Prenicia Clifton dislikes how society can often put young Black girls in a box and through her “Black Girls Don’t” event taking place Saturday, Jan. 28, at Hawthorne Public Library on Madison’s east side, she plans to challenge stereotypes of Black girls and women and help them to create their own path in life while using her own inspirational story to inspire them.
Clifton is an accomplished opera singer and the founder of Seein’ is Believin’, an organization committed to improving educational spaces through a culturally responsive lens and educating communities on the best ways to support the holistic safety of youth.
“”Black Girls Don’t’ is an interactive workshop about all of the things that I was told that Black girls don’t do, especially when it came to singing opera and what it meant to say, ‘I’m going to own my decisions’ and ‘I’m going to set my own trail and set my own path,'” Clifton tells Madison365. “A couple of things that ‘Black Girls Don’t’ came out of was when I was younger and it was like ‘Black girls don’t tell, or their daddies will go to jail’ or ‘Black girls don’t tell because of all the reasons gave to not talk about abuse.’ And it expanded into ‘Black girls don’t do this because our community says they shouldn’t do A, B, or C.’ We’re always told what we shouldn’t do.
“So what would it be like to do a workshop that says, ‘No, not only do we do these things, we do these things well. So how do we own our decisions?’ So there are a lot of people that are told their entire lives what they’re not supposed to do and who they aren’t. So this event is all about carving your own path and empowering people to do what they want and to be advocates,” she adds.
This series is part of Madison Public Library’s The Ripple Project, with funding from Beyond the Page, a year-long series of humanities-based programs designed to get communities talking about race, equity and inclusion within their libraries. So far Clifton has hosted five “Black Girls Don’t” events in libraries throughout Madison and Dane County. Her last event was at the Sun Prairie Library.
Clifton is an accomplished opera singer with credits in major opera houses around the world including opening opera houses with Placido Domingo, sharing the stage with Grammy Award-winning artist-Denyce Graves, and becoming the first African American to sing in a Chinese opera house solely in Mandarin. Her inspiration to become an opera star came from seeing African American opera star Jessye Norman when she was just a kid herself which helped her believe that she could do it, too.
“That’s what Seein’ is Believin’ came out of which is why I wanted to be part of The Ripple Project. I think people need to see folks that are going outside and dreaming outside the box, and actually achieving those goals. And I also think it’s not only important for the children in Dane County, but it’s also important for the parents,” Clifton says. “So if the parents see that their child can go and do amazing things, they should support it … because that’s the part that really hurts the children … when the parents don’t believe, too. So we open the workshop up to adults and youth, especially for adults that are thinking about changing careers and things like that. It’s just a moment of empowerment for people that want to do something for themselves.”
For Clifton, these “Black Girls Dont'” workshops are right up her alley. It’s work similar to what she does in her organization, Seein’ is Believin’, which offers workshops, project management, consulting and planning for K-12 youth outreach activities as well as community training in youth protection and youth mental health first aid. Her classroom workshops are focused on social-emotional learning, diversity and equity, and increasing representation in K-12 spaces.
Through Clifton’s work in Seein’ is Believin’ and “Black Girls Don’t,” she often leaves young people inspired, but they still need access and still need resources to help reach their dreams.
“That’s where we talk about ‘audacious asking.’ That’s one of the points in the presentation,” she says. “And I have said, ‘The worst thing that can happen is they can say no,’ and I’m like, ‘Raise your hand if you’ve ever been told no.’ And everybody, of course, raises their hand. And I’m like, ‘That is the worst that can happen if you ask for something, right?’ So why not ask and put it out in the world what you really wanted? If you need music lessons, or if you need to learn something new, it doesn’t hurt to go and ask your teacher if you can take an extra lesson or if you can learn this instead of that. But you have to put your desires out there to ask for things because people won’t be able to read your minds.
“So we talk a lot about audacious asking. We talked a lot about intentional paths. What do I need to do to get from A to B if this is my dream? In spite of everybody telling me what I can and can’t do, what do I need to do to do what I want to do?”
Clifton says that so far she has seen a variety of ages of girls attending her first five “Black Girls Don’t” events, but that the “bread and butter age are girls 9-14.” “We’ve found that that age group has responded the best … but we’ve also found that the adults have responded well, too,” she says.
Through “Black Girls Don’t,” Clifton is inspiring dozens of area young women to realize their dreams. But they are also inspiring her.
“So I had one little girl that came in and she was auditioning for the high school musical. And she said, ‘You know, I was kind of scared to just go up there and sing.’ And told her that not only should she go up there and sing, she should say, ‘hi, I’m Charlotte and this is my role.’ And she did the audition and she just said that. It changed the way she thought about singing. You know, she felt empowered. She felt she could do it. But she needed to just see someone that not only knew how to audition but knew how to own auditions. And she immediately said, ‘I’m gonna go and do this audition and I’m gonna get it.’
“This is what really inspires me in the work that I do,” Clifton adds.
Black Girls Don’t by Prenicia Clifton will take place in the community room of Hawthorne Branch Library, 2707 E Washington Ave., on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2-3 p.m.