By Aaron Allen
The Seattle Medium
Act, be Present and Perform these are the principles of “We.App”, an organization founded by Seattle native Toyia Taylor to help young African American’s find their voice.
Under immense pressure — pressure from peers, pressure from family and society — young Black people in the 21 century, as did their predecessors, are finding their voice amidst a sea of voices as they try to discover self in a world where expression of self is not encouraged.
Toyia Taylor has developed an avenue, a pathway in which young people can Act, be Present and Perform. The program teaches children to be active and visible in their community and their society through expression.
According to Taylor, We.App teaches professionals and youth how to look at their voices as an instrument to deliver stories or conversations. Using what they call the “authentic voice” we.app teaches youth, in grades 4 through 12, to become leaders and messengers. Utilizing not only their voices, but mind, body and spirit to communicate with conviction, passion and transparency.
“Everything through We.App is learning to use the voice as an instrument, in terms of writing, in terms of expression and in terms of presenting,” says Taylor.
Taylor, a graduate of Renton High school, received her degree in History and Political Science from the University of Washington in 1997. Taylor’s upbringing was influenced by both negative and positive experiences that shaped her mindset and helped build the foundation for We.App — having the ability, the courage and the platform to express one’s self.
Growing up under the auspice children should be “seen and not heard” Taylor found her ability to express herself muffled, if not muted. In her high school experience, she lived an introverted existence, writing in her journal. However, it was through mentors like Marvin Johnson, a counselor who helped uncover her gifts and changed her trajectory, did she finally realize her place in this universe.
“During my childhood my mother married and my stepfather was of the mind or the thought that children should be seen and not heard,” explains Taylor. “So all the things I had faced or had been through I didn’t think anybody understood and I didn’t think I had a place in which to have a voice, it just was what it was, deal with it.”
Through her writing Taylor discovered her voice. As an undergrad at the University of Washington, she established a group of likeminded women looking for an outlet and commonality as minority women on a predominately white campus. She took initiative and founded Sisterhood, a group for Black women designed to promote comradery, support and fidelity in an academic environment where support was necessary but far and few. The organization still exists to this day.
After graduating, she travelled and explored from Washington D.C. to Ghana strengthening her voice to prepare her for her future. She also continued her writing as this too became an outlet of expression.
“I began to write and use my voice as an outlet,” she says. “It was never to have a stage, but a way to encourage and empower youth to speak out.”
Fearless, confident, bold and empowering, speaking with purpose, these attributes characterize in which We.App and Toyia Taylor address the need for African American youth to take on the challenges they may face when expressing themselves. Events like “Rising Voices Oratory Competition” which will be held May 6, 2017 at South Shore K-8 give young people the platform to perfect the skills they acquire at We.App.
Taylor’s dedication to her craft and to her community is evident in her voice as she describes We.App and its visions. Her commitment to children and their future is evident in her work. Malcolm X stated and I paraphrase, the first sign of human expression or protest is a baby’s cry. African Americans have been exercising expression and protesting since the first African arrived. But within the Black community and within African tradition the oral tradition is the foundation of communication next to the drum and We.App personifies that tradition.
“I am a vessel and so even on the days I don’t feel like getting up, even on the days I don’t feel like teaching, even on days on don’t feel physically at my best, I have to give my best to those kids because it may be that day, that I say something that changes their trajectory,” says Taylor.