Editor’s Note: The Early Learning Nation Studio recently attended the 2023 National Black Child Development Institute’s annual conference in Charlotte, NC. We had rich and illuminating conversations with early learning researchers, policymakers, advocates and practitioners of all ages. The full collection of video conversations can be found here.
Kumani Bey may still be in high school, but her art—using words, filmmaking and more— is giving voice to multiple causes and making impact across all ages. Kumani joined the NBCDI Conference as a Youth Speaker to highlight America’s technology gap and its impact on Black children.
Chris Riback: Kumani, thanks for coming by the studio.
Kumani Bey: Thank you for having me.
Chris Riback: So you are a youth speaker at this conference?
Kumani Bey: Yes, I am.
Chris Riback: What did you get to speak about?
Kumani Bey: I got to speak about Black children and their very little access to technology compared to white children in America, and just the disparity of access that we have and how it’s been affecting our community.
Chris Riback: Have you seen that in your own schools and what has the effect been?
Kumani Bey: I have, it’s the resources in general. It’s the resources that not only are we disadvantaged, but we just don’t even know the resources that we’re not getting access to. And we’re not even aware of the amount of opportunities that we’re not given. And it’s important because as someone who does have the access and someone who is in that light, it’s upsetting to see the amount of people around me that look like me and that want to do the same things as me, but they don’t have the access to. And it’s hard to feel okay with that, knowing that there’s so many colored and brown and Black people out there who want to be doing things and who want to be given this access. They just don’t even know the amount of things that they’re not able to do because they don’t have it.
Chris Riback: And I understand that you personally make very good use of the technology that you do have access to.
Kumani Bey: Yes.
Chris Riback: You like creating.
Kumani Bey: I love creating, yes.
Chris Riback: So tell me about that. You create poetry, I believe, you write.
Kumani Bey: Yes.
Chris Riback: And you’re something of a filmmaker as well.
Kumani Bey: Yes. I started my own film production company a couple years ago called AOD Films. And with that I have been producing films, creating movies that I’m able to show off and able to put out in the world and show other people things that they know they feel inside their hearts. They just don’t know how to express it. And that’s also what I like to do with my poetry as well.
Chris Riback: So tell me about one of the films. What is an example of a story that you like to tell?
Kumani Bey: Yes. The latest thing that I’ve done is a mini-documentary that talks about women and the treatment that we get in the world right now. And how it’s so normalized that nobody even talks about it and we just tolerate disrespect. And so I’ve brought together a group of women that I know and I asked them about their stories with this experience and the way that they’ve been treated. And I just built this documentary where I talk about my experience. I chose one of my friends to talk about hers, and then I just had these women at the end that are being shown that you’re supposed to say my name, not whatever else you want to call me, or whatever else you want to say to me. And that’s the name of the documentary, Say My Name.
Chris Riback: What kind of reaction have you gotten to it and how does doing that work change you?
Kumani Bey: A lot of people have seen it and just come to me with all their stories, “Yes, I was yelled at the street. Yes, my boss told me this.” And just all these people telling me, all these women telling me just how normalized it is in their lives to be called certain things and treated a certain way. And it only makes me want to do this more. And it only makes me want to talk about my own experiences more and just be even louder with what I know since not everyone else is going to be.
Chris Riback: Yes, start loud and get louder.
Kumani Bey: Yes.
Chris Riback: What does AOD stand for?
Kumani Bey: It stands for Age of Destiny. My name Kumani means destiny. And I knew I wanted my name in it somehow. I just didn’t know the meaning behind what I wanted to be saying. And so with Age of Destiny, it’s saying this is the age of my life. This is the age of everyone’s lives where we are working towards what we are made of and what we are supposed to be doing here. And you can’t work on your purpose if you’re not working on the little things that bother you and the little things that you know are inside of you that you aren’t expressing. And so with my movies and my stories, I’m expressing little things that people aren’t really touching on so that they’re able to move past them and work towards their destiny.
Chris Riback: There is so much power in the little things.
Kumani Bey: Yes, definitely.
Chris Riback: For any children or any young person who might be watching this, who might be seeing you and saying, “I want that voice.” And I don’t have that ability, or I can’t, or there’s not the opportunity for me, but I’m looking at Kumani and I’m saying I want to be like her. What do you say to them?
Kumani Bey: Do it, but in your own way. Figure out how you want to. Do it in the way that you know how to. I know that growing up, I wanted to be a dancer. I wanted to be a lawyer, I wanted to be a doctor. I didn’t know how I wanted to create and how I wanted to put out. And I’ve been writing since I knew how to write probably at two months old. I’ve been writing my entire life. And it never occurred to me that that is the way that I like to create. And so it’s really just about going inside of yourself and figuring out how do you like to do things. What do you like to do? And in that way, that is the way you’re able to put out your voice and that is the way that other people are going to hear you because that’s what you like to do.
Chris Riback: Well, we are hearing you today and I have every feeling that we are going to get to hear you for years to come as you get louder and louder.
Kumani Bey: Yes, definitely.
Chris Riback: Kumani, thank you for coming by the studio.
Kumani Bey: Thank you.