Lynae Vanee Bogues leaned forward and urged students to move closer. It was a more laid-back soft-spoken version of the performance artist, poet, influencer, actor and educator of “Parking Lot Pimpin’” who kicked off Thursday night the month-long tradition of George Washington University Black Heritage Celebration in the University Student Center. Following her trademark, she “kept it Black,” but not brief, extending herself to the Betts Theatre audience for well over an hour.
“I aspire to use information and knowledge to underly stories and narratives so that you literally trick people into learning, expose them to things,” said Bogues, explaining the intent of her popular “Parking Lot Pimpin’” rapid fire monologues delivered with crisp and clipped southern inflections that have been viewed by over 1 million across various platforms.
The Black Heritage Celebration (BHC) theme for 2024, For Us, By Us—a phrase that originated in the 1990s with the founders of Black-owned hip-hop fashion company FUBU—celebrates Black culture as a way of expressing appreciation for GW Black students, said BHC Co-chairs sophomore Milynda Stewart and senior Molayo Ifebajo who introduced Bogues and moderator, senior Dasia Bandy, an international affairs and journalism major.
The evening began with a rousing rendition of the Black national anthem sung by the GW Voices. Selamawit Weimer, a senior in Africana Studies, followed with a reflection on the meaning to her of “for us, by us” in a poem, “Malcolm’s Dream,” where she “[realized] that emancipation isn’t always dramatic. It’s in the moments of peace you share only with yourself. It’s the joy you rediscover in a part of you that you thought was lost forever. It’s the feeling of being treasured by someone you don’t have to explain yourself to.”
Bogues, a three-time NAACP Image Award nominee, explained that she was practically driven into her current career by a stint teaching high school students in Atlanta at the height of the pandemic where the pay was low, she felt “run-ragged” and there was little time left for her more creative side.
The 3-to-5-minute videos that are her trademark, “I’m gonna keep it Black, I’m gonna keep it brief,” are produced over a week scouring news headlines and researching before she scripts them and takes a chair in a parking lot, teacup in hand with pinky extruded to expound on everything from intraracial violence, feminism, attacks on the teaching of Black history to the opposition queer folks face in the Black community.
“I knew that from teaching high school students everybody thinks they have an ultimate understanding of Black history and Black people,” she said. “There is automatically this ‘I don’t want to hear the same thing again.’ It’s a science. I study the psychology of my audience.”
Her experience as an undergraduate at Spelman College, where her classmates racked up so many accomplishments by the time they arrived at the Atlanta college for women that the lessons of the knocks and bruises from competition have stayed with her.
“What’s for you is for you,” she said at several intervals during her keynote address.
As a Boston University graduate student, she began to dig deeper than the famous figures and facts of Black history.
“Black women and queer folks are the grass and the roots,” she said. “We are the wheels that propel a lot of these movements, and we often lay the groundwork before somebody that looks acceptable and desirable came in and put their stank on a project that people can get behind.”
She also divulged that “saying what needs to be said” can come at the price of being less attractive to potential partners and sponsors, and make it harder to create a brand to sustain a business. That prompted moderator Bandy to ask how Bogues continues to be authentic and remain true to herself?
Bogues answered that while she is driven, “fame just pays the bills in this society.”
“I also take what I do seriously,” she said. “I don’t want power. I love my people. I don’t ever want to think for them or look to me for the answers.” She hopes that sharing “ideas and facts” help people come up with their own ideas and thoughts.
“I’m also very involved with my relationship with God,” Bogues said. “There’s nothing I can do without him or her, whatever you want to call God…so I’m always listening to drown out the fluff.”
During a Q & A session, many in the audience asked how to handle the subjects and issues of race at a predominantly white institution. Bogues replied that she was struck by the diverse faces she saw as she walked through GW’s buildings.
“I was not expecting the university to be so diverse,” she said. “People talk about affirmative action as if it was a way to give Black people things they are not qualified for. But the reality is they’ve worked hard for centuries to acquire an education. What many people are upset about is that Black young people are just smarter than they are. Others are in these rooms and not working as hard and that is the issue.”
She encouraged Black students to stick up for themselves in the most strategic of ways, to show that there is a foundation and desire for what they’re asking for, while adding, “I’m not telling you to take over the dean’s office or get yourself arrested. You need to be here, and we don’t want to make this environment unsafe for you.”