The award-nominated series “The Prototype” was inspired by Brooklyn Bloggess Jamilah Lemieux’s “Happy Black Girl Day!” This once-a-month holiday allows us to take a break from the constant media assault on Black women and to celebrate the sisterhood with showers of positivity. The way I choose to celebrate HBGD is by highlighting an extraordinary and prototypical Black woman.
July 2011’s Prototype: Yasmin Shiraz, award-winning filmmaker, author and WebTV producer.
Yasmin Shiraz’s bio is replete with national acclaim. Because of her award-winning empowerment book series for teen girls, The Blueprint for My Girls, Yasmin is a much-sought after expert on youth issues. From radio to TV, books to films, the creator and former publisher of one of the most widely read urban college magazines — Mad Rhythms Magazine — has all fingers and toes in nearly all pots in the media industry. But life hasn’t always been a crystal stair for the DC-area entertainment powerhouse. Yasmin credits her passion for instructing and empowering youth and young women to the encouragement she received as a young adult from her community:
When I was a young college student at Hampton University, I was in a very dark place. I was dealing with some serious family issues, and I felt like my parents couldn’t really help me deal with what I was going through. But I had so many people who always looked out for me. I always had women around me who were encouraging and supporting me. One person in particular was my Sociology professor, Dr. Lois Benjamin. When I met Dr. Benjamin in my junior year, she helped me get out of that dark place. She told me I was bright and encouraged me to go on to get my Masters in Sociology. She gave me this confidence that I took with me to grad school. One of my professors in grad school tried to take that from me, and she would talk to me like “who do you think you are?” She would always tell me what I couldn’t do. But it was too late. I had come from Hampton University where they expected so much of us. I had already been built up and so encouraged that nothing could stop me from achieving my goals. By December 1994 in grad school, I had incorporated my first business.
But it did make me think about all the others who didn’t have a Dr. Benjamin in their lives and who this grad school professor could have torn down and taken off track because they didn’t have the support I had. Dr. Benjamin’s spirit of giving — to me and to her other students — inspired me to pay back my karmic debt, as Deepak Chopra would say. I decided to be that person that others could look to for help. I wanted to take all the hurt and pain that I was going through and provide healing for people, whether it be restoring relationships between mothers and daughters or helping young women with self-esteem issues.
It wasn’t until Yasmin toured college campuses promoting Mad Rhythms magazine and educating students on how to get into the entertainment industry that she realized the best way she could help young women.
I was doing a college campus tour called “How to Get into the Entertainment Business.” But students would come and ask me about life, instead. They talked to me about family issues, relationship issues, abuse, teen pregnancy — everything. So that’s when it hit me. I knew I could help by writing a guide for girls dealing with all of these issues. So I wrote a book called The Blueprint for My Girls. I sent it to publishing agencies and I received 100 rejection letters. They all said, “there’s no genre for this. We dont write non-fiction books for African American girls.” But I was doing the marketing research on the college tour and knew there was a market for this kind of book. So I did research instead on becoming a book publisher. I published the book myself and 6 months later I sold the rights to Simon & Schuster. I opened the door for what Hill Harper has done I gets to know that I played a part in opening that door.
Yasmin realized that when you have a dream and you know something is needed, it’s up to you to get it done, no matter the obstacles.
When you’re an artist, there are a lot of people who have the power to publish you who don’t have your vision. It may take 5 years for them to catch up to your ideas. The Blueprint is nearly 15 years old, now. In 1998, I formatted the role that African American non-fiction books have now. I opened the door for what Hill Harper has done now and I feel great knowing that I played a part in opening that door. I just learned from that experience: you’ve got to wait for the world to catch up. That’s why artists can’t give up just because other people can’t see your vision.
Her vision is to impact and empower young people through all her productions — whether books or films. Yasmin’s first documentary “Can She Be Saved?” deals with girls and violence and won the 2009 Indie Award for Merit from the Indie Fest Her latest book, the novel Retaliation, is about a young girl dealing with violence in her high school and DC community. The book is the American Library Association’s 2009 Top Ten Quick Pick for Young Adults. Her latest film is the prequel to Retaliation, called “They Call Me Dae,” which seeks to explain the experiences in a young girl’s life that created the bully she became. Watch the trailer for “They Call Me Dae“ below:
Her latest focus on teen violence grew out of interviews she did with young women in order to uncover why some young people are so angry. She continues to do events around the country speaking to young women on every issue from AIDS to self-esteem. Her films and books are used as tools for teen violence prevention in both middle and high schools in DC and NY, as well as The Boys and Girls Club. Every book and film that Yasmin produces now is published by her own company, Still Eye Rise. And she shows no signs of slowing down. When all is said and done, Yasmin hopes her legacy will be:
That I was able to provide resources for young girls, to give them a positive self-image, to help with their relationship troubles, teen pregnancy, and abuse. That I helped them deal with anger and positively channel it to better themselves and their communities. That I didn’t say no, and I never shut the door on whatever God wants to bring into my path. And that I helped people. People will always need help. That’s a well that will never dry out. So I hope that I am always helping people wherever I go and encouraging others to do the same.
Educating, Equipping, Empowering and Inspiring, Yasmin Shiraz is: The Prototype.