NewsMar 4, 2019

Lesley welcomes HBO’s Amanda Seales and Daily Show’s Jaboukie Young-White

Inaugural Bridge The Gap Conference focused on diversity, activism and advocacy through the arts

Above: Student volunteers produced a video about the Bridge The Gap initiative.

The first-ever Bridge The Gap Conference swept Brattle Campus on Feb. 22 and 23, featuring two days of events and activities centered around diversity and the arts.

Organized by Lesley students Rianne Elsadig, Vita Franjul, Jeannine Hernandez, Alexa Madrid and Jocelyn Martinez, Bridge The Gap (BTG) drew nearly 70 attendees, including students from several neighboring institutions.

Actress Amanda Seales delivered the opening keynote, and writer and comedian Jaboukie Young-White closed out the conference, capping a rich array of programming that included a session on healing through the arts, power round speakers, a career workshop focused on advocacy, and a self-care expo featuring Lesley’s International Student Association, Environmental Club and Office of Commuter Services.

“As a predominately white institution, like many colleges in the United States, there aren’t enough meaningful conversations about diversity,” said Elsadig. “The five of us knew that Lesley could benefit from these discussions so we created this space for students to express themselves and incorporate the arts into the discussions.”

Four volunteers in yellow T-shirts flank actress Amanda Seales, dressed in all black
Bridge The Gap organizers pose for a photo with keynote speaker Amanda Seales (center).

The student organizers hope that BTG will grow into an annual event that fosters growth and inspires challenging conversations.

“We helped participants learn new approaches to their activism and ways to care for themselves on the journey,” said Hernandez. “We hope the conference improved the campus climate and we’d like it to continue.”

Amanda Seales speaks about the risks of social media and calls for realistic expectations of artists

Comedian, podcaster, actress on HBO’s “Insecure” and outspoken social media maven Amanda Seales opened the conference on Friday night with a talk that focused on the pitfalls of social media and the importance of speaking boldly and having realistic expectations for artists.

Taking the stage in Washburn Auditorium, Seales announced that she had (at least temporarily) signed off of her social media accounts. Earlier in the week, Seales had addressed allegations of sexual misconduct leveled by at least eight women at a black man.

Her comments, she said, were twisted and misquoted on social media, resulting in accusations that she was destroying and falsely accusing a black man.

“When you are boldly honest, people will boldly troll you,” she said.

Seales is often outspoken on issues of race, xenophobia and LGBTQ-phobia, and she isn’t known for backing down.

“I may be sketchy with parallel parking, but I’m smart. I know my strengths,” she said. “I’m careful with my words.”

Being in the “edutainment” business, Seales said she often has to stand up for her artistic vision, which has meant turning down lucrative deals for her live game show “Smart, Funny and Black.” TV networks interested in purchasing the show have wanted to make it a little less black. Executives asked, “Where are the white people?” and wanted “to make sure the show isn’t just for black people,” she said.

“It is authentically a safe space for black voices and we just don’t have that right now,” Seales explained. For some projects, compromise may be necessary, but it depends on the artist and their situation, said Seales, who acknowledged everyone has a different threshold and different concerns.

In response to a question about how comedy can heal, she emphasized the need for realistic expectations for creative professionals, and rejected the idea that comedians or artists should be confined to that category. Yes, they may offend, as in the recent news about Kevin Hart’s homophobic statements, but if they offend, then “shut them up by not supporting them,” Seales said. She also encouraged communication rather than vitriol.

“I just want us to always ask questions and consider the fact that there’s a spectrum to the way people are using their art,” she said. “Comedy is about the back and forth.”

She also emphasized the need to consistently care for each other and stand up for others. Anyone who has something important to say is going to be criticized for it, said Seales, providing civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. as an example.

“We romanticize that everyone rocked with them,” she said. “The reality is that wasn’t always the case.”

But, that’s why a supportive community is necessary.

“I think people with idealistic views are how things change. I think that’s how worlds shift.”

Jaboukie Young-White urges self-care and persistence

Comedian and writer Jaboukie Young-White closed out the conference on Saturday night with a stand-up performance followed up an in-depth Q&A session with attendees.

Young-White is a correspondent on “The Daily Show” with Trevor Noah and also writes for the Netflix shows “Big Mouth” and “American Vandal.”

Jaboukie Young-White is perched on a stool in front of a screen, holding a microphone
"Do what you like to do. That’s so important in whatever you’re going to embark on," Jaboukie Young-White told the audience.

His routine in Washburn Auditorium included an anecdote about being so annoying during an attempted robbery that he drove away his assailant. He joked about calling attention to the annoying things white people do at the movies as a means of “destigmatizing black people screaming at movie theaters.”

He also took aim at social media for fostering uninformed and uncivilized conversation, in which he unabashedly partakes. On the auditorium screen, he shared a Twitter exchange he had with someone posting as @remember2pray who was making homophobic remarks. The two taunted each other until the other person blocked Young-White.

“We’re engaged. The ideas are flowing,” Young-White sarcastically quipped.

During the bulk of his time onstage, however, he fielded a wide array of audience questions on topics ranging from his career to being gay and black to the perils of being part of a comedy writing team.

“I’m learning now, in so many of these spaces, you really have to advocate for yourself and you really can’t put good faith in other people,” said Young-White, noting that the “final edit” of a sketch may deviate from what he intended. “There is a game of telephone and things can get away from you.”

Asked about his comic inspirations, Young-White said he deeply admires Donald Glover, who began working as a writer for “30 Rock” in his early 20s.

“He made it happen right out of college,” he said of Glover. “My mom is a schoolteacher and my dad is a barber. I have no connection to Hollywood through legacy. Seeing that, I was like, ‘He did it. I can do it.’”

Young-White said he takes care of himself by going to therapy, maintaining a strong network of friends who look out for each other and forcing himself to exercise and eat right.

“I also don’t try to hold myself to impossible standards,” he added. “We’re in an environment where we’re expected to constantly be producing, so it’s just about remembering to check out of that. You can’t be everywhere and do everything all the time. We’re not robots that are supposed to just work, work, work, work, work.”

Asked about how he developed his career, Young-White said he started performing comedy as a young teen and studied television writing in college. He left college his senior year to perform on the stand-up and comedy festival circuits, couch-surfing in New York until he found a cooperative, affordable living arrangement and finally landing his big break via an interview with BuzzFeed that led to getting representation and a writing job with “American Vandal” in 2017.

“It’s so many different little things adding up together that made it happen,” he recalled.

In order to succeed, he advises that creative professionals “get a hobby.”

“Comedy for the longest time was my hobby and my passion, but when your passion becomes your job, it can be difficult to find ways to disconnect from that,” he said. “Find something you can hold onto that’s not for public consumption.”

His advice to people trying to make it in the creative fields is to “pick something you’re good at and keep doing it. It’s the best advice I’ve ever gotten,” he noted.

“Just do what you like to do,” he said. “That’s so important in whatever you’re going to embark on.”

Large group of Bridge The Gap volunteers pose for a group photo on the Washburn Auditorium stage.
Organizers thanked all of the conference volunteers during the closing ceremony.

The conference organizers would like to acknowledge the help of the following sponsors and supporters:

Office of the President, Provost Margaret Everett, Dean Nathaniel Mays, Retention Center, Academic Achievement Center, Multicultural Affairs & Student Inclusion, Disability Services, Center for the Adult Learner, Lesley’s Reiki Circle, LA+D Illustration, Career Resource Center, Office of Community Service, Visitor Services, Public Safety, Print Services, Office of Student Activities, Bon Appetit, Office of Communications, Sherrill Library, Environmental Club, International Student Association, Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Lesley University Diversity Council, Lesley University Alumni Council, Undergraduate Student Government, Campus Activities Board, Multicultural Student Association, Commuter Services, Urban Scholars Initiative, Safeguard and Bertucci’s.