Step Forward: Vision Board Workshop [March 2018]

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STEP FORWARD

Vision Board Workshop, Sydney Australia

Grab your girls and let’s celebrate Women’s History Month!

Are you in need of INSPIRATION?

Vision Boards display images that represent whatever you want to BE, DO or HAVE in your life.

In 2018, our lives are moving at a rapid pace and we’re losing sight of the GOALS and DREAMS shaping our future.

Make your ambitions VISUAL and REAL to create your reality and maintain your motivation.

Saturday, March 24 2018

11am-2pm

Redfern Community Centre

29-53 Hugo Street, Redfern NSW

Cost: $47 + booking fee (includes):

  • Lunch + Refreshments
  • Pre-Workshop Tips
  • Large Foam Vision Board
  • Magazines
  • Scissors, Glue, Tacks, Stickers, Varnish

Talking The Source, Racism In Australia, Hip Hop & More On The Karen Hunter Show, SiriusXM

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Yesterday [Monday, March 28] I had the absolute pleasure of stopping by The Karen Hunter Show on the UrbanView channel on SiriusXM.

An esteemed journalist and author with a very inspiring career, Karen congratulated me on my new role at The Source Magazine and my first full issue: our current #RealRecognizesReel diversity in Hollywood special. We also talked about the legacy the brand has and how we’re continuing it today with an all new “MindSquad.”

We then touched on the beauty and controversy of Hip Hop music and culture, the influence of acts like Kanye West, the differences between The Source and a media title like Complex and more.

Becoming The Editor Of The Source Magazine

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A full-circle moment, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is a “series of developments that lead back to the original source.”

The original source, in this case, is The Source. And my full-circle moment is happening today (Monday, November 9 2015) as I become Content Director for the media brand that inspired my entire career.

I knew from a very young age hip-hop would determine, shape and influence my personal and professional growth. I discovered The Source magazine when I was 13 years old in the early 90s, taking sneaky trips into the city to soak up the atmosphere at Soul Sense record store. Soul Sense was the unrivaled destination for lovers of “urban culture” in Sydney, Australia (shouts to local legends Eddie and Robert Kaleel and Freddie Mahinda) and a haven for multicultural youth to revel in a music form that at the time, was truly underground. Those were the days, man. Love for the music was pure, especially for us international fans physically so far away from its mecca. I wasn’t yet working so I’d beg Mum to give me money every month to buy The Source and VIBE, and because you could only get them from Soul Sense as imported magazines, she’d shell out roughly $25-30 each time for me. I would excitedly devour each page, memorizing the staff list and picturing my name. I had wanted to be a journalist since I read a book called The Reporter in the third grade (or Year 3, as we say back home) and covering hip-hop came naturally.

In 2003, I founded Urban Hitz magazine. This came after I did high school work experience at Smash Hits (shouts to Agatha Antonian) and TV Hits (shouts to Santi Pintado) and then during my college days, Juice magazine (shouts to my earliest media mentors Toby Creswell, Lisa Anthony and Stuart Hitchings). I was editorial assistant at Juice but happily took the lead on their “urban” coverage and positioned myself as an authority from a very young age (inspired also by WKD, a Melbourne-based R&B publication, at the time). When I graduated with my journalism degree in 2002, I worked with my good friend and top Australian DJ George “G-Wiz” Bechara to produce a street press (a.k.a. free) hip-hop/R&B magazine called Request, which gave me the confidence to ultimately create Urban Hitz in 2003.

Urban Hitz was my local tribute to The Source, an on-sale national publication with a balance of emerging coverage from Australia and New Zealand plus American content. Thanks to my publishers at the time (Derwent Howard) I was allowed to have my brand exactly mirror the one I learned from, with powerful stories tinged with social commentary, exclusive in-depth interviews, lifestyle features and more. Urban Hitz is my greatest achievement because I was told no-one in their right mind would pay for an Aussie-based hip-hop/R&B magazine when they could still buy The Source or VIBE, especially with a female editor. Not only did we become the highest-selling urban publication in Australia to this day, we did it with limited resources and industry support. We had the people, the kids who were just like me, and that’s all we needed.

When I moved to New York City after wrapping up Urban Hitz at the end of 2006, hired by DrJays.com to create content for their popular retail site, I told the owners I was familiar with the Dr. Jays store brand from years before—by reading about rappers talking about it in The Source, of course. I had an incredible full-time run with DrJays.com and consider the company family to this day (working with them still from time to time), because not only did they support my life goal of living and working in New York City, they allowed me to start doing on-camera interviews, execute major fashion campaigns with breakout stars like Nicki Minaj and much more. I branched out from print to digital with them and then embraced a career in radio with Hip Hop Nation (SiriusXM) and DASH Radio, thanks to incredible people in my corner. Through it all my original love for magazines never died, and a dream deep inside to work for the title that kicked everything off never waned. So after a few light social interactions with L. Londell McMillan (current Publisher of The Source), we sat down recently to a five-hour brunch where we discussed the past, present and future of the brand. Londell’s career is decorated and celebrated, but what I admire most about him is after such a long time in the industry, he’s honest to a fault and extremely passionate. His NorthStar Group is today one of few Black-owned media companies, which is extremely important to me coming from a minority background.

I’ve accepted this position at The Source to focus on the positive. To reconnect with the old and usher in the new. To pay homage to the legacy of the brand and at the same time, move it forward. From editorial to marketing to branding to international expansion, I’ll be lending my lengthy expertise while learning and growing with my team.

I cannot emphasize enough how The Source made me the woman, hip-hop lover, journalist and socially conscious spirit I am today. Like a rapper equipped with the albums that inspired him to get in the booth or a community leader studying the activists who came before them, this magazine laid the groundwork for me as a journalist. Its writers and editors spoke loudly to me through each page, sending a clear message to be part of this culture was an honor. That hip-hop was unlike anything else on this planet, an uncomfortably beautiful bridge to endless possibilities. It taught me a young ethnic girl who grew up with a single mother thousands of miles away could actually be part of the world she truly felt she belonged in, as long as she remained authentic to herself and put in the work.

Mum still has my old copies of The Source in big plastic containers back home, and when I told her about my new position her reaction was, “Oh, that bloody magazine! You finally made it huh?” Sure did, Ma.

Simone “Boss Lady” Amelia Talks Racism In Australia & Being An Expat

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Last month (September 2015) I was invited to be part of a keynote panel at the first (and very exciting) NOMADness ALTERnative Travel Conference in New York City.

Moderated by Nomadness Tribe founder Evita Robinson and featuring myself, rapper Pharaohe Monch and artist Leonard Combier, this was a great conversation for anyone chasing dreams through their passion for creativity; living outside the boundaries placed on them and unafraid to face adversity. As you can see, I’m aiming to become a spokesperson for a balanced Australia—one where we cherish the amazing things our country has to offer, but we also honestly acknowledge the negative aspects we undoubtedly possess.

Photo: PhotosByRome.com

Let’s Talk About: Humanizing Immigration

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It’s time for me to bite the bullet and share with the world my heartfelt opinions on issues important to me.

Switching your thoughts from private to public is daunting, especially when speaking on hot button topics. It’s the obvious next phase of my journalism career and I’m finally ready to embrace it.

Here’s my first filmed social commentary on a subject that hits home: the current refugee crisis and being an immigrant in America in 2015.

Thank You Bree Newsome, My New She-Ro

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Take a moment to let this image sink in.

Just yesterday President Barack Obama gave one of the most impassioned speeches of his two-term reign. It was a rousing eulogy at the funeral of Reverend Clementa Pinckney, one of nine innocents slain by a domestic terrorist using the Confederate flag as a symbol of his hatred for Black people inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. During his soul-stirring words, the President tackled head on the renewed debate about the flag, declaring it an undoubted symbol of racial oppression.

“Removing the flag from this state’s capital would not be an act of political correctness,” he said, “it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong.”

As cries of protest against the flag grew this past week, I wondered who the courageous person would be to take it upon themselves and rip that s*it down. This morning, just a day after the President’s speech (and perhaps inspired by it) self-described “freedom fighter” Bree Newsome took matters into her own hands, climbed that flagpole like the G she is, unhooked the flag and brought it down triumphantly as police waited to arrest her.

I literally jumped for joy when I woke up to the news—and the fact Bree is a woman got me even more hype. She obviously understood the risks and the fact she’d be taken into custody. Her and accomplice James Ian Dyson now face three years in jail and a $5,000 fine, charged with defacing a state monument. But if this isn’t a worthy cause, I don’t know what is. That flag is more than a source of controversy for decades. It is a racist symbol that represents a war to uphold slavery and, further down the line, a battle to oppose civil rights advances. South Carolina specifically referenced slavery as its reason to secede from the Union during the Civil War and fight for the Confederacy, which makes the fact that the flag still flies over their state capitol even more grossly shameful. And in a sick twist, a Black maintenance worker was directed to re-install the flag after Bree yanked it down today, right before a WHITE SUPREMACIST RALLY was set to take place in the same place. Oh, ‘Merica.

We’re living in such confusing, enthralling, frightening times, aren’t we? So we must celebrate these victories, regardless of how fleeting they might be. In a statement to The Guardian, Bree wrote: “We removed the flag today because we can’t wait any longer. It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.”

Police ordered Bree to come down from the pole once she reached the midpoint. She turned, looked down at them respectfully (calling them “sir” and letting them know she understood she was about to be arrested) and kept moving upwards towards her mission. As she came back down she was praying, summoning the strength of God through her incredibly brave actions. It is these moments that must encourage us all to keep fighting.

Remembering Racism As A Child

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Ah, Gosford. You were a distant memory tucked away in the back of my mind until Elite Daily brought you back to life this week. What appears to be just a brief blog post shouting out a Christian church for being, you know, Christian and extending well wishes to Islamic passersby commencing Ramadan means so much more to me.

My family moved to Gosford in 1989. My sister Julie had a mysterious cough (which she still has to this day, SMH) and thinking it was due to us living on Parramatta Road, Sydney’s most clogged thoroughfare, Mum pulled us from the chaos of the inner city to the beautiful beaches of the Central Coast, joining my aunty and cousins who’d relocated months earlier. A different world, indeed.

In Summer Hill, my friendship group was a rainbow coalition: Indian-Fijian, Filipino, Lebanese, Maori. Thanks to gentrification in 2015 it’s a predominantly white area now but back then you name it, we had it. I don’t know how I knew at eight years old Gosford would be an extremely different environment for me, but I did. And it was. I experienced racism for the first time there and it was so stinging and immediate I’ll never forget how blindsided I was by it.

As soon as we moved Mum enrolled Julie and I at St. Patrick’s, East Gosford. We’d gone to St. Patrick’s in our old neighborhood so we thought we’d ease right in. How wrong we were. From the moment I started third grade (or Year 3, as we say in Australia) I knew I was different. There was only one other “ethnic” girl named Aphrodite (she was Greek Cypriot) and instead of embracing me, she stayed away like the plague. She ignored my smiles and acted as if she couldn’t understand me when I’d strike up conversation. I remember she had gorgeous thick, black curly hair and wore it in a bun every day for fear of standing out from the limp, mousey brown strands surrounding her. The other girls called her “Dede” and I thought she was a sellout.

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It wasn’t too long before I was called “wog” by the other girls. I’d heard the word vaguely before, but never directed at me. I was heated. Who the hell were they to speak to me like that? Just as I reported back to Mum I was going to have to lay hands on these racist little bitches, Julie came home from her kindergarten class one day to let us know, at the tender age of five, another student laughed in her face and told her that her beautiful dark brown eyes looked like “poo.” She cried as she shared they constantly teased her friend Michelle, the only Aboriginal girl in class. Being the protective sister I always was, I remember feeling angry and helpless. My campus was separate from my very shy little sister’s and the thought of not being able to protect her killed me. My social conscience was highly developed from a very young age and therefore I expressed myself in the only ways a child knows how: with my temper and fists. We eventually decided to move back to the city because, frankly, we missed “us” (our neighbor coming over and observing my grandmother frying kibbe on the stove with an “Ewwwww, what is that? Looks disgusting!” was probably the final straw). We missed feeling accepted and part of a community. I slipped right back into my old school, with old friends who looked and talked just like me. Those two years away felt like a bad dream and still do to this day.

Gosford, it appears, is a very different place nowadays. For an Anglican church to post a sign acknowledging their Muslim neighbors in a community that used to frown on diversity makes my heart burst. In these times when racism is viewed as a dirty word (but its results are not) you cannot help to be encouraged by small steps towards righting the wrongs of the past. That’s why we should never refuse to take notice of the pain felt by those who came before us simply because things [might have] changed in the present. And that’s why what appears as a plain sign to you means the world to me.

What We’re Missing From The Rachel Dolezal Saga

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My mother hates movies.

Who the hell, I hear you ask, hates movies? Helen Kapsalides, that’s who. When I was a kid I’d sit for hours on end and watch movies as diverse as Escape From Sobibor (I was a seven-year-old World War II junkie), West Side Story (oh, how she especially despises musicals) and Back To The Future. Mum would walk in and out of the living room, looking at the screen then at me and then back to the screen again, tossing her hands up and sighing. “This bullshit. I have no idea how she enjoys this bullshit.” That’s my mum, as real as it gets.

There’s one movie, however, she absolutely loves. And she adores both versions (1934 and 1959) of it equally. It’s called Imitation Of Life. A real tearjerker. Its premise is a light-skinned young woman who’s ashamed of her brown-skinned mother. Struggling with her African-American identity, the young woman is able to “pass” as white and therefore denies her mother in very public and heartbreaking situations. Only when it’s too late does she embrace her African heritage and understand her mother’s love should have ultimately trounced societal pressure. The film was named by TIME magazine in 2007 as one of “The 25 Most Important Films On Race.”

Imitation Of Life sprang to mind when learning Rachel Dolezal’s story. Of course there’s absolutely no comparison in terms of the “race swap” and especially, the era. This is a woman in denial of her ethnicity but so much so in this real-life case that she chose to align herself with a race she shares not even a single drop of blood with. The 37-year-old, born to white parents, has been self-identifying as Black since her college years. Rachel is not only the president of Spokane, Washington’s NAACP chapter, she’s adjunct professor in the Africana Studies program at Eastern Washington University, where she teaches African and African American Art History, African History, African American Culture, The Black Woman’s Struggle and Intro to Africana Studies (according to her university bio). Her adopted brother, who is African-American, Ezra Dolezal, says he didn’t know how to respond the day his adopted sister took him aside and asked him “not to blow her cover” about having a Black father.

“It’s kind of a slap in the face to African-Americans because she doesn’t know what it’s like to be Black,” Ezra told CNN. “She’s only been African-American when it benefited her. She hasn’t been through all the struggles. She’s only been African-American the last few years.”

Much has been discussed about Rachel’s unraveling identity and the unhinged ways she kept her façade throughout the years (going as far to claim hate crimes against her). She’s now the butt of so many jokes and think pieces you can’t help but wonder that if she already was off-balance, her current mind state has to be even more stupefied.

Remember when you were young and taught that white (cough) lies eventually become bigger lies? What started as Rachel’s affinity for African-American culture grew into a full-blown masquerade she had to have known would one day be revealed. She lived with this torturous secret day in, day out. And she’s not the only one.

Back home in Australia, I know two females of a similar age to Rachel who self-identify as part Black. It’s commonly known (but never spoken about) that neither of them is. Because their “other” ethnicity is also of color, they aren’t as prone to being caught like Rachel was. These beautiful women began telling people they were Black from their teenage years, because that’s what they told themselves they were. Both were adopted by white parents and grew up in predominantly white environments. Growing up through the eyes of Hip-Hop, they saw African-Americans make such groundbreaking progress they were not only directly influenced by this minority culture, they became immersed in it and ultimately became it. That is, in their mind and the minds of those they’ve managed to convince. But just like Rachel Dolezal, deep down they live in fear those who know them already know their secret—as far deep down as you can go after lying to yourself for so many years.

When I was a teenager, my social circle was comprised heavily of Polynesians. Because of this, I picked up certain traits that would make me more acceptable and allow me to “blend in.” I had a close friend who I considered family (and still do to this day) who was Maori. She and I look like sisters and when we’d repeatedly be told this, I would take it as a huge compliment. I started wearing flowers behind my ear (the right one to show I was single, of course), learned how to understand basic Maori, Samoan and Tongan and strictly had Polynesian boyfriends. I loved the culture and the culture loved me back. I never denied my ethnicity when asked, but you best believe I smiled from ear to ear when others thought I might be from the Islands.

Taking it a step further, to this day I’ll boast with pride about my Lebanese heritage and quietly mumble about my Greek side. You know why? I don’t consider myself white therefore I don’t think anyone else should. I hold onto my Middle Eastern heritage like a badge of honor. I wear it like a tattoo branded on my face. This is because I’m living in a time where I can be loud and proud to be Arab (mainstream media be damned). Being a minority is SOMETHING TO BE PROUD OF. Why? Hip-Hop told me so. My 92-year-old grandmother, though? When she moved from Lebanon to Australia in 1932 (two years before Imitation Of Life was made) she had dirt kicked in her face daily and hid her homemade food during lunch breaks at school for fear of being attacked. She doesn’t understand my love for our culture to this day because she was tragically brainwashed into thinking it was nothing to be proud of.

So while I don’t forgive Rachel Dolezal (not that it’s my place to do so) and cannot agree with nor excuse a great majority of her actions, she’s far from the first person that wanted to be something they’re not. That ended up identifying with an ethnicity she wasn’t born with but chose to assume. But as that unfortunate yet so painfully true adage goes, “Everybody wants to be Black until it’s time to be Black.” Now under harsh scrutiny and incessant ridicule, let’s see how she handles life from this day forward.

International Women’s Day 2015: How To #MakeItHappen

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Today is International Women’s Day, celebrated by females worldwide to empower, learn more about and support each other while calling for greater equality.

Over the past few years I’ve honored IWD by hosting a private event here in New York City. The annual occasion means a lot to me and I’ve taken to using it as a day that represents my journey (being Australian of Lebanese/Greek Cypriot descent now living in America, I’m definitely representative of the theme!). This year I decided not to put a party together and use the time instead to reflect on where I’m at in my personal and professional life. This year’s IWD theme is #MakeItHappen and so I’d like to add to that: Against All Odds.

I recently came to a significant realization that was like a slap in the face. Like many things in life it hit me out of nowhere but once recognized, seemed plain as day. I’ve been frustrated for a long time about “connecting” to people, something very important (especially nowadays) in my line of work. I kept thinking, what’s missing with me? I’m giving this career of mine EVERY SINGLE THING THAT I HAVE, I’m doing what it takes to build my image, but it never seems to be enough. I would constantly bang my head against the wall, frustrated beyond belief at what seemed to be my lack of “audience.” I have an incredibly dedicated group of core supporters but their numbers haven’t grown in a long time. While I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved over time (especially with big brands that have taken notice and collaborated with me) I know I’m yet to master the art of truly selling myself. While my peers’ social media numbers have steadily risen (the barometer of today’s popularity contest) mine have stayed frustratingly stagnant and I had no idea why. I read countless articles on “building your online buzz,” made an effort to branch out of my comfort zone with the content I posted, interacted more with people and still, nothing.

As I was scratching my head for the umpteenth time about it all, it hit me—and it all immediately made sense. I am “Other,” as Pharrell Williams would say. I don’t have the built-in audience my (rivals?) do. I’m a journalist known and respected in hip-hop circles, but I’m not automatically relatable to my audience. I’m not Black or Latina, so platforms like Essence, BET and Centric are off the table for various opportunities. I’m a woman, so the boys club that prevails with things like televised roundtable discussions are often off limits (when women are included, bigger profile ones like Angie Martinez and Miss Info are usually considered). My racial background is confusing to many (is she white? What is Lebanese?) so I don’t easily fall into a category when casting directors are looking for new talent. I’m foreign with an Australian accent. How many of “me” is there realistically in the country I’m trying to build my following in, especially in hip-hop? Basically, none.

I’ve been on the verge of tears at times, knowing I was qualified (often over-qualified) for certain positions and at a loss to why I missed out. One time I was up for an important news role at a radio station and I knew I was a perfect fit for it. I was ultimately denied the chance to shine because senior management had an issue with my “international” accent on-air, when I’d only ever received compliments from our callers about my speaking voice. I was told very clearly because I don’t speak like the stereotypical “urban” female host (“Yo yo, what’s up, it’s your girl Boss Lady!”) I wasn’t suited. Instead of taking that as a sign to perhaps consider moving my career in another direction, I continued soul-searching. Hip-hop is my life and no one was, or is, going to tell me that I can’t do what I was born to do.

The path I’m traveling is a new one, an extremely tough one that’s had me feeling super low at the thought of sacrificing precious time with my family on the other side of the world to chase what seems like an impossible dream. But I’m doing it for me and most importantly, the kids who’ll come after me. Young people (women, especially) living in countries far and wide who grow up on hip-hop and have the same vision for themselves. Those who don’t fit the mold yet feel they deserve to be there. The “dream chasers” who believe in themselves when no one else does, who know they belong somewhere even when they’re told they don’t.

So I’m “Other.” The true definition of it. Thanks to this realization, I’ve finally stopped comparing myself to everyone. As much as I feel I relate to my peers, I’m not them. And they’re not me. I won’t be invited to certain events because of who I am, and I won’t be considered for jobs for the same reason. This is the game I’ve chosen to enter, so it was high time for me to understand the playing field and most importantly, how to tackle it head-on.

Instead of grieving the people I haven’t connected with yet, I cherish even more the ones I have. And slowly but surely, I’m becoming more comfortable revealing who I am through my digital presence. I’m much more different than I originally realized, and I’m okay with that! I’m building my own audience now, one brick at a time. Against all odds is the mantra this year and equipped with that at the forefront of my mind, I have no choice but to make it happen. I encourage everyone to do the same.