearing black hat and tank top.

This past year, the prestigious British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) selected Thais Drassinower into the Newcomers program. Thais is based in L.A. as a female filmmaker. The year 2020 had the biggest turnout of women in the program and Thais was one of those representing female filmmakers!

This program offers career support and helps to new filmmakers in the industry. Apart from being welcomed into the program, Thais has a lot of history with filmmaking and in the film industry. We interviewed her to learn more about her history with film and any new projects she might be working on. 

1. Your hometown is Lima, Peru, what was it like coming to America and starting up in the film industry? What inspired you to pursue filmmaking as a career, and please tell me a bit about that journey. 

I’ve been a storyteller for as long as I can remember. I started writing stories as soon as I learned how to put two words together.

My grandma still keeps those early ones in her bedroom chest. I’ve also always loved film and would spend my free time as a teenager watching foreign film cycles at the local cultural center.

But as a young woman from a traditional family growing up in Lima – Peru, I never thought being a filmmaker was an option for me.

My diverse interests in story, psychology, and anthropology led me to advertising as a first step and it was then, working as a copywriter in Chicago, that I realized the power that audiovisual communication has on society and understood that there are archetypes in the collective consciousness that stories can portray in infinite ways.

That’s when I decided to become a filmmaker and assume the responsibility of sharing narratives that can shift our world into a more comprehensive, empathetic, and healthy place.

I started taking night classes at a local school after work and then decided to make the jump and apply for an MFA in Film which got me to NYC where I got my degree at Columbia University. That’s how it all started. 

2. Before transitioning to the film industry, you were a copywriter. Can you tell me what it was like making that transition to filmmaking? Did you encounter any major differences or have any difficulty with the transition to films? 

I was a copywriter for an advertising agency in Chicago which meant that, together with my partner, I came up with an idea for a commercial, wrote the script for it and then supervised the whole production and post-production process to make sure the idea was coming to life in the way we envisioned it.

The whole supervision part of the process was similar to being a film producer on a project. Being on set and watching the director work with the actors made me fall in love with the directing process. I think it has been a very organic transition and my years as a copywriter helped me build very important skills that I now use as a writer/director.

Film director and crew
Source

3. The entertainment industry can be cutthroat at times. Have you endured any hardships along the way? What did you do to overcome them? 

I’m still at the beginning of my career and it is definitely a challenging field. As a Latinx woman trying to break in, you have to work extremely hard and convince people that you deserve a seat at the table.

It’s an exciting time for minorities in Hollywood, the conversation is open and more studios are looking to champion diverse and underrepresented voices, but there is still a long way to go to achieve proper representation and I’m proud to be a part of this new generation pushing for change. 

4. You’ve directed three projects, “The Catch,” “Baby,” and “Memories of the Sea.” All of which are special in their own ways. Please tell me a bit about how you drew inspiration for these projects and how they are connected to you? 

Memories of The Sea was my first film which explores the sense of loss for a child. My dear friend and fellow filmmaker Sudarshan Suresh had written a beautiful script which we then worked on together to adapt for me to direct it.

I decided to set it in Brazil because that’s where I spent my first years of childhood and where I experienced a sense of loss myself.

I wanted to revisit the space and dive deep into the experience of seeing the world through a child’s eyes. This is a film about finding your own answers when adults don’t explain things to you. I think we often forget how intuitive and perceptive children are and this film attempts to remind us. 

Baby, my second film, explores what it means to grow up by messing up. It’s a film about a young woman who goes home for a weekend and has ​an unnerving encounter with her estranged father at a nightclub which reminds her that there are unhealed wounds.

Through a series of disturbing events that night, she will be forced to understand that the only person who can take care of her now is herself. I drew inspiration for this film from the memories of being that age and feeling lost at many points. Feeling like a grown up, but also like a child.

Feeling like I had all the answers, but then suddenly like I knew nothing. It’s a fascinating period in a person’s life and with this story and through this character I explore subjects such as sexuality and consent. 

Finally, The Catch, my latest film, tells the story of two trapeze artists whose trust is threatened right before the biggest performance of their careers. The script was written by another Peruvian making waves in the US, my dear friend Camila Zavala who also produced the film.

What attracted me to direct this movie was the opportunity to explore the concept of trust between a couple with such high stakes and the idea of dancing between public and private spaces in the magical world of a circus.

The film invites us to reflect on the power of a bond and what it takes to break it. 

5. Many young people are looking into the arts as careers, but of course, they may face obstacles along the way. What would you say to someone who would want to pursue a career such as filmmaking? What advice would you offer? 

I say GO FOR IT. This is a challenging career, but all good things in life require you to work hard for them. The enjoyment comes from the hours you put in day to day. I find that the most important things are consistency and your community.

Do the work, go out and shoot, sit down and write, even if you don’t end up showing that “thing” to anyone, practice makes a master. And surround yourself with a group of peers who will champion you and who you will champion. Help each other out.

Film is a collective art and you can’t do it alone, having a group of colleagues that you trust is crucial for your career. Find them. Either at school, at writing groups, at online forums. Find them and nurture those relationships. They are the most wonderful gift that a film career can give you. 

I started writing a blog for young female filmmakers who are working or hope to work on their first feature film. There you can find advice on how to embark in the journey both from my personal experience, and also from interviews that I make to first time female directors.

Check it out and hope you find it helpful, I’m always available through there for any questions you might have.  

Best of luck to you all! 

6. What are your plans for the future in filmmaking? Do you have genres or films you are particularly interested in? 

I’m currently working on my first feature film which I hope we can start pre-production for once we achieve a new normal after COVID-19. I am interested in telling stories through a female perspective in the genres of psychological thriller, psychological horror, and drama.

As I mentioned before, it is also very important for me to portray diversity on the screen through my narratives and I look forward to keep sharing stories that build empathy and hopefully invite the audience to reflect and discuss.

From growing up in Peru and moving to L.A, to transitioning from copywriting to filmmaking. Thais has achieved many great things that other young filmmakers aspire to achieve.

We hope that by reading this article, many young filmmakers or others wanting to join the industry can get some inspiration from Thais and perhaps one day join the Newcomers program like her.

Thank you Thais for your time and we wish you luck with your first feature film and your BAFTA Newcomers program!

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Spotlight

Using Instagram Art to Promote Anti-Racism: Meet French Graphic Artist Aurélia Durand

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Portrait of author Aurélia Durand wearing a yellow shirt and laying next to some of her pieces of art.
Source: Aurélia Durand

Instagram artist, Aurélia Durand, has been using the platform to promote her anti-racism art. She has a website on which she sells posters, stickers, and cards that she has designed herself. Her art is focused on celebrating diversity and equal representation. Durand’s dream is to help form a united community and an inclusive future for everyone. BLENDtw had the opportunity to ask Durand a series of questions about her current work on Instagram, the book she illustrated, and her goals for the future. 

1. Who or what inspired you to start creating art? What keeps you motivated?

When I begin working on a new artistic creation, I listen to music to put myself in a zone where I feel good and am inspired to create a meaningful message. I find that music settles the mood and atmosphere around me. I create to stay positive, and staying positive is essential for my well being. I need to be creative; I am addicted to creativity; imagination, drawing, and seeing the idea evolve is exciting. The most fulfilling feeling is to see people interacting with my work.

2. If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be? What advice would you give to young black women with dreams similar to your own?

Create for yourself; don’t try to make the same as everyone else. Find your voice; follow your instinct.

3. What impact do you hope your art will have on our world today?

I hope my art empowers people and makes them smile. 

A piece of Aurélia Durand's art work featuring four people behind a pink background with the title
Source: Aurélia Durand

4. In what way does art communicate with and reach people better than other means do? 

It’s upon us; it happens because of many factors. I think that visuals are more impactful than words. It is universal, we see it, and we quickly react to it. 

6. You just recently illustrated a New York Times bestseller, “This Book is Anti-Racist.” What inspired this project? What do you hope readers take away from it?

I hope readers want to take action for antiracism in there every day life after they read the book.

My publisher, Quarto, contacted me at the end of 2018 to participate in the book’s conception as the leading illustrator. I have never met the author; unfortunately, due to the current global pandemic and social distancing regulations. 

The book, “This Book is Anti-Racist” was released in January 2020 and became a best seller in June after the Black Lives Matter movement spread globally. We sold more than 150,000 copies! The book has been popular in schools, but people of all ages are reading the book. It includes about 20 exercises for readers to do while thinking about how they can take action to build a more inclusive society. 

7. Do you have any plans or projects you are working on? How can people help support your cause?

I am working on many new projects, but I can’t talk about them as they are meant to be a surprise. In October, I will be participating in several talks with Adobe, Ladies and Wine, and the AOI association. The projects are very exciting and I have confidence that they will have great success when they are completed. 

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Spotlight

6 Influential Young Leaders Changing the World

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Malala Yousafzai giving her acceptance speech for the 2014 Noble Peace Prize.
Source

Even as violence and injustice rise in the world, as they never fail to, several young leaders emerge from the chaos as beacons who guide us through those troubling times. These days, it seems like we are always in need of strong leaders, though the face of these leaders has changed.

Not too long ago, the image of a powerful leader was that of a wealthy white man, likely Christian and heterosexual.

Now, that image has changed into one more representative of the world and the capabilities of those who inhabit it.

Young leaders have emerged as some of the more prominent voices in the world today. From climate activists to young inventors, modern youth have taken advantage of their elevated platforms on social media to inspire people all over the globe, both young and old. We have kids changing the world.

With their raised voices, these teen activist leaders have become a source of education and influence on modern social issues, a source that will hopefully bring about change to help better society. Here are six young leaders of the world who are making waves in the fight against global injustice.

1. Malala Yousafzai

By now, Malala Yousafzai has become a household name. As one of the youngest recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala has been a near-lifelong advocate for gender equality. She garnered attention particularly following an assassination attempt on her life in 2012.

Since then, she has recovered and carried on her mission to gain equality for women, not only in her home country, Pakistan, but worldwide. Now at the age of 23, Malala has been an inspiration to young women and other young leaders everywhere.

Malala Yousafzai wearing a purple headscarf in front of a microphone.
Source

Her continuous activism has made her an example for people of all ages, but for international youth, seeing someone have such an impact from such a young age is nothing short of empowering, and, fortunately, Malala is only one of many kids changing the world.

2. Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg made a splash in global headlines over the last two years, earning the attention of not just social media users, but world leaders as well. Since then, she has emerged as one of the most active voices in support of combating climate change.

Though her stony demeanor was at first criticized by journalists and Twitter users, Thunberg takes her role as an “environmental influencer” very seriously, having put her education and personal life on hold to travel globally as a young leader in the world.

Greta Thunberg sitting at a table.
Source

Thunberg has crossed oceans (by the more environmentally friendly boat, rather than by plane) to lead climate strikes in numerous countries. At just 17 years old, Thunberg has left an impression on the leaders of the United Nations, and she has become a familiar face for social media users.

Looking to the future, Thunberg will certainly continue to leave an impact, proving there are kids changing the world and creating a model of what leaders everywhere should aspire to be.

3. Emma González

In the United States, mass shootings have become a tragedy that occurs all too often.

Emma González, a survivor of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the deadliest school shooting in the history of the United States, recognized the horror of that fact and sought to change the future with the help of other survivors.

González has become an outspoken gun-reform young leader in the world since the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas, having directly spoken to U.S. politicians about reform. She even spoke at the March for Our Lives rally in 2018 to mass audiences on the subject of school shootings.

González has taken the trauma of her experiences and used it to shed new light on issues related to gun violence in the United States.

A black and white photo of Emma González wearing a black tank top.
Source

With a recent outcry for gun reform in the United States, especially in response to the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Emma González paves the way for other young leaders like herself.

She makes her efforts to better the world, using her own experiences as motivation and a lesson to the world in why history cannot be allowed to repeat itself.

4. Gitanjali Rao

Gitanjali Rao, a young scientist with the mind of an adult expert, is an example of kids changing the world in the STEM field, the areas of study that are known for technological and medicinal advancement to better mankind.

Rao has contributed greatly to this field, having created multiple inventions with quite practical uses. After learning about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Rao invented a device that could measure the amount of lead in water, with the hope of cleaning the contaminated water in Flint and other areas like it.

In addition to this, she has performed commendable work with Bluetooth devices, a technology that only increases in relevance as we find it in our phones, computers, and even our cars.

Gitanjali Rao wearing a black shirt smiling at the camera.
Source

Rao is a leading figure for youth in STEM, especially for young girls. It’s no secret that the STEM field has not been welcoming to women through the course of its ever-advancing history.

At such a young age, Rao has already made strides to open the field up to researchers and inventors of all ages and genders, breaking down the barriers that have kept so many marginalized people from studying the sciences.

With her inventions serving as an idea of what people are capable of, Rao is leading the STEM field into an era that is inclusive of all people.

5. Sophie Cruz

Among other pressing issues in the United States is the status of undocumented immigrants, and the human rights violations committed by the U.S. government against immigrant families.

10-year-old Sophie Cruz is all too familiar with these experiences, which are shared by thousands of families, and decided to become one of the kids changing the world from them. To combat these injustices, she has taken up activism to fight against the system that oppresses families like her own.

After reaching out to Pope Francis in 2015, Cruz influenced him to speak up regarding the treatment of undocumented immigrants and their families in the United States. After reading young Cruz’s concerns for her parents, especially as they faced deportation from the U.S., Pope Francis discussed the topic with Congress.

Since then, Cruz has been an advocate for undocumented immigrants, having spoken with former president Barack Obama, as well as protesting against the inauguration of Donald Trump, who has become well known for his negative attitudes regarding the entry of immigrants like Sophie and her family into the United States.

Sophie Cruz wearing a purple dress, smiling and holding a microphone.
Source

While Sophie Cruz’s struggle is deeply personal, it is one shared by hundreds of thousands of people, both in the United States and worldwide.

By speaking up and reaching out, Cruz has caught the ear of powerful leaders, educating them on the mistreatment and dangers of immigration in places where immigrants are not often welcome.

By recognizing that her story is not a singular occurrence, Cruz’s teen activist efforts will hopefully guide global governments into a more peaceful, welcoming mindset regarding the acceptance of immigrants within their borders.

6. Desmond Napoles

Desmond Napoles, better known by their stage name Desmond is Amazing, is a youth drag performer based in New York City. An LGBTQ+ activist, Desmond’s approach to youth leadership is slightly different than one would imagine.

Rather than confronting world leaders or marching on the front lines of protests, Desmond’s practice is a little more atypical, though somewhat traditional. Simply put, Desmond leads by being themself.

At only 13 years old, Desmond has made a name for themself in the NYC child drag community. Most would not usually think of drag as child-friendly, but Desmond has opened the doors for LGBTQ+ children to be involved in the fierce, fabulous world of drag.

As a result, Desmond has only cultivated an environment that is more accepting of queer youth, a part of the LGBTQ+ community that has particularly struggled to gain acceptance both within and outside itself.

Desmond Napoles posing with their hands in the air, wearing a green and yellow dress.
Source

By flaunting their personality so publicly, Desmond is much like other young leaders. They do not compromise on their beliefs, and they speak out on the issues that they know are important and have a passion for.

With years ahead of them to grow and continue their work, Desmond and other young leaders in the world show only the brightest path for the Earth’s future.

Countries and communities are moving forward, and these mere kids changing the world provide a leading backdrop of innovation, advocacy, and acceptance for years to come.

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