*Briefly meeting Kynnedy Smith at Disney Dreamers this year, it was simple to decipher that she exudes humble confidence and at the tender age of 16 years old, she is a young girl who is keenly aware of her purpose.
As a sophomore at Hawken School in Northeast, Ohio she is a classically trained violinist who is also an avid STEM participant and is an adept software developer.
She enjoys coding and has designed gaming consoles, virtual reality simulation sand websites according to her bio. With all the spectacular gifts she maintains she also operates in the spirit of altruism and founded a non-profit called I Art Cleveland.
The organization addresses the disparities in arts education that impact underserved youth of Northeast Ohio. The non-profit provides students complete access to art programming, community education, funding sources, and advocacy.
During Disney Dreamers, they hosted a segment similar to Shark Tank where several dreamers pitched their ideas of their companies and non-profits to prominent judges like Richelieu Dennis, founder of Shea Moisture and the current owner of Essence Magazine, as well as, award-winning Chef Jeff, creator of Food Network’s reality series, “The Chef Jeff Project,” host of “Family Style with Chef Jeff,” and the star of the TV series, “Flip My Food with Chef Jeff.”
EURweb caught up with Kynnedy to discuss her experience with Disney Dreamers 2019.
Tell me about your background.
I am from Shaker Heights, Ohio, a small suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. I live with my mother and we have an amazing relationship. She is my biggest supporter and fan. She has always been supportive of my dreams and goals and has sacrificed so much in order for me to have exposure to opportunities and culture. When I was growing up we did not have a lot, but my mother never made it appear as if we were struggling. She always made sure that I knew that I can have anything I wanted and could be anything I wanted. I am an only child, so I have always been involved in a lot of out of school activities. I grew up taking dance, music, and art classes. In Cleveland, we are surrounded by the arts and culture and a lot of colleges and my mother made sure I had access to them all. I was a Girl Scout and a member of the citywide cheerleading team all throughout elementary and middle school years. One of the most significant experiences I had growing up was that I spent my time every day after school at the Heights Youth Club, an affiliate of our local Boys and Girls Club. I was exposed to so much and being there allowed me to really explore my potential, it was a safe space and it gave me so much inspiration, I loved going there.
Academically, I am a junior at Hawken School, an independent private school in Gates Mills, Ohio. I finished my last school year with a 4.12-grade point average, and I am an A Better Chance Scholar. At school, I am a member of the Speech and Debate team, a founding member of the Black Student Union, a member of the Diversity Club and the Multi-Cultural Club, a member of the Strings Ensemble and I am entering my 3rd year on the volleyball team. I am also working to help develop an arts council at my school. Outside of school, I am a volunteer at the Cleveland Playhouse Square, and a member of the City Club of Cleveland Youth Forum, the Youth Sustainability Leadership Program, the Teaching Cleveland Student Challenge, Excellence of A Pearl Youth Group, and I am beginning my third year as a member of the Contemporary Youth Orchestra. This summer I completed a STEM Internship at our local community college focused on computer gamification and I will be participating in the Black Girls Lead Conference, a program of Black Girls Rock at Columbia University. Also, I [was a] guest speaker for At the Well Conferences at Princeton University in July.
What sparked your interest in coding?
I was first introduced to STEM when I was in elementary school. I attended a yearlong Saturday STEM program at the local community college when I was in first grade and continued through fifth grade. I also attended a summer STEM camp through idtech. Then a few summers ago, my mother signed me up for a free summer class at the same community college and we designed and programmed robots. Since that time, I have taken and attended a few coding courses and camps. I realized that I wanted to pursue coding as a career last year when I had the opportunity to program for VR and AR devices. I fell in love with being lost in what felt like an alternate universe, and I was charmed by how these programs had the capacity to not only entertain people but create supportive communities, give people a canvas to be creative, and even serve as educational tools. Currently, I am a second-year member of a program called Indeed We Code, which offers exposure to careers in the STEM field to African-American girls. Each summer we build websites and design online gaming. This summer I completed a STEM Research/Internship at the local community college in the Advance Technology Department focused on computer gamification.
Tell me more about the games and consoles you have designed and the virtual reality simulations and websites.
Most of the websites, web-apps, and consoles games that I have made were inspired by projects I have completed in various coding programs. Some examples of my work include adventure games where you choose your own destiny, pet simulation games, virtual reality mini-games about physics, and online blogs sites, quizzes, fortune tellers, and websites about the importance of African-American presentation in STEM. I am always brainstorming new games/websites that I would like to develop. One of my dreams is to have my own software company.
What drew you to play the violin and how do you plan to use this gift in the future?
My mother listened to a lot of jazz and instrumental music when I was little, so I instantly became fond of the many ways one can create music out of different instruments and sounds. When I was five, I first saw and heard a woman playing the violin at a community dinner. It was then that I told my mother that I wanted to play that instrument. However, it was not until almost four years later, when I was in the fourth grade, that I had the opportunity to play. I was gifted my first violin by my local Boys and Girls Club. From there, I joined my elementary school’s orchestra and began taking music lessons at Cleveland Institute of Music. I later joined a program called El’ Sistema, a daily afterschool program that taught us orchestral basics in playing and performance. I ended up having access to all types of scholarships and grants to further my studies. I have performed in a chamber and small ensemble groups, solo, and I have studied at Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music, the Music Settlement, and the world-renowned Interlochen School of the Arts. I love the different sounds I can create with my violin. Many people think that the violin is for classical playing only, but my favorite genre is jazz and gospel. I am a member of the Contemporary Youth Orchestra and it is such an amazing program. We have traveled internationally to Ireland and Scotland to perform and have performed with musicians such as Jason Mraz and Kenny Loggins. For me, making music is so liberating it is how I create my own peace. I plan to continue to study music as I move on to my post-secondary education. Music will be my second major along with Computer Science. I want to use my music to teach and entertain. I also want to be able to encourage others to invest in the arts.
What led you to start your own non-profit?
When I was first learning to play the violin, I received many scholarships and grants for my studies. I received most of them because of my skill, but I also received many because of my family’s social-economic background. I attended many camps, classes, and programs, and in these environments, I noticed the disparities in the makeup of students. Specifically, there were not many students of color, and many times I would be the only person of color in my class or camp. I knew the lack of diversity in these classes was due to many reasons including cost and accessibility. Art programs can be expensive and having access to information, funding, and programming is a huge barrier for many families. I thought it was unfair that many students were not aware of or were not able to take advantage of the same opportunities that I had. I wanted to help create a way to connect more students and their families to arts education, programming, and funding sources. That is how my nonprofit, I Art Cleveland, started.
Describe the success of your foundation.
I Art Cleveland is still a work in progress. We have been able to establish partnerships with some local art programs to help students attend various art programs. We mainly have been an education source thus far. Our long-term goal is to be able to support more youth artists by providing access and education to and about the arts, creating programs, and providing funding to participate in arts programs both locally and nationally. We not only want to create artists, but we want to create cultured leaders. Cleveland has a rich culture of arts and it is one of the things that I love about the city. I believe that almost everyone who lives here can say that in some way, “I Art Cleveland.”
What did you think about when Richelieu Dennis said he would invest in your foundation/business?
I was so shocked when Mr. Dennis invested in my non-profit. I honestly could not believe it. I am so grateful. I believe in my mission and when Mr. Dennis told me that he believed in me and my organization’s mission too, that meant so much to me. It makes me work harder to ensure that the vision of I Art Cleveland comes alive. Coming to Disney Dreamers, I never expected to receive that type of gift and support. It is truly a blessing to know that when you live out your purpose in life, you help others live out their purpose too. That is what Mr. Dennis did for me, and that is what I plan to do for others. I want to be like him, in that I want to own businesses, both in the arts and field of STEM.
What do you expect to learn from your mentorship with him?
I will work with Mr. Dennis soon and become more connected to Essence Communication Ventures and their efforts in supporting young entrepreneurs. I hope to learn more about marketing and communication, networking and partnerships, financial management and investments, but most importantly the personal side of entrepreneurship that touches on humility and strength.
What was the most impactful lesson that you learned or took away from Disney Dreamers?
“Be the Hero of your own story” is one of the statements that I think about just about every day. I have it written on my mirror in my room, and on my notebooks. It reminds me that I get to write this story and live out my journey and it’s up to me decide the happy ending. Another lesson is, “anything is possible when you have passion, good intentions, and the right support group around you.” Attending Disney Dreamers was a life-changing experience. Also, realizing, understanding, and taking advantage of your “Destiny Moment” was a standout for me. I have never been inspired so much until my experience at Disney Dreamers. It truly changed the way I navigate each day.
The deadline to apply for Disney Dreamers Academy is October 31, 2019.
’12 Years a Slave’ Screenwriter John Ridley Exposes ‘The Other History of the DC Universe’ with Black Lightning
*Step into the DC Universe and history awaits. So much history. So many iconic heroes and villains. Yet only one side of the story.
Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley is opening a new door into the familiar backdrop with his new comic book offering, “The Other History of the DC Universe.” As the name implies, Ridley shines a light on different perspectives of the iconic moments of DC history, from the eyes of heroes of color.
‘The Other History of the DC Universe” kicks off with Jefferson Pierce, a.k.a. Black Lightning for its first issue. The inclusion of Black Lightning was a no brainer to Ridley, whose view of comics changed with seeing the hero on the cover of Justice League #173. The sight of Black Lightning talking to members of the legendary Justice League proved to Ridley that someone like him could exist in the same world as the superhero elite.
“I love comics. I read comics, but I remember the first time I saw Black Lightning as a hero. When I went to the comic book shop, this was mid-’70’s and I was young. But I had to pull back,” Ridley, a longtime comic book fan, recalled while speaking at a media roundtable to promote “The Other History of the DC Universe” about his fateful trip to purchase comics the week he was introduced to Black Lightning. “And I remember getting that bag that week and honestly, I remember like it was yesterday, and spilling the bag out and going through them and seeing Black Lightning and seeing a hero who looked like me, was a teacher like my mother was. That was really, really impactful for me.”
Anchored by Ridley, “The Other History of the DCU Universe,” features artists Giuseppe “Cammo” Camuncoli, Andrea Cucchi, and colorist José Villarrubia. Covers for the five-issue bimonthly DC Black Label miniseries were constructed by Camuncoli (with Marco Mastrazzo) and Jamal Campbell. “The Other History of the DC Universe” marks Ridley’s latest venture into the world of comics after finding success outside the genre as a screenwriter with critically-acclaimed and award-winning work in film (“12 Years a Slave”), television (ABC’s “American Crime,” Showtime’s “Guerilla”).
Despite his good fortune in other areas, Ridley’s love of comics and Black Lightning remained as the country transitioned into its current state of strained race relations, a divided political climate and efforts for more diversity. Coupled with frequent protests, the arrival of “The Other History of the DC Universe” couldn’t come at a better time. For the project, Ridley played it close to his heart by selecting heroes “that meant something to me when I was growing up,” while paying respect to DC’s history and readers.
“I didn’t want to do a made-up history of the DC universe. I didn’t want to go through and say, ‘I don’t care about what happened before. This is John Ridley’s version of it.,’ said Ridley. “Honestly, I wanted a reaction…where a fan will look at moments and go, ‘Omigosh, I remember that.’ Here’s some different context.’ It wasn’t about saying the past doesn’t equal the moment that we live in. It was saying we’re here for a reason. We’re here because we’re fans.”
Ridley’s inspiration for “The Other History of the DC Universe” is more personal as each issue reflects the essence of storytelling, with someone telling their version of what happened while relaying their thoughts on how events affected them. With Black Lightning, readers experience his interaction with the Justice League and the world’s view of those with superpowers he felt focused more on worldwide threats than what was going on in his hometown.
“Here’s Black Lightning giving a version of an oral history, saying ‘Yeah, I remember that moment too,’ But it may be a little bit different than an individual would contextualize it, different readers,” Ridley stated. “But also what’s interesting about the series for me is that we also revisit moments from other characters that have a shared moment and may remember it completely differently than Jefferson Pierce did or feel differently about it or feel differently about Jeff Pierce. About, you know, why are you always this way. So for me, more than anything, it was trying to treat these stories as an oral history and getting the reaction that you have.”
Reflecting on stories he heard from his parents, Ridley recounted how moments shared were “were real heartbreak.”
“My dad was in the Air Force. They were all about service. And yet, there were moments where they were treated as just black people. But when we hear stories from people, when people share stories, if you have an ounce of empathy in you, you can hear that pain, that joy, that heartache, heartbreak. The inspiration that comes from an individual. Those stories, again, if you have the slightest ounce of empathy in you, the slightest capacity to see yourself in others, those stories mean much more,” Ridley added. “We definitely could’ve done the other history of the DC universe where it was just about big action moment and here’s Black Lightning just being a hero. Those are great stories because all of these folks are heroes in these stories. But I wanted to try to treat them as though you were listening to your uncle, your brother, your aunt, your sister, your cousin tell these stories in their own voices with their own perspectives and make them in some ways oral histories and so that it wasn’t just about these, a series of giant moments. But these were lives that were being shared. These were perspectives that were being shared.”
Black Lightning’s oral history isn’t the only one readers will be privy to. “Other heroes giving their side of “The Other History of the DC Universe” include Mal Duncan a.k.a. Herald and his wife, Karen Beecher (Bumblebee), Renee Montoya (the Question), Tatsu Yamashiro (Katana) and Black Lightning’s daughter Anissa, a.k.a Thunder.
“There were many characters that I wanted to try to include. For example, in the first issue, Mari McCabe, Vixen, I did not see the story as having her own story. But there was no way that you could not have Vixen in this series, that her appearances were not just a one and done. There was an arc to it. That is Jefferson Pierce being myopic and underestimating her. I thought that was really important that it wasn’t just characters of color railing against the prevailing culture all the time. Jefferson is a black man of a certain age, with a certain concept of Mari, what she could do and what she couldn’t do. And the next thing, she’s working with Superman. She’s big-time,” Ridley said while highlighting notable appearances from Vixen and John Stewart, one of the most popular Green Lanterns in the comics.
“So his [Black Lightning’s] relationship with John Stewart. A lot of people were like, ‘How could you not have John Stewart?’ John Stewart was always gonna be a part of it. but again, Jefferson’s relation to John and their reconciliation. I wanted to have a very human end.”
The views of black heroes only scratch the surface of “The Other History of the DC Universe.” As much attention is paid to Renee Montoya, a Latinx police officer, as well as Tatsu Yamashiro, a Japanese national living in America during the ‘80s, Ridley made sure these characters’ stories were given their due, adding another layer to his latest opus.
“With Tatsu Yamashiro (Katana), I remember in the ’80s, when America was at its height of anti-Japanese xenophobia. What’s it like for a Japanese national coming to America in the ’80s,” Ridley explained about Yamashiro. “And on the one hand, there are other people who look at her as a hero when she is in costume. There are other people who look at her as a menace when she’s just walking around.
“Renee had to be in it. You want to talk about a character who just started as a minor character in ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ and is now one of the most durable characters in the DC Universe? And played The Question at one point, my all-time favorite character, The Question. So she was gonna be in it. Always,” he continued about his reasons for including Montoya. But also Latinx, a police officer. You know, this series started before our current reckoning on race and police. To tell a story from a police officer’s point of view, who’s Latinx, who’s closeted, who believes in law and order but is also commenting on things like the LA uprising and what that means to her as a police officer.”
Coming back to Black Lightning,” Ridley examined another side of the hero with his daughter Anissa. The young heroine’s point of view is one that differs at times from her father’s, which is shown in the first issue.
“I just thought it was really important to try to bookend this series with a father and daughter. And there are things that you will see in Anissa’s story that goes back in common with what you have seen or read in the very first issue. And again, Jefferson pierce as a human being and things that she has missed, things that he deals with as a man of a certain age. And some of them positive, some of them, I wouldn’t say slightly negative, but certainly representative of a myopia that we see in the black community,” Ridley told the round table. “So it was not just again trying to pick up the characters from column A and column B. the characters that I felt a connection to because I felt like I had seen them grow up over a certain space and time. They had been part of my life. And wanting to be very honorific with the work the creators had done in the past having them arrive in this space.”
Furthering the diversity, Ridley included Duncan and Beecher in to the mix, knowing a couple with different views of the same happening would be a fun aspect to play with.
“It was very important that in this story, we were going to have at least one that was a black couple who were in love, who were sharing their story together. Also, because I thought it would be fun for a couple to…it was kind of ‘The Newlywed Game.’ ‘Wait. What? How do you remember that? No, that wasn’t how it happened.”
As the series examines unique views from its roster of heroes, it’s worth noting each issue takes place around the time the heroes were created by DC. According to Ridley, the time frame ranges from the ’70s to the early 2000s, a period that supports Ridley’s intent to create a real timeline and add weight to each character’s story.
“It was really important to me because I did think it added to the verisimilitude, it added to the reality to say that Jefferson Pierce is only gonna live in a certain amount of time. When the story ends or wherever he be found, he’d be roughly my age,” he said about placing Black Lightning in the ‘’70s. ”The stories begin essentially and I think you see in the issues, they all have timelines on them. I think roughly ‘77 to ’90-something. Technically, it’s a little bit earlier because he is in the Olympics in 1972. But if he was a decathlete, he would’ve been in the ’72 games. He would’ve been around the Munich massacre. What does that mean for him as a person? What does that mean for a guy who wanted to be better because he lost his father and at the games where was going to show what an amazing human specimen he is. it means nothing, compared to the loss of those Israeli athletes.
The Munich massacre was an attack during the 1972 Olympics, involving members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. The incident resulted in the deaths of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team, who were taken hostage by Black September.
“So I wanted those true timelines. Tatsu for example, coming around in the ’80s. What would that mean for a Japanese national? What would it mean for Renée to be a cop in the ’90s,” he added. “We treat it as a timeline. It was important to me because it helps makes these characters and their stories as real
Speaking to EURweb’s Lee Bailey, a humble Ridley welcomed the possibility of ‘The Other History of the DC Universe” crossing over into film as a way for his story to be seen by more people.
“I will say this. I have been very, very fortunate. Obviously, I work in film and I work in television and I continue to do so. So for me, writing a graphic novel was the endgame. It was so special and its’ such precious real estate. I mean I can’t lie. Even if somebody came back and this was successful enough and they said, ‘Hey, we would like to try and make it into a movie or a series or something like that…who doesn’t want to try to reach as many people as humanly possible, said Ridley. “But for me, because I am lucky enough to work in other spaces, it wasn’t about, ‘Oh this only is going to be fun or enjoyable or impactful for me if they make it into a movie. No, I mean the fact that this is going to be out, people are going to, within the confines of the Covid world we live in, go somewhere, purchase it, get it to read it, talk about it, love it, hate it. You know, embrace it. And whatever those things that people do with any issue, I get to be part of that. That is so special, in and of itself. If that is all that happens to it. I could not be more fortunate.”
The first issue of John Ridley’s “The Other History of the DC Universe” is on sale now. The second issue of the miniseries will be available on January 26, 2021.
Is Pres. Elect Biden Obama’s 3rd Term? & What 44 Said About Black America’s Progress Under His Watch on ‘Breakfast Club’ (VIDEO)
*Attorney Antonio Moore discusses the recent Obama Breakfast Club interview during his Book tour.
Moore harshly critiques the interview of Pres. Obama performed by Charlamagne, DJ Envy and Angela Yee.
He also looks closer at President Elect Joe Biden’s cabinet picks and measures them again Barack Obama & Bill Clinton’s prior administrations.
The Virtual United Negro College Fund Tour Heads to NY, DC & NJ on Fri & Sat-Nov. 20 & 21 (EUR EXCLUSIVE!)
*African American students interested in going to college can attend the United Negro College Fund’s (UNCF) Fall 2020 virtual Empower Me Tour. Set for this Friday and Saturday (November 20 & 21, 2020), New York, District of Columbia, and New Jersey will be repped. (This year’s tour kicked off earlier this month in Wisconsin and Illinois). To register, go here.
The Empower Me Tour is an extension of the goals of the UNCF. Founded in 1944, the UNCF, a non-profit, has raised more than $5 billion and helped more than 500,000 students attend 37 private historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
The EUR caught up with Stacey Lee, the tour’s director for four years, who discussed the importance of the event.
“The UNCF is the nation’s largest provider of education support to minority students,” said Lee. “The Empowerment Tour has been executed for the past 12 years and last year along we offered over $12 million dollars in scholarships.”
Lee continued, “I think the great thing is that during these times, even with COVID-19, is that a number of corporations (Wells Fargo/P&/FedEx/Disney/Goldman Sachs) and donors have really been providing opportunity and financial access to our schools and students.”
The tour is packed with information and resources so that students and parents have the right tools to make informed decisions.
“It’s a free event that provides educational support, scholarships, interviews with colleges, empowerment, and information on how to get to and through college. We also provide this information for parents as well. We have a parent section that focuses on financial aid and the things you need to get your students to college.”
Lee continued, “Sometimes we have students that don’t realize that they can attend college. They can receive scholarships. Some of them don’t even know what an HBCU is. So, it’s inspirational for me to see these students receive this information and the excitement that’s around this tour.”
In addition to college information, panel sessions on issues affecting the community will also take place. Legendary rapper Bun B will be part of a special My Black Is Beautiful panel. The panel will have discussions with girls and boys and the MC will lead the male portion.
“It’s about empowerment,” Bun B told the EUR. “It’s vital for us to lift each other up and amplify each other’s voices. We just talk about now what that role is in this COVID world. And with everything that we are seeing with young Black men on television, we want to keep them motivated and centered. We want to make sure that they are not discouraged in this moment.”
Ever since Kamala Harris threw her hat into the presidential race and elected vice president of the United States, a spotlight has shined on the fact that she’s an HBCU grad (Howard University) and member of the African American sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. These facts are not lost on the UNCF.
“Kamala has really boosted people’s awareness about HBCUs and (African American sororities) and the type of people that come out of HBCUs. HBCUS have also provided so many people from science, mathematics, and engineering programs (STEM).”
Bun B added, “We have more than enough examples to show you how beneficial an education from an HBCU can be. So, there is no reason to not be a part of an HBCU because the world is just as available to you as it is for anyone else attending any other type of university.”
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