Arial Robinson is a nineteen-year-old university student. When she found out that she would spend the rest of her sophomore year in college back at home, she didn’t just complain about the opportunities she would miss. Instead, Robinson decided to pursue a massive project during her first few weeks in quarantine, creating a photography book called The Modern Day Black Alphabet, a picture book that, like normal alphabet books, connects each letter to a symbol in daily life. However, instead of trivial terms like “A is for apple,” Robinson went a step further and decided to tie the generic letters to her Black history and culture, opting for more creative terms, like “A is for Afro.”
Because options are still limited for creatives during quarantine, Robinson got creative with her photoshoot sessions, often asking for her family to model for her. Throughout the process, her mom constantly helped her find candid shots around her home and pushed her to grow as a photographer. However, one of the more difficult parts was coming up with the meanings behind words. Robinson carefully Googled many different words and objects under each letter, trying to ensure that the word she ultimately chose could be “associated with the Black experience.” For example, when coming up with ideas for the letter Z, Robinson listed multiple words in her notebook, including “Zoom, Zap, and Zone,” and tried to relate those back to her daily life.
“I ended up liking the word zone, and from there, I was able to pull the word safezone, an important word because [in the Black community], it’s nice to be around those who look like you and understand your experiences, so your neighborhood, or an organization, or your family are all really important in contributing to your overall Black experience,” she said.
The book also gave Robinson an important outlet to reflect on her identity. “For a long time, I struggled with [being Black] because I grew up in a suburban area where there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me, so it’s [an important issue] for me now, that whatever black kids are going through, whether they grow up in black neighborhoods or scarcely black neighborhoods, that they don’t get lost.” Thus, Robinson hopes that with her work, black kids don’t need to go for years without ever seeing themselves truly represented and that they feel accepted for who they are from an early age.
She’s also making an effort to spread her reach as far as possible. “I wanted to reach black kids in underserved communities, so I just hosted a giveaway for single mothers, giving the books to them for free. Also, whenever someone purchases my book, I donate a separate copy to a local library.”
Through steps like these, she tries to give back to kids who might have related to her black experience, or struggled even more, and hopes to make kids feel more included in modern-day America.
“Education matters, but representation is even more important,” Robinson emphasized.
Hello, My name is Arial. I’m a Black Creative and I photographed & published, The Modern Day Black Alphabet. A photo book that explores the ABCs through black experiences.
— Arial✨ (@honestari) June 17, 2020
Outside of her passion and drive to advocate for black people across America, Robinson tries her best to advocate for those in the LGBTQ+ community.
“If you have some sort of privilege, and you’re not in this group, it’s important to speak out on that,” she said.
One thing that Robinson hopes to do in the future is to donate to a major black LGBTQ+ community, in order to “teach them that education is important and to make sure that they feel safe, to make sure that they can succeed and go to college.” Furthermore, she hopes to also donate to charities who reinvest in youth who are potentially kicked out of their homes due to their sexual orientation, or in an unsupportive community.
However, donating won’t be the only step Robinson takes. In the future, if the opportunity presents itself, she wants to give all the issues she cares about a platform through more photographic novels or other forms of expression.
“All causes are important, maybe one’s in the media today, but not tomorrow, but it’s always important to fight for it.”
As for advice to other young hopefuls, Robinson’s is simple.
“Just create,” she says. “Don’t always think that ‘oh, I don’t have this amount of followers, I’m limited in this way,’ just put it out there because you have to start somewhere. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have the most resources, you will get there. We are all on our own paths, so do it because it will make you happy. You will find success if it is truly what you want to do.”
Furthermore, her advice also includes taking advantage of social media. “Social media has been my favorite resource because it’s free, and has helped me reach so many people. When you’re vulnerable, people can reach out and help you. If you are open with your followers, I always want to be real and show every dimension.” Robinson’s biggest tip for social media users is to always stay genuine and true to oneself.
I been slacking on my daily self plug post so I’m back on this lovely Saturday☺️
Shop my book The Modern Day Black Alphabet at https://t.co/K5PeadfKii
& remember even if you don’t want the book or don’t have the money to support, it’s absolutely FREE to RT🤎 pic.twitter.com/YC9PsCw1EA
— Arial✨ (@honestari) May 23, 2020
In the future, Robinson hopes to potentially write for an outlet or work in the music industry. But for now, the biggest message she hopes people will take away is that “[my book] is not just my story. It’s not just my book. It’s everybody’s story to tell and retell. When people see my work and buy my book, it doesn’t end there. Don’t be discouraged by other people’s success, use it as motivation, and be persistent.”
Featured Image provided by Arial Robinson