Boston Educator Saw Too Many Young Black Girls with Low Self-Esteem and Did Something About It

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Lovely Hoffman’s music video for the song “My Black Is Beautiful” bridges her two professions of singing and teaching to encourage Black girls to love themselves for who they are.

Hoffman noted her experience as an educator made her realize that many young girls today struggle with self-esteem issues. These are the same things she dealt with regarding her own nonwhite features.

“I see young ladies thinking negatively about themselves because they don’t have certain traits,” Hoffman said. “I felt like this song was necessary for children to understand that there’s a beauty in the diversity of Blackness. Whether your skin is darker, whether it’s caramel, whether it’s light skinned, it’s beautiful. [There’s] not one standard of beauty. As African people, we’ve already accepted the uniqueness and the distinction that we have as people. We embrace that. That is what makes you beautiful. We don’t have to agree with this European concept that you have to look this one way.”

Hoffman has been a teacher for 13 years and spent 12 of those at the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester, Mass. She teaches service learning at the African-centric school, working this year with community service and organizing cultural celebrations. Hoffman told Atlanta Black Star she grew up singing in church and most recently had an award-winning turn portraying Celie in “The Color Purple” at Boston’s Speakeasy Stage Company.

“As a solo artist, I’ve created music that basically reflects the conditions of the people in our community,” she explained. “So being an educator and an artist and an activist, loving history, having a love for my community … many of my songs are about love, but a lot of my music also entails social justice.

“It’s like the best of both worlds: me fusing my professional career as a teacher, educator of social studies and social justice and my art as a singer.”

 

Developing the ‘Beautiful’ Video

Directed by Brandon German, the video for “My Black Is Beautiful” (the song is available on iTunesSpotify and SoundCloud) features a young girl attending school each day feeling bad about herself. That’s until another student encourages her to embrace her Blackness, leading to a sisterhood being created among the students. Hoffman said it was important to have the students discover their beauty for themselves rather than her explaining it to them, which is why she became the narrator in the clip.

Lead student actress Safiyah Nau-Mackenzie, an eighth-grader at Helen Y. Davis, said she enjoyed working on the project.

“It was fun and it was a learning experience, especially listening to the song,” she told ABS. “It was challenging, but I feel like it was weird doing it because I was the lead role. It was challenging because I had to act in certain ways that I’m usually not.”

“My Black Is Beautiful” single cover (Brandon German)

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Sophia Boyer, a humanities educator at the charter school whose twin daughters appear in the video, said many students don’t typically face challenges with embracing themselves because of how they were raised.

“It’s not that our kids don’t have issues, of course, they do,” Boyer said. “But we can innoculate them from a lot of the racist ideas that other people are blindly following. So, for me, the video is just a continuation of what we are.”

What If the Song Had Come Out Decades Ago?

Hoffman said her song is something she would have appreciated as a young girl.

“As a sister with darker skin, my facial features definitely reflect my African ancestors, which is beautiful,” she said. “Because I went to a school that was predominantly run [and] operated by white people, I was not really able to understand my greatness like we teach our children [at the leadership academy]. So, over time, studying my history and learning [about] my ancestors [and] traveling to Africa, I began to have more of an appreciation for who I was. And now, I love who I am.”

Executive director Karmala Sherwood similarly felt “My Black Is Beautiful” would have been helpful for her self-esteem as she grew up in the ’50s and ’60s.

“Feelings of inadequacy accumulated because I didn’t have someone to say, ‘No matter what color you are, no matter what texture your hair is, no matter if you look like a string bean, eventually you grow into a young woman,'” Sherwood said. “All that Lovely Hoffman addresses in the song and in the video probably would have made worlds of difference for me.”

The Influence of Racial Politics

On the current racial tensions brewing in America amid the election of Donald Trump, Hoffman says Black people have always felt the heat. Now, other groups are beginning to feel it, too.

“All of a sudden, there’s this big sense of urgency from other groups because they’re beginning to feel the same things that we felt as a people for a long time, Hoffman said. “But, for me, I think it’s more important now for us to have self-determination. The spirit of the song ‘My Black Is Beautiful’ is basically self-determination. Claiming yourself, naming yourself, defining yourself for yourself and not allowing others to do that for you.

“And I feel like, as a people, when we know we’re great, we know where we come from and we know that we’re beautiful, we behave that way. So it’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

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