This month-long inspiration series celebrating Black icons and influences features teachers we admire highlighting the creatives who sparked their own journeys. They’ll share their personal projects inspired by these icons, and invite you to create along with them.
To know Yasmine Cheyenne is to know what a force of wisdom, insight, and grounding she is. Yasmine is widely known for her work as a teacher and advocate focused on mental health and spiritual wellness, as well as her popular podcast The Sugar Jar where she shares personal stories and interviews incredible guests like Layla Saad, Alex Elle, and Nedra Tawaab. She is a pioneer in the self-healing and self-care space, and her Writing for Self Discovery Skillshare Original is a favorite among Skillshare students looking to dive deeper into their own self-care writing practice and discover gratitude and presence.
Yasmine Cheyenne’s Inspiration: Dr. Maya Angelou, writer, poet, activist, visionary
The name Maya Angelou may conjure up different memories, thoughts, or feelings for you. Perhaps you read her iconic memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings or remember her recitation of “On the Pulse of Morning” at the Clinton inauguration, or maybe you’ve felt moved by any number of her speeches, books, or poems. Maya Angelou was many things: a poet, a writer, a civil rights activist, but also a cook, a dancer, a sex worker, an actress, a correspondent, a director, a Professor, and so much more. Yasmine finds inspiration in Dr. Maya Angelou, in all her iterations, as her focus of My Creative Roots.
Tell us about your chosen creative icon. How has their creative work influenced your process or style?
As Black artists, writers, and creatives we make space for people, cultures, and things that may not normally be socially acceptable because of prejudice or biases to have a voice and the ability to live and breathe for the world to witness. For Black people, artistry has always been a space where we show up. Our music, our writing, our dancing, and even our capability to continuously influence a culture that says we don’t belong is unmatched. A legend that fully embodied this is Dr. Maya Angelou and she continues to impact me, and so many of us. Dr. Maya Angelou, was a dancer, an actress, a singer, an activist, mother and of course a world-renowned writer and poet. She started performing in the 1950’s during a time where Black people were fighting many of the same fights for equality that we face today. She remains such an example, for all of us, on how we can fight while being free.
For many people, there is often a struggle between wanting to believe that you are capable of being anything that you want to be in the world and what the world tries to make you believe instead. As a little Black girl, I got the message loud and clear that my natural way of being wasn’t accepted in the world. I always find this messaging incredibly interesting as no one in my life verbally told me that my brown skin, thick and curly hair texture, curves, or gender were barriers to my potential and yet by the age of 9 I believed without a doubt the oppressive lies about who I believed I was as defined by the outside world. As a child, being introduced really early to artists like Dr. Maya Angelou changed my life and that harmful narrative.
I first came in contact with Dr. Maya Angelou’s work in middle school, and instantly felt connected to the idea that I was phenomenally made; that there was something special about me that didn’t need to be cultivated. And I know that this same truth applies to all of us. Although it would take years of unlearning and understanding who I am to fully embrace my worth, the seed was planted from the moment I began to read her poetry, and later, her literary works. To this day, I listen to Dr. Maya Angelou on podcast interviews, a particular favorite of mine is one of her last interviews with Oprah on the Super Soul Sunday Podcast where she shares that “You develop courage…because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You do it (create courage) in small ways.” It’s a mantra that I carry with me and do my best to remind others of.
How did you construct this week’s creative exercise?
When I think about creativity, my goal is to unblock any negativity that may get in the way of creatives being their full selves. I believe that showing up creatively as yourself is an intentional choice, but it can also be scary. I want to Black artists to walk through the journey of claiming creative space in a way that centers us. In history, and unfortunately still to this day, Black people are often ostracized while having their creative works copied and multiplied without attachment to the Black creator. Black people are often told to be more mainstream and less themselves – until mainstream wants to be us. It’s important to name these truths and it’s also important to not allow them to limit our ability to connect to our light.
What do you want readers to take away about your chosen creative icon?
Dr. Maya Angelou’s intentional choice of language ensures that her work is infinitely relatable and soothing, and yet always provoking. As a writer and teacher, I work to create a space within my work where people can always see the softness in themselves while still receiving the invitation to change or shift where desired. I feel Dr. Maya Angelou is always inviting us to look at how we can go a bit deeper with honoring the beauty of who we are, rather than what others believe we should be.
I believe Dr. Maya Angelou would want us to know that “it’s paid for” as she stated in her interview with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday Podcast, which means that our ancestors paved the way for us to be able to live abundantly now. In abundance of joy, creativity, peace, and prosperity. Although there are often many messages that will attempt (and may successfully) distract us from our greatness, Dr. Maya Angelou, and other Black creatives, already saw that coming and left blueprints of how we can get back to ourselves through their creative works. WE can always find ourselves in their words and images. We can always remember who we are through them.
What do you want our readers and community to reflect on completing your creative prompt?
What I love about the word “rise” is that it implies taking action. Rise is not passive. Rise is not silent. Black joy remains a call-to-action for all Black people and rising is an answer to that call. How are you creating space in your life for you to rise in new ways?
Lastly, what’s one thing you’re doing this month (February) to bring you joy?
I’m choosing joy by doing my best to be present to all the things we consider “little” that impact us in great ways. Learning new things, nourishing my body, drinking warm teas, trying new recipes, giving myself full permission to feel joyfully free. For me, joy looks like fully embracing all of me.
Week 3 Creative Prompt
For week 3 of My Creative Roots, Yasmine invites you to dive deeper into your origins, power, and strength. In her words:
When I think about Dr. Maya Angelou, I’m reminded of her ability to use words to share black stories with dignity and truth. Her words wove our pain, our strength, our desires, our dreams, and our legacy. Two of my favorite poems from Dr. Maya Angelou are Alone and Still I Rise. Both embody the reality that life sometimes throws discomfort in our direction. As a creative, discomfort can motivate us or cause our creativity to go in hiding.
In these times, where we’ve misplaced our creativity, or it’s hiding from us, I hope this challenge will help you to reconnect with your ancestry, your power, your strength, and your ability to continuously shine even when your heart is tender. I hope that by remembering that you can always rise, it will serve as a comforting reminder of your ability to transcend any odds.
For this challenge, you will write “I Rise” in the center of your paper, portrait, etc. You will then draw lines with statements that connect to you and show all of the ways you continue to rise. Share your art and tag @skillshare and @yasminecheyenne on Instagram!
I RISE (I rise in the center, with lines pointing out; use colors, use paint, etc):
- Even when I’m learning
- Even when its tough
Thanks for hanging out with us during Week Three of My Creative Roots. Watch this space and follow along on our Instagram for more spotlights on Skillshare teachers and the incredible Black icons who inspired them. Better yet – sign up for our email list to receive weekly creative challenges from our teachers in honor of their icons.
To learn more about Dr. Maya Angelou, we recommend these articles: