Volunteer Profile: troizel d.l. carr (TSOA ’17, ’22) and Jessica-Brittany (JB) Smith (TSOA ’14)
July 15, 2020
“The impulse to find ways to be together as a digital community has been feverish and intoxicating. We've been able to connect with alumni who might not otherwise have ever been able to connect with us,” says troizel d.l. carr (TSOA ’17, ’22). troizel and founding member Jessica-Brittany (JB) Smith (TSOA ’14) are co-chairs of the NYU Black Alumni Network (BLA) during this historic and challenging time.
“Just as we always have, we are continuing in this time to delicately challenge and expand ourselves as a community, leaders, and in how we move forward,” says JB.
The Black Alumni Network was created in 2016 as part of an expansion of the NYU Multicultural Alumni Network, representing a renewed commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion at NYU as a university priority under NYU President Andrew Hamilton. With support from the NYU Alumni Association, BLA seeks to empower, connect, and celebrate the Black community within the greater New York University network.
troizel, who earned a bachelor of arts degree in Theater Studies from Emory University, completed a master of arts at Tisch in 2017 and is currently working on a dissertation about Black trans-creation mythologies, magic, and the law.
JB, who majored in theater at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, is an actor and singer (and the reigning champion of NYU’s Got Talent). In addition to her education at Tisch, JB trained at Stella Adler Studio of Acting, Marymount Manhattan College, and the International Theatre Workshop.
Read on to learn more about troizel, JB, and their involvement with NYU and the Black Alumni Network:
What inspired you to become involved as an alumni volunteer with NYU?
JB: I was inspired to get involved in my NYU community because I found there was an appalling lack of resources available for the Black alumni of NYU and I felt so distant from the university I wanted to proudly claim as my own. I’m still working on making NYU feel as if it is mine and ours as a community.
troizel: My two reasons for getting involved as an alumni volunteer are (1) my unconditional love for Black people and (2) JB. I was inspired to become involved with the Black Alumni Network (BLA) after meeting JB, one of the founders, at the CMEP [NYU’s Center for Multicultural Education and Programs] Nia Awards in 2017, where I was being honored for my commitments to queer and trans Black students. Her spirit was so light and infectious and when she got up to discuss NYU BLA I knew it was destiny that we should meet. At the time, I had been plotting with friends from my undergraduate institution on working with the Black alumni group in the greater New York City area. My time in graduate school at NYU left me wanting for connection with other Black people and I desperately needed it for my survival. It was very happenstance that JB and I instantly connected. I asked how I could be involved with NYU BLA because of my background in student affairs and programming. She told me about a meeting that I could attend to learn more about BLA and come to find out it was an executive board meeting! Haha. I've been with BLA since; first, as Archives & Creative Coordinator and then I transitioned into the co-president position alongside JB when Jamila McLaughlin, the other founder, moved away to pursue an amazing international opportunity.
What is the mission of the Black Alumni Network? Has that mission changed or been reframed in light of recent conversations and protests around anti-Black racism?
JB: Our mission has not changed or been reframed. Our goal has always been to be there for our Black community. As we are a people well aware of the predominantly white institution (PWI) we attended and graduated from, our awareness has not changed as more non-Black people come to awaken themselves. Just as we always have, we are continuing in this time to delicately challenge and expand ourselves as a community, leaders, and in how we move forward.
troizel: To grossly paraphrase, the mission of BLA is to gather, learn, and celebrate with Black NYU communities. The decentralized nature of NYU allows compact silos of community that often don't touch while in the student life atmosphere. Black students often are fighting for total justice against institutional and political forces that leave them with no real time to focus solely on their studies. BLA hopes to provide a remedy for this by offering moments for intergenerational connection by having programs, events, and opportunities that are open to students, alumni, family, and friends. In fact, we often have larger NYC community members join in the fun with us whether they are affiliated with the university or not. Our mission is predicated on doing for Black people because of an anti-Black world, where its entire historical enterprise is a long whispered conversation about racism and brutality. Because we see ourselves falling within a genealogy of Black organizing, this is fortunate for us because we are able to (re-)focus on celebration and healing, resilience and joy, resistance and liberation in a world that inundates Black people with hyper-circulated representation that we shouldn't be allowed to exist. Our mission, thankfully, will never have to be reframed as long as we continue to celebrate Black people and constantly chant that we will exist no matter what.
How has the current climate impacted your role as a leader in the NYU alumni community and specifically in your efforts to build community for Black alumni?
JB: I’m not sure it has changed me as a leader, and yet, I believe we as humans are always being affected by the changes we see/experience whether big or small, whether we’re aware of them or not. I do know I have been aiming to deepen my patience, compassion and love, so I hope that's somewhat reflected in my leadership as I truly am grateful for the opportunity to lead such a fantastic expansive community.
troizel: I think the only difference about this social climate is that we're not able to gather in person like we usually would for our programs. Our recent events for Juneteenth 2020 were all done via Zoom and had great turnout and feedback from participants, but they might not ever feel the same as our Queen & Slim screening and discussion at Alamo Drafthouse or our Holiday Soiree at Renaissance Harlem in December 2019. However, the impulse to find ways to be together as a digital community has been feverish and intoxicating. We've been able to connect with alumni who might not otherwise have ever been able to connect with us.
What are some of the most memorable moments from your involvement with the club?
JB: While there are a plethora of memories and moments I hold dear, there are two things that happen at every event that thrill and motivate me to keep going. At every function we have, without doubt, there is always someone new to the community that is discovering us and this space they now have access to and can claim as their own for the first time. It’s equal parts amazement, shock, and beauty on my end every time. Secondly, every time we host an event, someone from a pre-1970 class will come up and thank us for the space we’ve created. And the truth is, we’re just filling the missed gaps our university has yet to embrace. I’m thankful for that opportunity and gift.
troizel: I can't say which is the most memorable because there have been so many moments: our DC trip to the National Museum of African American History & Culture, private tours with museums in the city, book club brunches with authors, Beyoncé dance classes, the list goes on. I will say though that working with our board (Michelle, Daniella, Amenan, Lameeka, Bridgette, Tara, Gabby, Cody, Michelle) have been some of the most cherishable moments that I'll ever have. They are the epitome of love, family, laughter, hard work, fun, intention, and friendship. Our programs and events are always so fun and thoughtful because our team embodies these virtues.
Did you have any NYU classes or instructors who inspired or impacted you?
JB: While there were many professors that impacted me, Troizel has been my cheerleader, advocate, and coach through this all, and they inspire me to keep pushing, leading, and finding new ways to engage and support our Black community with and outside of NYU.
troizel: My greatest teacher is Soo-ah Kwak, a Program Administrator in the Center for Multicultural Education and Programs. She inspires me to keep going, to remember that living a life of liberation is possible every day.
What is your favorite:
- JB: Fried eggplant, pizza, and blueberry bagels are a favorite of mine
- troizel: Soul food: fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, candied yams, the whole nine
- JB: Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
- troizel: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
TV Show and/or Movie?
- JB: Golden Girls, Twilight Zone, The Wiz
- troizel: The Wiz, ATL, Black Lightning, RuPaul’s Drag Race
Song and/or Musical Artist?
- JB: Prince and Joni Mitchell at the moment; “Les Fleurs” by Minnie Riperton
- troizel: I have a mammoth of a music library, but one of my favorite songs ever is “overthinking IT” by Willow Smith
Social distancing activity?
- JB: Reading, running, and the occasional picnic
- troizel: Reading, Lego building, and writing my dissertation
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