Hawaiians have always had a ‘third gender.’ Here’s what Mahu’s wished you knew.

When people think of Hawaii, they envision palm trees and crystal clear oceans. What many fail to imagine is a deeper understanding of the Kanaka, or the natives of Hawaii.

Fifteen-hundred years ago, Polynesians arrived in what is now known as Hawaii. Filled with rich traditions and history, they built their homes, families and created Kanaka culture. But in 1778, the first colonizer, Captain Cook, stepped foot on Hawaii and abruptly altered the Kanaka’s way of life. By the time the first sugar plantation opened on the island of Kaui in 1835, Kanaka were enslaved by outsiders on the very land they founded. Colonizers destroyed and extorted the people of Hawaii, and almost succeeded in eradicating an entire population.

Today, the Kanaka makes up only 6% of the population on the islands. When the United States annexed Hawaii in 1898, the history of the treatment of natives in Hawaii was woven into America’s fabric. While we still have a lot to learn about our nation’s history of slavery, the Kanaka culture undoubtedly a benefit to American society, and offers many lessons that we would be wise to pay attention to.

The three genders in Kanaka culture

“A Place In The Middle” is a documentary by PBS Hawaii that explored native Hawaiian culture, and in particular, the Kanaka approach to gender diversity. The film is led by the voice of Kumu Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, aka Kumu (teacher) Hina who is a māhū. 

In Hawaiian culture, there are three genders: kane (men), wahine (women), and lastly, māhū’s, who are known to be in the middle. Māhūs embraces both feminine and masculine traits that are embodied in each and every one of us, Kumu Hina states in the documentary. 

SEE ALSO: What it’s like to come out twice-once as a lesbian and once as transgender 

Historically in Hawaiian culture, every one person had a role, from chiefs to caregivers. In the past, māhū’s were valued and respected, seen as caretakers, healers, and teachers of ancient traditions. 

Kumu Hina strives to dismantle Western influence on her culture and life in order to preserve what’s left of Hawaiian culture. In the documentary, Kumu Hina discusses how her role is to help mold her students in the best way that she can. She does so by providing the space for one of her students, who dreams of being a part of the school’s all-male hula troupe, embrace and explore both their feminine and masculine sides. 

We caught up with Kumu Hina in order to dive deeper into the meaning of māhū, and what her journey in life has been like as one herself.

What is māhū?

Under the Western lens, it may be described as transgender or gender non-conforming. Many māhū’s identify with him or her pronouns, versus they/them. It’s important to stress that māhū is also a state of being. Historically, the ability to embrace both sides is highly valued in Kanaka culture.

Bisexuality in Hawaiian culture

Another term similar to māhū is the Hawaiian word ‘aikane.’ Aikane refers to a friendship that “cohabits as a male with male, female with female.” These types of relationships were never frowned upon. According to Kumu Hina, they were very important in Hawaiian culture and found at several levels, especially amongst chiefs.

Aikane relationships oftentimes were the most formidable relationships,” she recalls. “They solidified social culture, and social boundaries that helped how people interacted, so much that Aikane even had the power to execute on behalf of the chief.”

Historically, the lens surrounding sexual and gender fluidity was far less taboo in Hawaiian culture than exists today in American culture. “Bisexuality was a greater norm than is actually spoken about and thus there was a greater kind of balance amongst social constructs and relationships in general,” says Kumu Hina. “There was a clear understanding of both dualities in relationships. These relationships, they’re not how Americans look at gay relationships.” What matters most in Kanaka culture, Kumu stresses, are your contributions to your family and society. 

Māhū’s place in LGBTQIA culture today

Family is still what matters most to her today. “Who I am is rooted firmly within who I descend from,” she says. Growing up, Kumu Hina spent time on the island of Ni‘ihau with extended family where she became fluent in Hawaiian and more in tune with her culture. “What’s most important is the name that I descend from my family that comes from the places that we come from,” says Kumu Hina.  

Being of the third person reaps benefits that kane (men) and wahine (women) may lack. “When it comes to my understanding of māhū, not everybody was given the privilege of seeing life and seeing the world from multiple perspectives,” says Kumu Hina. She credits being māhū with her ability to have both a male-oriented and female perspective to help her navigate through life challenges. This duality has led to Kumu Hina winning over a dozen awards including the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary in 2016. 

Though Kumu stays humble, she is one of few that speaks so publicly to share māhū culture. When it comes to keeping herself driven, her approach is rooted in her upbringing. “Growing up I was given much and never left without, so I understand that for whom much is given, much will be expected,” she explains. “For many years I was giving much and this is a time that I have to now be able to give up myself for whatever that is.” 

She stresses the importance of understanding māhū and what it truly means from a non-American perspective. “When it comes to LGBTQIA kind of things, especially with the term māhū, it’s clearly oriented to the cultural understanding that is rooted in language, that is rooted in history, and that will push beyond the parameters about what we are imposed to knowing, believing, and accepting from American culture,” says Kumu Hina. “I’ve made it a point in my life to understand the distinction between what makes me Kanaka and what allows me to interface with American culture.” 

We had a Zoom hangout with ‘Pose’ star Ryan Jamaal Swain

Resting in front of an exposed brick wall, Ryan Jamaal Swain exposes his vulnerability and lavishes in it.

The 26-year old Alabama native and HBCU-(historically Black college/university) alumni from Howard University smiles into our Zoom call with joy. Sporting a striped shirt and infectious smile you can’t help but return a gleaming, cheesing grin back.

On FX’s Pose, Ryan plays Damon, a young dancer who’s taken under the house of Mother Blanca Rodriguez after being kicked out for his sexuality by his own biological family. The poignant portrayal had many in the industry paying attention to the actor. Almost instantly, he made the Forbes ’30 under 30′ list and soon, the show was nominated for over 50 awards including multiple Golden Globes and Emmy’sPose, which has just been renewed for a third season, has also made history by having the most Trans actors in television history. Its second season is now on Netflix. 

He takes Damon’s role in stride. Being a Black and queer man, Ryan has experienced pain in ways that the majority of America is just now waking up to. While many celebrities are only recently speaking out about the abuse that Black people deal with on a day-to-day basis, activism runs in Ryan’s blood. “My grandparents have been freedom writers, part of the Southern Christian leadership conference, Black Panthers, and all that stuff,” he tells Very Good Light. “They didn’t want my life to be hard.” 

Before he played Damon in “Pose,” Ryan spent his career in theater. “I just had my off-broadway debut in National Black Theater with the world premiere of Kill Move Paradise.” This was around the time when Hamilton was the hottest ticket in town. “I thought that was going to be my way into this industry altogether. I’m a theater baby. TV and film are things that I’m now learning how to master, and I’m so grateful for ‘Pose’ for allowing me the space to do that.”

SEE ALSO: ‘The High Notes’s’ Kelvin Harrison Jr. on sex, Tracee Ellis Ross, and wearing Joel Edgerton’s sweaty socks

Ryan expresses his gratefulness for his character, Damon. “It’s such a spiritual thing to me, so just knowing that I was going to be endowing a queer narrative or queer person of color, I said I have to do this justice because this is a part of my community. This is a part of my tapestry and this is a part of my history.”

In fact, Ryan’s senior thesis at Howard was about Stonewall.  “I was this fictional drag queen that lived there and that is when I found Paris Is Burning,” he tells Very Good Light. “Never seen it before, at the time I didn’t know that Pose was going to be on the docket, my senior thesis was preparing me.”

We caught up with Ryan over Zoom to talk about Pride, how attending an HBCU helped him nail the role of Damon, and how he deals with newfound fame.

When did you come out? How did your friends and family react?

The first person I came out to was my best friend during my freshman year in college. I had this moment, where I was like, ‘Yo I’m tired of not telling my friend all of the story, all of the tea.’ I sat my friend down in the cafeteria and I told her that I was attracted to men. I’m queer. She responded, “Finally thank you for letting me know.” The one that was a bit tricky was with my family. I was working on a one-man show and my boyfriend was the production director and my mother found out through his mother.

Tell me about your experience growing up in the South. Did you have support growing up? 

I think what was so powerful about what’s happening right now in my life in connection with me coming out is that my grandfather, who is my father figure, was just giving me tenants of manhood. He was the first man in my life that I felt that I was given permission to say that another man was handsome or attractive. That was never present with my immediate family. Growing up I was emotionally and physically abused by my stepfather. My grandfather gave me the courage to step into what it meant for Ryan Jamaal Swain to be a man, on top of the fact that I went to Howard, and that just kind of blew my mind of, like, the possibilities.

Speaking of Howard, which is an HBCU how did that shape your perspective as a Black person?

When you go to an HBCU, or specifically Howard, it’s just us. It let me deepen my nuance and what makes me, me. I can just be me and use everything that is me, in addition to what I’m learning, to create what’s going to make me powerful beyond measure. That’s what Howard gave to me. It was this space where I could cultivate my excellence without my race being attached to it. It’s the reason why I got “Pose,” because of the way that I spoke about it in my audition. Ryan Murphy and Steven Canals said, “That’s when we found Damon.”

Ryan Jamaal Swain interview photoYou credit Howard during your audition, how was that process of auditioning and nailing Damon?

The audition process was kind of normal. I just had my off-broadway debut in National Black Theater with the world premiere of ‘Kill Move Paradise.’ I was sitting on my break reading the script thinking, ‘Yo this is crazy I’ve never in my life seen a script like this.’ Leslie Odom Jr. described in an NPR interview about how he tanked all of his auditions, until one day leading up to all the stuff that he’s doing he just risked it, going in there as a character. So I said, you know what? I’m going to do this. I’m going to go in there dressed, looking like Damon doing everything that I need to do. Six hours later Ryan Murphy wanted to meet me, and we did a character interview. Then, four days later I got a call that they gave me the role and it’s just been a whirlwind since.

How do you get through the heavy scenes on set?

I’m a very spiritual individual, so I had to really meditate and take the time to go in and endow like a psychophysical gesture—something that I don’t have to go home and have on me. It’s very hard because my body has that sense of memory, even though it’s part of the acting craft, but my body doesn’t know that it’s not real. I had to do something immediately after we wrapped to just throw myself out of it, so I tell myself, ‘Okay Ryan, you took off the clothes, you took off Damon’s underwear, you took off all the things. You go home you make yourself some tea you listen to some music and just try and do it again.’ I allow myself grace and take myself out of the world because I knew that I would have to go in again tomorrow and share and bare. 

Who has given you a piece of advice that’s really stuck with you during your time on set? And what’s that piece of advice?

I would have to go to my papa bear Steven Canals. Being a queer artist, there were a bunch of avenues and channels that I had to exit out of to find some type of liberating spirit around myself. In the beginning, the episodes were weighing heavy on me. Canals sat me down and he told me, “You got it. You have everything that you need. What I need you to do is actually believe in you, like truly believe in you.” That shook me. He also told me to get a therapist, which I did. I learned to truly understand what it means to believe in yourself is life work. That’s self-awareness. That’s self mindfulness. That’s self-mastering.

On top of being an actor, you also are an activist and very vocal on social media. How do you take mental breaks for your own self-care? 

My mentor, Jonathan McCrory of National Black Theater, gave me this jewel of wisdom: You have to wake up every morning and do something for yourself because throughout the day you’re going to be giving so much to everybody else. I have to separate Ryan Jamaal Swain and Ryan. Like Ryan, that’s from Birmingham Alabama, eldest of four, lover of music, likes to spend time with friends, loves french fries. Ryan loves to be in the cinema by himself, loves crystals, enjoys meditating to the moon, and all the sage in the world. Those are the type of things that reintroduce me to myself and connect me back to self.

If you could give one piece of advice to a younger you, just another Black, queer child living in a rural town in the south, what would it be?

I see you, I love you, there’s no one like you. The world needs you. Don’t lose sight of that because to choose your truth over your safety is in itself a superpower that nobody has. Whatever your truth is it does not warrant your safety at all. You have tapped into what makes you ALL of you, you’re incredible, you’re unique beyond measure, you are powerful beyond comparison, and I can’t wait to see what you’re about to do. If you can’t find the voice, if you can’t hear it, continue to just live your truth. Because you doing that is raising your vibration for your dreams, your goals, and for that voice to meet you.

It is, of course, Pride Month. How are you celebrating Pride this year, and what does it mean to you?

Pride right now is looking like a cute virtual happy hour. The cast of “Pose” is doing a pose-a-thon, which is pretty dope. Overall, pride for me this year is all about education. It’s reading as much as possible and creating work that puts what is my legacy into the pot of what is Pride. Pride is sitting in your truth, sitting in your power, and I’ve also always recognized it as a form of rebellion.

What are your favorite skincare products?

If I had to pack up a bag it would definitely have Scotch Porter’s face scrub, Dr. Barbara Sturm, because Angela Bassett is the face of their Darker Skin Tones line, Beauty Counter’s radiant essence, Elemis’ veggie masks, Glow Recipe’s overnight mask, and face oil from Skin Glass.

What it’s like to be a double minority: a Black man and a part of the LGBTQIA Community

Black people have always been at the forefront of change in this country.

From voting rights to PRIDE to BLM, the Black community has always championed equality. While enacting change, they’ve also faced great odds stacked against them – being killed and discriminated because their skin color.

But for Black LGBTQ+ it’s even more difficult. Being a double minority means these folx are more susceptible to discrimination and challenges in life, including oftentimes being excluded from the Black community. One only need look at the senseless murders of Black trans people all across the world. 

Statistics show how dire it is for those who are Black and part of the LGBTQIA+ community. According to this LGBTQ+ BIPOC are more than twice as likely to experience some sort of discrimination than their white counterparts in their workplace. 

SEE ALSO: 11 Beauty products that are so gay they support the LGBTQ+ community

Black folx also are also 16-times more likely to be infected with HIV than white people, and have much higher risk of being exposed to COVID-19.

Even though there are many challenges, Black folx have always been ahead of the trends leading countless marches and creating various inventions that progress America and push it forward.

For Pride, Very Good Light caught up with various Black men in the LGBTQIA+ community from discussing the current climate of things to what brings them joy, these unapologetic Black men share their stories with us.

Xzavier Kristoff, Vice President

Headshot of Xzavier

Oftentimes I say that “To whom much is given, much is required.” As the only Black and openly gay senior executive hired into my company; I have championed and spearheaded several initiatives that fight for fair and equal rights for black people in corporate positions.

I acknowledge that I am Black before anything; however, my sexuality like most young black boys was a tumultuous experience and harsh realization. I am of the thought that being black and gay means that I must be highly educated, speak well, behave, and perform so excellently in life that whom I choose to love is just an after-thought. I wholly feel that it is incumbent upon me to change the narrative of what many people perceive they think a black gay man to be.

Frankly speaking, I have always felt isolated from the black gay community. Within the black gay community, I just always found it hard to make genuine friendships rooted in trust, loyalty, and reciprocity. The current state of the world is disheartening, uncertain yet hopeful. I am a huge proponent of mental health therapy and have been so for years. Aside from speaking with a therapist, I remain prayerful and cling to my faith.  

This year we will be celebrating the 50th year anniversary of Pride month. This year we too will be celebrating the 50th year anniversary of the March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King gave his infamous, “I Have a Dream” speech. 50 years later we are still fighting the same systemic racial and discriminatory injustices as my ancestors. We as a collective have made much progress; and this is our time to relish in the achievements of both the Civil Rights movement and the Gay Rights movement. In addition, to celebrate our wins we mustn’t forget all the work that we still must do as a collective to make this country better for all of us. As the world will never forget the contributions made by leaders of the Civil Rights movement. I can only hope that we can keep the legacy of Malcom Michaels Jr. a.k.a Marsha P. Johnson alive as well.

Damique Rose, Social Media Influencer

Posing photo of Meek

One thing I wish people knew about Black queer people is that we are not monolithic. To meet one of us- is not meeting all of us. As with any human. Being Black empowered me to embrace being different. Historically, being a shade darker than our white counterparts, was something to be ashamed of!  Now looking to the present, the world has adapted pieces of our culture as a way of living. The same could be said of the Queer community and our presence and contributions to the world. 

It hasn’t always been this way, when I was younger, I was forced to come out of the closet because an individual ‘bullied me into coming out’. Both my parents were not pleased with me coming out to them because they are from the Caribbean where homophobia is a norm. I am still trying to build a better relationship with my father but my mother accepts me for who I am now. 

Through it all, one thing about me that brings me joy is my confidence. It helps me get through a lot of tough times in my everyday life. If someone wants to be an ally they should be present, be themselves, and be okay with the unfamiliar. Fight to build a relationship with the person not just their sexual preferences. Passionately advocating for a friend makes the fight that much more valuable for you to contend for and alongside. 

When it comes to isolation: Isolation could potentially be viewed as an ambiguous term. Isolation, depending on the context, could be self- inflicted or community-driven. I believe the key to fighting past isolation should start simple and then expand. 

For example:

Expand Your Circle – be intentional on creating a group of people who become your community who force you to stretch your thinking! 

Break Bread Together – intentionality becomes intimate! Force yourself to enter into their world- and learn their framework 

Join groups that align with your interests. That isn’t just Queer driven. Bring your queer experience to the table – when needed. Every fight isn’t a Queer fight. learn the healthy balance of fighting injustices for all.

Jakobe Johnson, Social Media Influencer

Selfie of makeup guru Jakobey

I believe that being who you are and living your truth is one of the most important things ever! The first time I came out was freshman year to one of my best friends, and then to my mother two weeks later. With my friend, I feel like her response not only gave me the confidence I needed to be openly gay at school but gave me a sense of peace that no matter what, she would always be here for me. My mother didn’t blink twice, I knew nothing would ever change between us because to her I was still the same little boy that asked her to make me tuck me in at night. 

Being Black and Queer to me means that every day I’m fighting against not only the odds but for change. I want to be the change that my generation wants to see. I don’t feel isolated from the Black community whatsoever I just don’t feel like there is a connection. To be Black no matter what is hard and to be gay and Black is even more difficult and I think it should make us want to band together and fight racism and homophobia head-on but instead it poses a problem that disconnects the black community from the LGBTQ+ community. 

Things that allies could do is: eliminate hypermasculinity, educate yourself on our community, protect your brother, sister, or friend, but most of all make us feel comfortable! I wish people knew about all of the hate we experience, I feel like racism and homophobia are the two most prominent issues in the world today and for one gay Black person to have to endure and live through the hate all of their life is not okay. We just want equality, we want Black lives to matter and for pride to be more prevalent in our culture.

K3nnlife AKA the boy next door, Artist and Writer 

Selfie of makeup guru K3nn

Growing up, I don’t recall having a coming out story. My mom told me she knew and that was that. I think it was the Bratz. #TeamBratz My family embraced me with open arms which aren’t the case for a lot of people that are in my position. My family supported me for who I am and I couldn’t thank them more. They allowed me to continue to become the person I wanted to be instead of what society told me I should be.

If you ask me I have nothing but flaws, but I feel my creativity is what makes me proud to be me. Also, I like the way I think most of the time. I make myself laugh. Pride Month, to me, stands for hope. It means at least we’ve been seen. It’s not enough because there’s so much work that needs to be done, but it’s a start. 

I feel as if being Black is amazing and being part of the LGBTQIA community is just as amazing. I just wish those 2 sides could co-exist more in today’s society. I love who I am and I wouldn’t change it. My gayness somehow comes off to some Black people as a weakness. I wish that type of mentality was broken but unfortunately, it’s been passed down in the black community for years! ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER and anybody in the BLM movement that doesn’t believe in that really doesn’t believe in the words they are saying.

I wish people understood that we’re just people. We have wants and needs and we bleed just like everybody else. There’s no need to look at us like we’re going to ’steal your kids’. We want to exist just like everyone else.

Wsir Amen, Creative Director

Posing photo of Wsir

I came out the Spring of 2010 when I graduated high school. Memphis was not a very inviting place. It was not welcoming to northern relatively eloquent persons and especially not to gay ones. I spent most of my time in high school hiding behind beards. However my senior year I decided officially that I did not want to take “the fake” to the next stage of my life. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was on the phone with my mother headed to a hotel my “guy friend” at the time had rented and it was pouring down rain. I just told her. “Mom, I’m gay.” The line went dead with silence. “Call me later when you get home. “ my mom replied. 

My summer before college would be spent on a therapist couch because my Mom was convinced there was something afflicting me and my gayness was the result. It was intense, to say the least. However, what made the transition from that of angst and hurt was visiting Egypt in the Winter of  2010. My first time visiting the place where my parents met all those years ago. While in Egypt I became very ill I thought maybe I drank the wrong water, but as a medical professional, my mother was concerned. 

“You have tested Positive,” the doctor said. I saw my mother crumble. I tell people to this day I don’t think I ever cried for me I cried for her. That day I told my sisters and nephew because again I didn’t want to start this new chapter with lies. It was heavy, but a major piece in the armor the universe would help me to develop. The next months brought many new lessons. However, my immediate family held my hand and I was determined. I returned to school not 2 weeks after my world changed. My mom begged me to stay home,  but I was determined. That next semester I got a 4.0 at Morehouse compared to the 1.67 I got the semester prior. Weirdly, my diagnosis gave me something to live for. 

Being a double minority has meant a number of things. I would be lying if I told you it was not hard. However, my pan-Africanist upbringing allowed me to be broader in my thinking and know that the issue is not that my people are inherently prejudiced or homophobic, but rather know that it’s is the same as any other prejudice this society has trained and in bedded in us to tear us apart and subjugate us. It’s comparable to colorism, classism, sexism. This helps me to take it far less personally and recognize that it’s the societal systems that need the adjustment, and my people’s homophobia is a byproduct.

Pride month is an opportunity to voice and spread awareness about issues that affect our community. Often these conflicts and issues overlap. So I’d say pride nonetheless is a space and time where people of all races, shades, sexes, sexualities can find commonality. 

Arquez, CEO and Actor

Arquez posing for photo

Fortunately, I was raised in a home where I was allowed to be myself. I used to date females now I talk to dudes. I never had a coming out story one day my mom came over and my dude was there.  

To be a person of the LGBTQIA community has its ups and downs as it can be loving but also very judgmental. I myself at times even may unknowingly judge. I guess it’s because we are accustomed to being judged that we offer unwarranted improvements to each other. But at the same time, we understand that in the “straight world” we have at least 2 targets on our backs. One because I’m a Black male and two because of my sexual preferences. At the end of the day the community fights and fusses, but we come together to create some of the most amazing crafts, talents, moments, and experiences. 

The community is a creative space of undeniable talent and excellence and I’m personally proud to have the pleasure of meeting so many unique individuals. I personally don’t feel isolated from the Black community, but again I know it exists. I understand that there are a massive amount of issues globally that need addressing. However, I think at this moment we have to focus on the biggest issue which also includes some of the unfortunate people who have lost their lives to hate crimes and violence. 

Everyone in the gay community doesn’t act a certain type of way. Everyone isn’t masculine or feminine or like what you see on TV. We are just people who are attracted to something different from the “normal”. So I wish that all people knew just because someone identifies as something sexually it has absolutely nothing to do with anything else. 

Me personally like most in our community, we live out loud. So pride month is just a month for us to continue to come together and show the world we are here to stay and are having a great time doing it. 

Monroe Howard Shackelford, Life Coach & Media Personality 

Lifestyle coach Monroe

I am a product of a single-parent home, an only child born to a strong Black mother who unfortunately passed away from cancer when I was 21 years old.  My personal and professional passion is to facilitate opportunities for communities of color, specifically Black people, to gain exposure and access to spaces and key individuals that will support their individual pathways to success. Through my life coaching practice, I partner with individuals to identify barriers to embracing their authentic life and develop strategies to overcome them. 

My “coming out” experience has been perpetual and gradual in nature. I was raised in a Black Baptist church tradition and community with strong heteronormative ideals and it was ingrained in me that being gay was not favorable in the eyes of God. I was one of the fortunate ones because my mother never rejected me and continued her same intense level of love, compassion, and acceptance for her child that had always existed. It was not until the age of 36 when I relocated from CA to New York City that I for the first time entered both my personal, academic, and professional spaces, unafraid to explicitly identify myself as a gay man.   

I am in love with my ability to be vulnerable.  It is an attribute of my humanity that allows me to connect with people on a deeper level.  Over time embracing my vulnerability has resulted in a personal paradigm shift that views my vulnerable state as a place of power and not weakness. 

I am proud to be BLACK and I am proud to be GAY!  With that being said, I acknowledge the complexities of the intersection of those two salient identities.  

I recognize certain privileges that allow me to now show up as my full authentic self in these same spaces, such as my economic independence and my emancipation from toxic religious ideology.  It is my purpose to use this privilege to inspire others to live their truth, while also challenging those same traumatic environments for members of the LGBTQIA community to confront and eradicate their biases and hate.  As a young gay Black boy, I felt different and ostracized which led to more “performance” of masculinity.  In this current climate, I choose to use my platform to reinforce the importance of the inclusion of ALL representations of Black people in the conversation about lives that matter!  If Black Lives Matter, then ALL Black Lives Matter!

Jor’El, Singer & Actor

Jor'El posing

Imagine being outed by your best friend in high school. My best friend and I were super close, during our senior year, I was shocked to find out he was gay when he came out to everyone in our school. I remember feeling relieved. Finally, I felt like I had someone I could talk to about my struggle with my sexuality. When I first disclosed to him that I was curious about guys, he was very supportive and even encouraged me to go to a gay club with him a few times. However, that all changed very quickly when I found out that he was telling people that I was gay as well. 

Since we were from a small town in North Carolina, and I was pretty popular, it didn’t take long for rumors of me being gay to spread. It changed everything for me. Until I left home for college, everything had become awkward. In addition to that, my family and friends began to distance themselves from me. Being outed that way was one of the most painful experiences of my life. After some time, my family did eventually come to a place of understanding and acceptance, However, the experience made something very clear to me: No one should be forced out of the closet like I was, especially by someone they trust.

I think my charisma and my talent brings me the most joy. I love the way that I am able to connect with people because of that. It means everything to me to be a part of the Black and LGBTQIA community! I’m honored to be a part of two of the world’s most dynamic communities.​ ​Both communities are filled with incredibly talented and creative people.

We [Black LGBTQIA] are some of the most resilient people in this world. ​We are able to push through our oppression with such finesse and flair! Pride month is a time to stop and reflect on my journey to accepting and loving myself as a black gay man. Moreover, a time to reflect on the history and progress of the LGBT community. A figure that stands out to me is the visionary and prolific writer Joseph Beam. He once said, “​I am angry because of the treatment I am afforded as a Black man. That fiery anger is stoked with the fuels of contempt and despisal shown me by my community because I am gay. I cannot go home as I am.” Pride month allows me to stand witness to all the ways we have built our home. 

Nolan Tesis, Creative Director & Multidisciplinary Artist 

Nolan posing by Malcom Kaldhi

Since I am a part of the Black community and the LGBTQIA community, I am doubly privileged because both communities possess a rich history and heritage of brilliance and resilience. I really benefited from having strong mentors, particularly my gay father Michael Roberson, that instilled in me the importance of having a solid understanding of the history of our community and what it means to uphold such a legacy. One thing from Michael that has always stuck with me is when he said,“It is utterly important for us to be reflections over and against who we have been told we are and reflect back that that is not our truth!”

Inspiration and hope were the last things I expected to be feeling during a time of such political and social turmoil. However, the recent Black Trans Lives Matter rallies across the country changed everything for me! The fact that thousands of people marched nationwide for the black transgender community is monumental. I can vividly recall being at a Black Trans Lives Matter rally in Boston a few years ago and feeling disillusioned as the rally had almost no turnout. This progress has given me a sense of hope which has helped with allowing me to cope with everything that is going on right now.

When I think of what being black and queer means, the first word that comes to mind is a possibility. A possibility that allows people to exist outside the space heteronormativity imagines for them. I wish people had a more solid understanding of the many significant contributions the Black LGBTQIA community has had in shaping our current culture and society.

My understanding of pride is ever-changing. It is interesting to compare World Pride in New York City last year to pride month in 2020. I remember that amidst the sea of bright lights, what shone the most were the rainbow logos and the word pride etched on virtually every window or billboard. I looked at everything with such wonder and awe as I pumped through the streets hand in hand with my boyfriend. However, at that same moment, I began to feel a sense of dissonance. I noticed that holding my boyfriend’s hand was still causing so many reactions from people. While to some degree, we are used to the fact that we together will make people react; the reactions made me think that society is still not used to seeing two black men together. Even in New York City, during World Pride, with all of the Pride Advertisements, two black men holding hands is still something foreign to some.

Davi Stefond, model

Davi posing in front of Playboy images

For the longest time, I have not seen anyone who looked like me in the queer community who represented for ethnic queers, I am hoping to be a voice in the queer community and be someone people can relate it. 

I love being Black despite the downfall the world “tries” to give us, we age amazingly. Even though I am a queer man and an ally obviously to the LGBTQIA community. I’m not much of a label person. I am just my own alien visiting and leaving my mark before I leave this earth. What brings me joy, is seeing platforms given to ethnic queer people and those people using those platforms for the better. 

With what’s going on in the world people are becoming more and more aware of how LGBTQIA Black people are treated. So I think if someone wants to be an ally to our community, you sit you listen you ask questions and learn, educate yourself. That’s the only way. 

Being Black and queer to me means being Black, queer, and unapologetic, those words in itself say it all. How I cope with being a double minority, I just continue to stay confident, and stay off social media and distract myself in other ways that bring me happiness and joy. Pride to me means being your authentic self and unapologetic despite whatever obstacles come your way. 

Meet the 16-year old who got thousands home safely after protesting

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a spark in the Black Lives Matter movement.

The wrongful killing of George Floyd by police has resulted in protests organized in all 50 states and abroad in places like Berlin and Barcelona. Last week, with curfews in effect across the nation, protesters were met with higher rates of violence. During this time, many police agitated and arrested protesters as an attempt to suppress their voices. 

Though many are being tear-gassed and injured by the very people whose job it is to keep them safe, the compassionate American spirit continues on. This is true with protesters like Stefan Perez, a teenager from southwest Detroit who led thousands home safely after a peaceful protest. The 16-year old has since emerged as a powerful leader for the Black Lives Matter movement and even spoke to Detroit’s own mayor. 

SEE ALSO: Very Good Light stands with Black Lives Matter

But being vocal about social injustices isn’t new with Stefan. “My first few raps that I actually wrote around sixth grade were directed towards civil rights and activism,” he recalls to Very Good Light. “I used to write about how it’s unfair that we have to live like this. I talked about social injustices and systematic oppression we must endure on a day-to-day basis because of the color of our skin.” 

The high schooler didn’t plan on becoming a leader in the protests—it happened naturally. “I actually didn’t organize the protest. I just came and attended,” Stefan explains. “There was an organization that was there and I was with them at first, until I realized they wanted to keep people after curfew. This is not a problem, people protest when they want to protest, but I still wanted to make sure people got home.” 

Stefan took the moment to speak out to almost 2,000 protesters. “That was a very different type of adrenaline and I knew I had to get the people home safe because they were listening to me.”  

Stefan and friends at a protest

But it’s his devotion to his hometown that he cares for most. 

He recalls a time in life where he put himself in a predicament that led to housing insecurity. “I left the house and my mom moved out of state,” he says. “At first, I was with my grandma, but then I left and it was just me on my own.”

Stefan describes at this point living out in the streets. He was living with no money in his pocket, little to no food in his stomach, barely any clothes on his body, and couch surfing from place-to-place.  

While advocating for Black Americans, Stefan’s time living on the streets led him to also value helping out the homeless in his community. After protests, if there’s any food or water leftover, Stefan passes it out to the often-overlooked homeless population. “We do have [homeless] people that walk by and so we say, ‘Hey we’re giving out food and water. Take what you need, take what you want to sustain yourself.’ Right now, I’m fighting Black Lives Matter, social injustice, etc. and at the same time. I’m still trying to help fight the battle against homelessness and stuff like that. I’m just trying my best.”

Stefan has experienced many tragedies in his years but he knows he isn’t an isoloated case. He describes the power behind his strength to be through his brothers and sisters that have passed away. 

“I’ve lost many people through gang violence, car crashes, sickness, and jail,” he tells us. “I actually saw one of my close friends die in a drive-by shooting. They always told me that I was going to be something great all my life. But I saw me ending up like them, not being here and alive. I was going to be in a box either way, whether that was going to be a box in jail or a box in the ground.”

Stefan beat the odds that he never knew he would. “I never expected to hit 16, so the fact that I’m here made me question, ‘What does that mean?’” he says. “Every time I march—every time—I think of them, I just remember how they told me, ‘You got this.’ The death that affected me the most was my brother Reggie. He was supposed to be graduating so I’m going to walk across that stage for him. But who knew I would have walked across so many stages before I hit that graduation stage?”

Even though protesting is new to Stefan, he wants to continue doing it and working towards his future. “Besides school and music, I am also trying to support my friend’s real estate businesses. With the connections that I have now with the city, hopefully, I can get them grants and properties. This is, ironically, not just flipping houses, but flipping the community towards us. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted a peaceful protest—because I should be filled with rage, but you have to break down the system, not the buildings.” 

Finally, Stefan describes the future as being like a computer. “Everything needs to update eventually. Systems need to update, such as the police, Congress, and the government. We can achieve that if we put enough power. Even when I was given the platform and opportunity to discuss other things,  I still talked about the message. Because that’s the main focus of what we’re trying to get in there. So in five years, I hope to be alive. I hope to see the people that I’ve marched with and fought with and continuously done this stuff with alive also. I just hope that we can continuously build a future for ourselves.”

Change is coming – and Stefan proves it’s never too late (or early) to fight for it.

What it’s like to be a young Black activist in a country that forces you to grow up

Little Miss Flint collageWhen we imagine discrimination we often imagine adults, not children.

Fighting for civil rights can come in all shapes and forms—the #BlackLivesMatter initiative came to life after the wrongful killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.  When the senseless murder of Trayvon Martin occurred, the murderer, George Zimmerman, stated that he felt “threatened” and that Martin looked suspicious because he was wearing a black hoodie. While holding Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea in his hands, this young Black man was fatally shot.

Zimmerman fired his gun based on a prejudice and racist mindset that American society feeds off of. Historically, our country has dehumanized Black people. This, including children, a term called “adultification bias.” Adultification bias is described as a form of racial prejudice against minors from PoC backgrounds who are treated as more mature than they actually are by a reasonable standard of development. 

This means that the minor will oftentimes find themselves under conflict more so than not. A look at the Tamir Rice case, for example, proves this to be true. Tamir was only 12-years old and shot on sight by a police officer twice his age because he had a toy gun in his hands.

Adultification leads to a world of turmoil for Black children. While young White children are often disciplined with special considerations for age, Black children are not. According to a finding, Black children are perceived to be nearly five-times older than they are. They are 18-times more likely to be tried as an adult in court, and Black children make up 58% of children that are incarcerated in adult facilities. 

The law is designed to treat all people as equal, but the systemic racism that operates within the current bounds of the law leads to a Black child walking into a courtroom that immediately discriminates based on the color of their skin. Because of adultification discrimination, America has forced these young kids into fight or flight mode. It’s also created a new generation of young Black activists. One such person is Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny, aka Little Miss Flint, who’s become a powerful advocate for clean water and continues to use it in the current #BlackLivesMatter movement.

“The first time I used my voice to fight for human rights, I was 8 years old, marching for clean water in my hometown Flint, Michigan,” Mari tells Very Good Light

In an effort to cut costs in 2014, Flint switched its water source to the Flint River. Due to poor treatment and a lack of testing, the water caused many health issues, ranging from skin rashes to hair loss. As Flint’s citizen’s cried out to government officials, the topic was wrongfully overlooked.

As a result, Mari took to social media to raise awareness of the water crisis going on in her hometown. At the young age of 12, through activism, she is aware of the discrimination that falls upon her race. “Being a Black female activist I have found that I have to work a hundred times harder than some of my white counterparts to earn even a fraction of the attention that they get.”

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission stated that the lack of response from the government was a “result of systematic racism,” as 57% of Flint residents are Black and 41% of residents live under the federal poverty level. A town that many were not previously familiar with quickly began to make national news, and President Obama even flew to the State to address the issue, and met with Mari himself.

Through fundraising, Mari was able to share 1 million bottles of water with her city and now works with the Hydroviv-water filtration company for a more sustainable approach. As a seasoned activist, she highlights the importance of mental health during a time where America is marching nationwide. 

Little Miss Flint showcashing her water filternationIf you need to take a day off to make sure you are taking care of yourself, please do. You can’t go out to fight for justice if you are running on fumes,” she says. “I love to vibe out to music and watch anime. I also love to draw and skateboard. I have to make sure I balance myself, or else I get drained both physically and emotionally.”

While she has spent the last few years lifting up her community, she looks to her own future as well with great hope. “In five years,  I will be getting ready for my senior year of high school, applying to schools, and deciding what I want to focus on in college. I hope the world will be at a point where when Black people’s names become a hashtag, it is because they are doing something amazing, and not for being killed by the police. Lastly, I would hope that Flint finally has clean water.” 

At just 12 years old, Mari continues to be a voice for human rights. Her Instagram showcases her efforts daily, and activism runs in her family, as she just recently posted a video of her little sister leading a chant during a protest. 

While trying to understand the Black American experience from a youth’s perspective, she had one impactful thing to say: “It’s not easy,” she starts, “People can be cruel, and you have to work hard to be able to succeed, but being a Black girl in America I am magical.” 

Generation Z Asian American activists are loud, proud and ready to fight

May is officially Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, celebrating the journey of Asian Pacific Americans, what they’ve accomplished, and what’s to come. For an entire week, Very Good Light is kicking off a series of Asian American stories, highlighting the future of Asian America. From Generation Z activists, healthcare workers on the front lines, music artists, and more, we’re uplifting Asian stories. We’ve partnered this week with Hate Is A Virus, a grassroots campaign that aims to raise $1 million to businesses affected by COVID-19. Together, we hope to spark conversations, change, and community. After all, the Asian American experience is the American experience. We’re in this together. For more on Hate Is A Virus, go here. 

Generation Z asian american activists

They’re fierce, they’re loud, they’re Gen Z.

In 2020 Asian Americans have become the fastest-growing population in the US. Which means the power is in the hands of Generation Z. After all, they’re the future of politics and will become a major segment of eligible voters. The Asian American population has seen immense growth in the past two decades, growing 139%, larger than any other major racial and ethnic group. 

Politics aside, Asian Americans are the undeniable trendsetters in America. A Nielsen study found that Asian Americans are the firsts to adopt devices and digital trends. Which means yes, TikTok, a Chinese company, was used by Asian American en masse, first – then adopted for Americans later. With a collective $986 billion in buying power, this demographic is only quickly growing. 

All that being said, it’s clear that Asian Americans are more relevant than they’ve ever been. But as we’re seeing Asian Americans rise in power, we must reflect on their collective pain. Sadly, we’re seeing a spike in hate crimes towards Asian American communities, one where there are up to 1700 reported each day. Though lamentable, it’s nothing new. Asian Americans have always, always faced pushback. This, starting with Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was the first immigration law recorded that excluded an entire ethnic group. 

SEE ALSO: Being Asian American means that you’re always enraged

Three years later, many Japanese, Korean, and Indians began to arrive in America. The act of categorizing India as a “Pacific-Barred Zone” country is described as “Hindu Invasion,” one that made it near-impossible for Indians to immigrate with white Americans fearful they were taking over. 

In 1924, all Asian immigrants excluding Filipino ‘nationals’ were denied citizenship; naturalizations and were banned from owning land and marrying a white person. Asian Americans were seen as, “threatening, exotic, and degenerate.” During World War II, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese Internment Camps were built primarily on the West Coast separating hundreds of thousands of families. Leaving a lasting impression that has affected the Japanese community to this day.

But thanks to the Civil Rights movements led by black Americans in 1965, there was a lift on bans and 20,000 immigrants from each country would be allowed in on an annual quota. This was the first time that Asians were able to come to America as families. 

Like other PoCs Asian Americans’ strides and monumental efforts and triumphs in building this country into what it is today have been foreshadowed in History by their white counterparts. There’s also been erasure and invisibility when it comes to Asian American stories. Simply put: Americans have benefitted from Asian Americans’ contributions to this country and were built from the labor of all people of color. 

With that being said, we’re seeing that generations later, Asian Americans are thriving. Through their collective pain, the new generation of Asian Americans is making strides to challenge the current narrative. 

They’re loud, proud, unabashedly Asian American, and going nowhere. Here they are, in their own words…

Abe Kim, 22, California, Student, Actor & Model

Abe Yoon for Very Good Light Article

Being an Asian American is living in various states across the country I’m still asked, “Where are you really from?” I feel like all the tribulations that I have faced solely from living the Asian American experience have challenged me to speak up for myself by doing what makes me happy. 

Growing up in a predominantly white community, it didn’t take a lot for me to realize that I was a bit different from everyone else. It was as if my race was an open topic for discussion for everyone who noticed my presence, but when I stood up for myself, I was “too sensitive.” The worst experience was in high school when I finally entered the dating scene. That was the first time people would reject me solely because of my ethnicity. As a result, I started blaming and hating myself for being something that some people didn’t like. 

With the rise of xenophobia in the current climate, I’ve experienced discrimination yet again. Before quarantine was put into place, I called a car through a ride-sharing app for a casting call, but once I got in the driver refused. He told me he felt “uncomfortable” to drive me. I tried to ask him why, but I knew with what was going on and the way he looked at me that it was because I was Asian. It was horrible and I felt shaken. Aside from my casting not going as well as I had wanted, I came home feeling like I had done something wrong; reminiscent of the feelings I had back in high school. 

As a Korean American who can’t speak Korean fluently, I feel like I struggle with both identities all the time. But beyond not being able to have a full conversation with my grandparents, I have had a weird experience with not being “Asian enough” in America. I wanted to have Asian friends who understood my experience, but it was often rare for me to find anyone who sought refuge in their ethnic community after experiencing their own internalized-racism. Even though I sometimes feel like an outsider, that does not account for how welcoming other AA’s have been whenever I felt lost. Seeing other Asians being vocal about their beliefs online is a form of representation, promoting our identity that is often undervalued.

Like many other starry-eyed people who live in LA, I love acting as it’s my passion. Going to castings is very interesting. As you would have guessed, I don’t see many Asians. Some may say this is to my advantage, even so, it has been hard to land a job from modeling. The deciding factor may not be because of my race, but the feeling of possibly being the token Asian to fill a quota at castings is very real.  

I am so grateful for those in the entertainment industry who have made time in their schedule to connect with me. This past fall, I had the incredible experience to intern at Saturday Night Live, which also happened to be the first season Bowen Yang appeared on the cast. Even though I was an intern, he was always open to answering any questions I had about his career and gave advice about my own. I am so grateful to have made such a genuine connection that I believe wouldn’t be the same had we not been Asian-American. 

I think it will take more than one generation to change the bias against Asians. I’m glad Gen Z has used the internet in such a revolutionary way where we are finally being taken seriously. In the future, I hope one day to not think twice about seeing an Asian on a show or movie. I hope more Asian Americans would challenge their community once it comes to its anti-Blackness. Although our experiences as AA are valid, I do not think we need to tear down another community to have our voices be heard; especially a community that has fought so hard for the rights of other people of color. 

Pooja Mehta, 24, New York, Master’s Student  & Founder of I Define Me

Pooja Mehta for Very Good Light Article My Asian identity really came into play when I was diagnosed with a mental illness. The South Asian community is generally not accepting of mental health issues, and I was so scared of the response that I suffered in silence for two years. When my parents found out, they were so helpful and supportive, but even then I was told to keep my diagnoses a secret from my community. When I started speaking out about my diagnosis, I knew I was excluding myself from the community, and making myself the odd one out. But it has been worth it.

As an Asian American, you get the best of two incredibly rich cultures. I grew up taking both ballet and Bharatanatyam classes, eating both pizza and pakora, and listening to AR Rhaman and Adele. Sometimes, I do find myself struggling with both identities Asian and American – to me, I see the hyphen between Asian-American as a seesaw, and you’re trying to get it to sit just right. Every time I am with South Asians, I feel like I’m too American. Every time I’m with Non-Asians, I feel like I’m too Asian. But lately, I have been more comfortable in that in-between space–recognizing that there is something unique and complex in my identity and that is something to be celebrated.

I distinctly remember when I was in first grade, my mom had made my favorite lunch–okra sabji and roti. One of my friends and I sat down for lunch, and when I took my food out, she started screaming about how gross my food was and how much it smelled. I was so embarrassed that I threw the food that my mom had spent so long making away.

Project: I Define Me is a project I founded that aims to reduce the stigma around mental illness by showing the person behind the disorder. People with mental illnesses are, first and foremost, people, and I aim to demonstrate that through storytelling. I was inspired to start this because so many times I would tell people that I have a mental illness and suddenly that’s all they would think of when they thought of me. I wanted to create a platform that allowed me and others to define themselves outside of our diagnoses. 

Once I started my journey as a mental health advocate, I realized that the value of my voice was the fact that I came from a South Asian background. I talked about how my identity shapes me, my celebrations and doubts about it, and how that influenced my mental illnesses and my recovery journey. When I started speaking out, someone reached out to me and told me that by sharing my experiences, they didn’t feel so alone and were inspired to get help. That is when I discovered how important and valuable the work that I do is.

Being a child of immigrants, trying to balance these two defining aspects of my identity, and living with mental illnesses puts me in a space where my experiences are needed in the world. I promote the beautiful parts of my culture, speak out about the flaws in my culture, and work to make sure that the Asian American Identity, as it relates to mental illness, is one that is receptive and positive. I hope for a future of celebration for our identities and our cultures within the Asian American community. I hope for a future where we can be unapologetically ourselves, without the shackles of stereotypes. And I hope for a future of wellness, where trauma doesn’t get passed down through generations and where we can all thrive together.

Fynest China, 21, Hawaii, Digital Content Creator

Fynest China for Very Good Light Article The first time I went back to the Philippines, I was really able to reconnect with my cultural identity. The entire trip helped me reconnect with my childhood memories and I was also able to see how I used to live my life back then. When I moved to Hawaii as a child, it was never a challenge for me to balance my identities, because I still connect with my culture whenever I’m home by speaking Tagalog and eating Filipino dishes that my mom cooks. Growing up in Hawaii I was exposed to various cultures because it is a melting pot with a variety of different ethnicities and cultures. On the island, we have a variety of food places to eat, whether it’s Korean food, Chinese food, Filipino food, etc. A lot of people also speak different languages and are very open to diversity.

That doesn’t mean that growing up, I didn’t face challenges. In middle school, I went through a time where I was getting rid of my Filipino accent in order to try and fit in with the other kids. I got rid of my accent because I didn’t want to be made fun of by other kids. As a result, kids were nicer and less harsh to me when I got rid of it. Now, I wouldn’t care at all if I had an accent. Today, I’ve grown from these challenges. It is a process but I have been feeling confident and really working on accepting myself.

A way that I do that is by sharing a lot Filipino-related videos on my social media and I believe it’s a huge way to really promote my culture. I’m doing all of it for fun and to make people happy. Every time I meet or run into someone who knows me, I always cherish it and feel special from it. 

Being an Asian American, I have a broader perspective and understanding of both sides. Having the knowledge to speak both languages is an advantage. Since I live here in the US, it is easier for me to communicate, and still be fluent in speaking my maiden tongue when I go home in the Philippines. I hope for other Asian Americans to not forget their culture.

Holding onto your culture/identity defines who you really are and you can’t really take that away from yourself no matter how much you try to do so. The connection will always be in you. No matter how insecure and emotional I may get, at the end of the day, I still know who I am. And that person is unstoppable.

Eugene Kim, 23, New York, Ad Sales Programmer at Forbes

Eugene Kim for Very Good Light Article When I lived in Alabama I experienced discrimination here and there, maybe some side comments etc. And now, for the first time in my life, I felt weird knowing that whenever I stepped in public, somebody I don’t even know might be out there with malicious intent towards me. I’ve experienced glares from strangers walking down the street and it only got worse when I wore a mask to protect myself. To me, being Asian American means having a deep personal understanding of where you and your family members are from while being able to see the bigger picture of what we call “Culture” within the United States. 

I feel like I struggle with my ethnic identity every day but the biggest moment of realization came to me when I first moved from Hawaii to NYC because Hawaii’s demographic is predominantly Asian. When I moved to NYC, I was put into a world where I was now categorized as a minority. On top of that, I was someone who wasn’t the best at speaking his native language either, so for a while, I felt as if I didn’t truly belong anywhere. I realized that the discovery of “self-worth” is a lifelong journey that requires constant tweaking and improvements.

As I grow older, I’ve come to realize there are certain things you can and cannot change about yourself. To promote my own identity in society, I try my best to network and support my friends who are deep within this community and to those who are making a difference. One initiative I have recently been a part of is We Power NYC. I was a part of their campaign in encouraging young voters to take action and make their voices are heard in the New York primary election. We Power NYC is a group that consists of the next generation of change-makers. Not only should we be exercising our rights to vote but these actions are what’s needed to bring positive changes to our country. Without action, thing’s stayed the same and we’re in a time where we need to be constantly improving. 

In five years, I hope I’m doing some amazing things in fields I have a passion for. You’ll never know what your future is gonna be like but I do know that I don’t ever want my life to feel boring and stagnant. I want to be constantly growing, learning, and trying new experiences as those characteristics are what excites me in life. I currently work at Forbes within their ad sales and programmatic team and also am an avid martial arts fanatic who looks for every opportunity to train and enjoy the beauty of it. In 5-years maybe I’ll have a house or 7, who knows? I also hope to see more of us shown through mainstream media in a better light as I believe it is one of the catalysts that will bring all of us forward and help inspire the upcoming generations of Asian Americans to do more. 

Lisa Phan, 19, Maryland, Digital Content Creator

Lisa Phan for Very Good Light Article In Kindergarten, kids would mock and say insulting terms, then stretch their eyes to make it look like my own. Realizing that I was different for the first time made me feel left out in a way as a 5-year-old. It wasn’t until I was around 14 when I started to make short videos on my iPad and watching more YouTube had I discovered Asians could be seen as “cool” too. From that point forward I was prouder than ever to be Asian American. I started using my platform to share my favorite home-cooked meals on Instagram, used my favorite songs in my videos, and proudly accepted myself. 

Growing up, people around me dismissed my hard work and dedication to honor societies and my YouTube channel and used my heritage as a sole reason for some of my success due to societal stereotypes. One other case of racism is one I vividly remember from the dentist’s office. I was waiting for my younger sister to finish her appointment and these women in the waiting room were just going on and on about how we had to “go back to our country” and learn the American way. I didn’t respond because I was scared. Because racism towards Asians was so normalized, I couldn’t stand up for myself. If I did, people would say that I’m being too sensitive. 

I am so proud of my vibrant Vietnamese culture and traditions and I am extremely grateful for my parents’ sacrifices as immigrants to give me life in America. Being Asian American somewhat defines the foundation of my upbringing and the morals I follow on a daily basis. Vietnamese tradition has helped me mold what I value in life and the American culture I am a part of has shaped my open mind and given me great opportunities. Asian Americans of my generation can probably attest to the fact that we hold our heritage and nationality close to our hearts and identities. Many of us grew up confused as to which society we fit in most. By blood, we are Asian, but our mindsets may match up more with the Western world.

I just want to present myself as a role model I wish I had as a little girl, or at least someone else rather than Mulan. I try my best to create in the most positive light and also share my struggles to relate to fellow Asian Americans. I want others in my community to feel supported and open to sharing their experiences. The best part of being Asian American is just having the opportunity to be part of such a diverse and inspiring community is incredible. I got to learn two languages as a baby, I enjoy a bit of the motherland at home, and then once I step outside, I’m able to take advantage of the opportunities in America. 

Rosie Ainley, 22, Illinois, Filmmaker & Activist

Rosie Ainley for for Very Good Light Article I always knew I was different, I guess. Growing up on the south side suburbs of Chicago, the only other Asians we saw were at the Chinese restaurant down the street. All of our family live on opposite sides of the country or the world. My sister and I were pretty much the only Asians at our schools. On top of my family being Asian, both of my parents are deaf and my family communicates via American Sign Language, so eyes followed us wherever we went. Everything about my identity was confronted constantly. 

Joining an AAPI organization at University was the absolute best move for my cultural identity. I was on the executive board of the AAPI organization there, so defining what being Asian American meant to me was something I was confronted with daily. Being able to find an actual community where people not only accepted my identity but shared the struggle within it transformed my life. It didn’t feel like my voice was falling on unwilling ears. They wanted to hear me. They understood me. They were willing to fight for my ability to just be. To me, I think being Asian American means being enriched by a distant culture most of us hardly know. But we suffer for it, and we fight for it. We carry pride in our hearts and the weight of our families’ suffering on our backs. The discipline is grounding but lifts us up to success our ancestors could only dream of.

In elementary school, I had my “lunch box” moment. I remember that it got so bad, I refused to open my lunch or even throw it away at school. I just starved myself and sat there with a closed bag while everyone else ate. I tried to hide it in the trash at home, but my parents found it and sat me down to talk about it. Maybe that’s a time I had a partial reckoning of my identity.

I’ve seen and gotten a couple of comments on social media, with the whole “Asians will eat anything” and “They should go back to their own country.” At this point in my life, I’ve gotten tired of trying to argue with those brick walls who are mostly trying to gaslight. So I let them roll off my back. When everything first started, though, and we began to see the first hate crimes and attacks in the news, I was scared. My mom was still leaving the house pretty frequently and by herself. So to imagine your mom – a middle-aged deaf Asian woman with a mask on while most people still refused one – out alone is anxiety-inducing.

When I was younger we went to family friends’ parties, where everyone spoke Tagalog and saw each other more than once a year, and all I knew was how to say “Lola” (grandma). My dad was adopted by a white family, too, so we never were that connected to our Korean side. I’ve tried learning some more words and phrases of both languages with the help of friends, but being back home again where there’s nowhere to practice is hard. It’s called “the in-between.” The struggle between wanting to know more but feeling like you’ll never know enough. The struggle between assimilating and rejecting American culture. It’s what’s made “Asian American” so hard to define.

My Asian-American identity has become a large influence on my work and will continue to be for the rest of my life. The desire to create and your culture. They’re not things you can put on a shelf. They demand your attention. I hope that Asian Americans find our balance. We’re here to stay and realize that our chance to form a strong community that can fight for ourselves and others is not something we should be taken lightly. There’s a lot of room for hope of the future. The representation in the media has already shown us a great deal of progressive change in the past couple of years. Asian America still has an incredibly long way to go, but the grassroots are growing, and we’re closer than ever to break through the bamboo ceiling. 

Chloe Long, 22, Colorado, Grad Research Student 

Chloe Long for Very Good Light Being Asian American means I have both the opportunity and the responsibility of choosing between two conflicting cultures. I grew up in a Chinese/Vietnamese household. But my peers and my school friends are American. Being Asian American means that, for my whole life, I have been faced with two conflicting sets of expectations. I, along with many many other first-gen AAs, have had to learn for myself to choose which parts of which cultures to embody and which to set aside.

Having a foot in both worlds is great in many ways – I am exposed to different cultures and people. But there also comes the constant feeling of being the ‘other’ – never fully fitting in with a cultural group. It is frustrating. But it helps to have communities of other AAs, it makes me feel like I am really around people like me.

In undergrad, when I was Miss Vietnam for a beauty pageant I wanted to write a performative piece about unfair beauty standards that AA womxn are subject to. In doing so, I realized that my struggle with identity came from being held up to standards I could never feasibly meet from my parents and my peers. Performing that pageant piece was a turning point for me in embracing my identity. Being able to speak up about this struggle, and having people come to me after telling me how it resonated with them – that is when I really became proud of being AA and being able to speak up about these things. 

The first segment of the piece talks about pressure from parents, the second segment speaks about American peer pressure. The third segment is about how the pressure from American culture along with the pressure from the Asian culture is contradictory and it’s impossible to meet both of these. No matter what, you can’t fully satisfy both. The final segment is about how, rather than feeling like you are constantly failing to meet expectations, it is our responsibility as AAs to reshape our experience by being true to ourselves. And since this was for a beauty pageant, I tied this back to the beauty and said that true beauty really is about being yourself. As I continue with that, I have written several rap-esque pieces on my experience as an AA in order to promote my identity.

I hope that we, as Asian Americans can work to establish more of a presence in media – movies, music, arts. It’s very important for America to see AA multi-dimensionality, instead of painting us as one-dimensional background characters. I’d like to see AAs portrayed as everything– we need ABGs, we need nerds, we need artsy AAs, we need gamer AAs… we need visibility for all personality types. I want the media to move away from using “Asian” as a character description, as a role in itself. We need multifaceted representation so that we can move away from America’s long history of dehumanizing Asian culture, and instead, recognize and internalize that we are American people and we are here to stay. 

Dustin VuOng, 17, California, Influencer

Dustin VuOng for Very Good LightIf I could put it into just a few words, being Asian American to me is all about unity, connection, and uniqueness. As Asian Americans, we are all so different culturally and physically. Yet somehow there’s this sense of unity and connection within our community. There are always those things we could relate to each other with whether that be from our collective obsession over boba, to having strict parents or simply just not allowing shoes in the house. In the past, I’ve noticed a lot of Asians hated themselves for their race, but now people are starting to be proud of it and are identifying as being Asian American which makes me really happy.

I had to truly reckon with my identity starting middle school and high school aka the past few years and now. With me being on social media and rarely ever seeing people that look like me, it really affected my confidence and how I see myself. I used to wish I was white so bad, so I could look conventionally attractive according to eurocentric beauty standards that we’ve been brainwashed with. I am grateful to say I never really experienced too much racism growing up,I think I experienced more racism when I was older and now. Even now, I have definitely experienced some racism post-corona.

It has been a gradual transition in embracing myself and I’m still going through it. I think this past year or two is when I started discovering my self-worth. I realized how much I was just hating and putting myself down, so I started practicing self-love. I stopped with all that negativity that I was literally bringing upon myself. I was my own worst critic and hater. I started believing in my abilities and talent, my own beauty, and just myself as a human being. It’s still an on-going journey, but I’ve made some strides since then.

I practice my own Asian American advocacy and promote my identity through the content I share with my following. I talk about being Asian and my views sometimes through my videos and content. Recently for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I made a video called “Let’s talk about growing up Asian American” where I talked about my childhood growing up in America, my struggles, and addressed multiple controversial topics such as Asian representation in media, beauty standards, racist trends, and more

An obstacle I’ve faced is having to work way harder than any other person just because of my race and how I look. I noticed that being an Asian-American / POC that we don’t have it easy. Social media favors white people or people with eurocentric features. So not only does an Asian-American have to be “conventionally attractive”, but we also have to have talent, have a great personality, or just have that extra something “special” about us to make it in the industry. 

There are so many things I hope for that I know are going to take a lot of time and work to progress. First I hope that there is no discrimination or racism towards Asians and all other POC. I hope that there is more Asian representation in the media and that it becomes normalized. Especially within the music industry because I’ve noticed there is an extreme lack of Asian American music artists. Lastly, I hope that the beauty standards change to where Asians can look at themselves in the mirror and genuinely love what they see because everyone is truly beautiful no matter what society is telling you. 

Erin Kong, 22, Arizona, Interdisciplinary Artist

Erin Kong for Very Good LightAs a second-generation Korean in America, I have lapses in Korean language and culture due to assimilation. I was very insecure when I was younger about my Korean-ness – not to the fault of anyone, but my own self-doubt. There was so much I felt I didn’t know, and didn’t know where to start. I intentionally sought out creating relationships with other Korean people and learned how to read and write hangul. Then, I began studying Korean history. Once I did all of that, I no longer aligned myself with the identity “American.” It did not matter if America “accepted me,” because I did not want to identify with a state that committed genocide against Indigenous persons, enslaved West Africans, and decimated countries (including my own) all over the world. 

I am still discovering my self-worth every day. A big part of that journey was recovering from sexual and domestic violence, and the support I received from loved ones. During my healing process, my friends were feeding me, affirming me, and loving me. Once I had the vocabulary to pinpoint reasons why things were happening, I felt empowered enough to try to love myself. I experienced many interpersonal acts of racism in life: slurs, infantilization, hypersexualization, fetishization, etc. etc. However, when examining racism and how it has operated, and continues to operate, in my life, I try to think of how it conducts itself systemically. 

As a survivor of sexual violence, I think about how my body is gendered and racialized so that violence against those who look like me is normalized and enabled by the state through histories of war and violence against Asian countries (and therefore, Asian people). These wars are enabled by propaganda that dehumanizes Yellow bodies, which then, in turn, informs how I am treated in the imperial core. From a very young age, although I did not have the proper vocabulary, I was aware that these interpersonal acts of racism were flags that pointed to larger systemic issues and acts of violence against Yellow people like myself, and colonized people around the world.

There are multiple parts to my identity–gender identity, sexuality, cultural identity, etc. I’m always unpacking all the different moving parts and trying to figure out exactly how much I’ve internalized, and how to work through them. It is something that is continuously occurring. Some days I love myself more than others, but I am always putting in an intentional effort to accept myself. What really helped was finding a Korean online community, particularly made up of other LGBTQ+ diasporic folks, and feeling so less alone.

I also grew up predominantly on occupied Akimel O’odham and Hohokam land. What does it mean to be both a victim of imperialism and someone currently occupying stolen land? I think this is a question all diasporic Asians should ask themselves, and then move accordingly. For example, donating to mutual aid that assists Navajo people, who are being disproportionately affected in Arizona by COVID-19.

A question one of my friends posed to me was, “Who are you accountable to? Who are we accountable to? The people I am accountable to include Black, Indigenous, Brown, Yellow folks. I am accountable to other members of the LBGTQI+ community. I am accountable to those I love, and those I don’t know but must have a love for. I try to learn and listen as much as I can, so I can bring others’ voices in the room even if they are not physically present.

My chosen family has been incredibly supportive. Specifically, I think of all the Black, Brown, and Yellow women and nonbinary people who have loved me since Day One and hold me accountable, allowing me space to grow and change and learn and heal. 

Van Sinsuan, 20, California, Student & Activist

Van Sinsuan for Very Good LightIt’s difficult for me to identify as solely an Asian American because I feel like the term is too broad to encapsulate the varying experiences that different Asian ethnic groups face. However, if I were to define what being Asian American means to me, I’d say that it means being the bridge between generations and culture, which to me is the best part.

The first time I became aware that my racial identity would be a defining factor in how I was treated as a person would be when I moved to America for the first time. I grew up in a predominantly white and Latinx neighborhood and was one out of the four Asians in my school. 

Even at an early age, I experienced discrimination from my peers and was stereotyped to align with the model minority myth.

Coronavirus has only highlighted and accentuated previous experiences of racism and discrimination that I have experienced. I have experienced a much more significant amount of microaggressions and racial stereotyping than I have ever experienced before. 

I constantly feel a disconnect within Asian American culture because I was raised in the Philippines for longer, but my status as an American citizen has set me apart from the people in my community in the Philippines as well. I still struggle with identifying my self-worth, but I acknowledge that I have grown tremendously from my past. The most empowered I felt was when I started transitioning and taking hormone therapy. This year has been the most comfortable I felt with my own body and skin. After experiencing a disconnect with my culture as a Filipino American during my teenage years, I also learned to fully embrace my identity and my culture when I went to college. College gave me an opportunity to experience safe spaces for other Filipino Americans as well as expand on my knowledge for my own history and identity.

I am part of many Filipino American organizations on campus that help Filipino students navigate their way into understanding more about their identity and culture. I am also part of Anakbayan, which is a Filipino youth-powered activist organization that fights for human rights and the national democratic movement. In my personal life, the love that my family and closest friends have given me is what has pushed me to be the person that I could be today. In five years, I hope to find myself finished with film schools and starting my own work as a filmmaker.

As Gen Z, I have seen that we have more resources and knowledge of decolonizing our minds and that we are more accepting of change than our previous generations. I want Asian America to be able to self criticize and reflect on racism, especially anti-blackness, within our own community and find ways to decolonize internalized racism. We still have more work to do, but I am proud of the progress we’ve made in reconnecting with our roots and our culture.

Pranjal Jain, 18, New York, Activist & Founder of Global Girlhood

Pranjal JainI came to America when I was 6-months old and was undocumented for the first seven years of my life. I didn’t have a passport, yet I still had a lot of Indian culture in my life. When I did go back to India I was able to see amazing cultural aspects, whether it be our food or how our culture goes back so many years and it’s remained unchanged and authentic to what it was in the beginning. I think that because of that background in this hyphenated identity being Asian American has really changed for me and it continually changes especially as I grow in age. 

Global Girlhood is an organization that is revolutionizing representation by leveraging social media to share everyday women’s stories of empowerment from all over the world. I think it’s so rooted in my own story as a former undocumented immigrant because growing up, I would never see women that were doing the work that I wanted to do in my life or even represented in media. That is why I do what I do at Global Girlhood and I’m also the Associate Director of Gen Z Girl Gang, an organization that is redefining sisterhood for our generation. We’re invested in creating communities of women that are up to date with each other, invest in each other’s success, and understand the power that we collectively hold when we are collaborating and not competing. 

I practice my Asian American advocacy by first, starting at home. WhenI was younger I’d get a lot of “You need to look how to cook or else you won’t get married,” and they would tie my worth with how “marriageable” I was. Over the years I worked to distimitaize this by saying things like, “Oh, I don’t need to learn how to cook because I’m going to be working and I’m going to be so successful that I’m going to hire someone to cook for me,” in joking coequal ideas that they would understand too. But I have seen myself truly breakdown these misogynistic ideas that my parents and their parents held and I’ve seen myself make space for myself. It’s hard and it takes a lot of time but I think that if you can do it to your family, not only do you change your own life and the lives of the people in your community, I think you gain a lot of courage. Standing up to your family truly seeing that change manifest gives you that power and experience needed to do that in the real world.

I walk into rooms with so much more depth and understanding of how the world works on the other half because I am Asian American. I understand what growing countries may look like. I also understand the importance of ideas and traditions and why tradition untouched is so revered and has so much sanctity to it and balancing ideas. Being fluent in Hindi and being able to read and write it also exposed me to a whole different set of ideas that had given me the opportunity to consume things with an Eastern lens because so much of Western media, and books are influenced by colonized ideas 

My favorite and most rewarding thing about being a leader in space is getting the chance to cultivate other leaders’. Global Girlhood is like my love letter to the world, truly combining all the best things in my life at this point in efforts to pass it on to other young girls and women. So many times when you scroll through social media there are ideas about what set empowerment looks like, what power looks like, what success looks like, etc. and Global Girlhood tries to break down those barriers so that someone all the way in Japan would be connected with someone in California. The more we can do that I believe, the more we create a justice society, because I think stories have the power to expand our capacity for understanding and revolutionize the way we tackle problems and ideas.

I have been limiting my consumption of media to only WOC authors or things that are written about POC. I really see myself reflected in those pieces and just in general with other Asian identities. ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ for example, having such a beautifully made movie and something that is so consumed by mainstream culture I think automatically adds to us. A really good way to see more of these identities is to limit our consumption because people are only going to make what other people are watching. The more things that you watch that are written in diversity the more initiative producers have to make things like that.

Cannabis might be trending now. But for many black and brown Americans, a painful past.

visual of hand with hemp plant and handcuffsWelcome to one of many industries built on the backs of minorities.

Two years ago, a bill passed allowing for legalization of CBD across all 50 states. Seemingly overnight, CBD became the cash cow of the wellness industry. CBD-infused products began pervading big-box retailers such as Sephora; CBD subscription boxes run up to $170 a month; even GOOP-esque Fleur Marche soon offered an ‘Extra Strength CBD Creme Set’ for $120. By 2022, CBD is estimated to rake in over $22 billion dollars.

SEE ALSO: Black men are showing us how skincare is done

Between the CBD boom and the annual celebration of cannabis culture every 4/20, it’s been easy to forget the dark roots of the marijuana industry. When Mexican immigrants introduced American culture to marijuana, it became known as the “Marijuana Menace.” Government officials in the Nixon Administration have admitted a marijuana crackdown served to “undermine black communities and fragment the political left.” Cannabis-related arrests silenced many involved in the Black Panther and Civil Rights movements and also Anti-War advocates. And then there was President Reagan, whose 1986 ‘Campaign Against Drug Abuse’ and ‘Anti-Drug Abuse Act’ skyrocketed incarceration rates.

“Officers arrested more people (predominantly people of color) for minor marijuana offenses,” communications scholar and culturist Dr. Melvin Williams tells Very Good Light. “It ignited what was coined as ‘dramatization media bias’ toward marijuana. Soon after, the media became obsessed with characterizing cannabis use as deviant behavior.”

The war on drugs spent approximately $1 trillion on drug arrests – and vilified communities of color in the process. Since the 80’s, the number of people arrested on drug charges has tripled, with Black people four times more likely to be incarcerated than white people. Black people arrested on drug charges serve almost the same amount of time a white person does for a violent crime. And while communities of color have been jailed for cannabis-related incidents en masse, for America’s white population, marijuana possession has mostly meant profit. In fact, in 2017, a study showed 81-percent of dispensary owners were white. 

graphic of arrested hands with hemp leaf an rustic background

Entrepreneur Rickey Colley, was arrested at age 18 after stealing cars for parts to feed his younger brothers after his drug-addicted mother was unable to support the family. Post-release he began sending weed in envelopes to a friend he had met in prison who lived in Detroit. Soon, he had “graduated to sending [marijuana] via tractor-trailers.”

Rickey was serving 72-months behind bars when his sentence was commuted under the Obama administration. While he appreciates his earlier release, he can’t see the government’s approach towards marijuana and people of color shifting anytime soon.

Since the ’80s, the number of people arrested on drug charges has tripled and Black people are four times more likely to be incarcerated compared to whites.

“If those new marijuana laws can help bring families back together faster and decriminalize it that’s great,” he says, “[But] as far as all the initiatives, they have in place, marijuana is [criminal] in their book no matter how you slice it, so any relief in my eyes is reparation.

To its credit, the CBD industry has acknowledged marijuana’s nefarious past. Illinois’ ‘Restore, Reinvest’ program supports low-income individuals of color in areas affected by the war on drugs to open up their own dispensaries. The ‘Renew’ Program in California, also referred to as R3 and Los Angeles’ Social Equity Program, prioritizes applications to people who have been negatively impacted by criminalized cannabis.

Laneisha Edwards, a Los Angeles resident, applied and was accepted into the Social Equity Program. “Two of my younger brothers were murdered, one in 2010 and one in 2016,” she tells us. “These events effectively changed my life, and I am now an activist who believes in advocating for our neighborhoods.

“I saw opening a dispensary as an opportunity to give back to my community by offering job security and job placement. Also, as a single parent, it would create stability from living paycheck-to-paycheck and will allow me to focus on continuing to advocate for my community.” 

Despite the government’s good intentions, Laneisha says the program falls short in its mission to make real reparations for minorities. She describes the process of trying to open up her own dispensary as “extremely stressful” and particularly difficult to navigate without a strong business background. Still, her hope won’t waver.

“There have been plenty of moments where I felt like stepping back, but for many of us is an opportunity to create generational wealth for our families and our employee’s families,” she says. “This opportunity for people who grew up in low socioeconomic communities only comes once in a lifetime. There is no giving up.”

5 black-owned beauty and skincare companies to support

“Moisturize your situation.” – P. Diddy

And by situation, we mean your head to your toe. The inconvenience of the lack of representation in beauty and skincare products is an issue that isn’t new. With the lack of beauty products for Black people – especially men – there’s a lot of opportunity for newness in this space. Already, brands like Bevel, to Ceylon, Scotch Porter, are proving just how vital and successful black-owned brands can be.

SEE ALSO: Black men are showing us how skincare is done

When it comes to indie brands, there are many emerging companies that are one their way to becoming household names. Whether you want to spice up your medicine cabinet with new skincare or need a new lip color for the spring, we rallied up 5 black-owned companies you can support.

Jade & Fox Co.


From body butter to hair perfumes, Jade & Fox Co. is a handmade skincare company that uses natural products to promote your skin and body’s health.

Jade & Fox Co is more than just a skincare company though, the founder, Ashley Johnson also has a blog. There, the founder shares DIY projects and also in-depth pieces on her products sharing the benefits, and what type of skin each product is catered to. 

Must-try products:

Crushed Velvet Butter

Sea Witch Whipped Soap

Scotch Porter

A hair and skin brand created for men by men. Like many beauty companies, Calvin Quallis began experimenting with making products in his kitchen after seeing the need for men’s grooming and wellness products as a barber. The result: an entire line of grooming products for men with coiled or kinky hair. Enter: Scotch Porter, a line that provides products for men’s hair, from on their head to on their chin. But it doesn’t stop and end there. Scotch Porter’s created products like journals, candles etc. and even have a journal section on the website in order to expand on self-care.

Bonus: Check out the REWARD$ tab on their website for free money to use on their products!

Must-try products:

Beard Wash and Leave-In Conditioner Bundle

Face Care Collection 

Nola Skin Essentials

Nola Skincare states that their world of beauty circles around three things: Vegan Ingredients, Real people who handcraft their products, and their customers. Created by founder Jane Ormon, the brand was created after being frustrated by the lack of skincare products geared towards people with melanin. Not only is are the products eco-friendly but cruelty-free as well. 

The founder stands behind the brand so boldly, that she says your skin care change in as little as two weeks! Sign us up.

Must-try products:

Omega Kale Facial Cleanser

Quench Your Beard Spray and Let it Grow Set

Urban Skin RX

Urban Skin RX offers scientifically researched skincare products for all skin tones and colors.

Founder Rachel Roff, a licensed medical aesthetician and certified laster technician, put her passion to help others feel and look great to launch Urban Skin RX. Along with co-founder and medical director, David Henderson – who also works at a hospital in Charlotte – the two set out to clear clogged pores, for melanin-rich skin. The entire line includes peels, scrubs, and hydrating serums to achieve your best skin, ever!

Must-try products:

Even Tone Smooth & Glow Enzyme Mask 

Clear Skin Cleansing Bar

The Lip Bar


The Lip Bar was founded by Melissa Butler, previously a financial analyst on Wall Street and previous Shark Tank contestant. The Lip Bar is far more than just a lipstick company – it’s Melissa Butler’s testimony. If you haven’t seen the backstory behind the company, you have to watch it here

After being shut down on national television, Butler took that moment and used it to her advantage…now, years later, you can find her in hundred of Target stores. The Lip Bar has expanded from just lipsticks to now offering eyeshadow, from liquid to powder, these vibrant palettes compliment the lipsticks and vice versa.

Must-try products:

Prima Donna  lip shade

Playmate lip shade

I made a homemade bath bomb using everything in my kitchen

Your next DIY project during quarantine: Bath Bombs

While self-isolating, I decided to bring the outside in.

As I learned my 14th TikTok routine and put together my 8th 1000 piece puzzle, I decided to mix it up. I put on my Pinterest hat and researched DIY projects to distract my mind. 

SEE ALSO: Let’s talk about sex (in self-isolation)

Amazingly, I found a recipe for DIY bath bombs. As we all adjust to major lifestyle changes in order to not overwhelm health officials during the rapid spread of coronavirus, we are seeing more and more DIY projects on social media.

Collage of final bath bomb results

I decided to make bath bombs because as times are stressful with coronavirus abruptly changing my daily routine to online classes, and losing my job I needed to cope with the stress in a healthy way. 

Yes, bath bombs. Bath bombs are hand-packed circular spheres that can fit into the palm of your hand. They are usually created using essential oils and soaps and ingredients that react to water that upgrade your bath from dull to glamorous.

The best part: I didn’t have to leave my dorm room to find any ingredient. Most were already in my kitchen hiding somewhere.

Making your own bath bombs may sound intimidating, but I took on the challenge. Let’s just say I didn’t end up in a powdery mess like I thought I would.

While cooped up in the house, creating the bath bombs made for more than just a project to watch disintegrate in my tub. Actually doing something creative with my hands helped create a healthy escape from all the coronavirus news and counting what day of self-isolating I am in.

What you need

For reference, I followed Beauty Crafter’s recipe for their Rose Bath Bombs but tweaked it just a bit. The ingredients I used were as follows: 1 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup citric acid, ⅓ cup cornstarch, 4-8 drops of gel food coloring (the more drops the more vibrant the bath bombs), a cap full of Olive Oil and 2 tsp of water.

As I added water to the ingredients the familiar fizz of bath bombs began to happen in the bowl. I think I got too into my Billy Nye the Science Guy role because I ended up adding another tablespoon of water to watch the chemicals react.

To showcase ingredients for DIY Bath bombs

After adding water the second time, I tested the consistency and the ingredients began to stick together a little more than the instructions seemed to describe. Regardless, I scooped the bath bomb ingredients into each mold and pressed them together. Sooner rather than later, they held together so I let them dry overnight and checked on them the next day..

The final results:

Move over LUSH, you’ve got some competition.

They may not be perfect but now I understand why people decide to DIY rather than just buy products off a shelf. DIY projects give the satisfaction of watching your project come to life. You get to witness and be apart of a process. 

I’m not going to lie, at first I was intimidated by the idea of creating a bath bomb, thinking of all the majestic bath bombs from Lush I actually found this DIY project to be therapeutic and easy.

As I watch my bath bomb turn my New York City shower floor into a pink party, I never wished that I had a bathtub to soak in more than now.

5 steps to making DIY Bath Bombs:


Whisk together the dry ingredients.


Add rosehip oil and food coloring for smell and look (optional) Mix the ingredients until the dry ingredients have changed to desired color.


Whisk in the water (quickly). Test the consistency by trying to grab a handful, if the ingredients mold like damp sand does in your hand you can move to the next step. If not slightly add more water.


Place rose petals into the bottom of each bath bomb mold and then add the mixture on top. You can also add more petals while you fill the mold. Press down softly on each side, then overfill before pressing the two together.


Eventually the two sides of the mold will stick together to make a sphere, when they do store in a cool, dry area and let them sit overnight.