In April 2018, Shayla Hunter was required to complete a 100 Day Project as part of her graduate degree from the School of Visual Arts. She needed to create something for 100 days straight, and challenged herself to focus on what’s always been difficult for her to talk about… race. Shayla launched The 100 Black Females Project as a means of exploring her own feelings by connecting with other Black women and girls about their stories and experiences. What started as a purely academic assignment has taken on an unexpected life of its own as a dynamic Instagram feed that’s given rise to a supportive community of women.

At its core, The 100 Black Females Project is artful storytelling centered on a series of illustrated images of women and girls accompanied by anything they choose to candidly share about themselves: anecdotes, accomplishments, feelings, quotes or advice. Shayla’s goal was to drive the conversation she was always uncomfortable having by connecting with other Black women and girls, and amplifying their voices. Today, with more than 185 profiles featured, her project has emerged as an empowering platform that promotes the importance of “being vulnerable and sharing your true self with the world.”

The project’s origins come from deep within Shayla. “There have been times when I felt like I was on the outside of the circle of being a Black woman or girl. I felt like I didn’t fit in because of the things that made me unique: the way that I talk, where I grew up or even my own achievements,” she told WYSK. “When I was younger, people would sometimes say that I sounded ‘white’ or that I thought I was better than them because I got good grades in school.” Shayla never wanted to conform to something that “was expected or fall into a stereotype.” She just wanted to be herself and to be accepted for who she is, but comments from black and white girls, alike, caused self-doubt to fester for much of Shayla’s younger life.

Shayla Hunter April

Years later, her Master’s Degree assignment became the creative vehicle through which Shayla could finally confront her feelings and find out if there were other Black women and girls who felt the same way. “What experiences did they have? Were they ever judged for their hair? Did they ever worry about being the only Black girl at the local Comic Con Club meeting?” As The 100 Black Females Project got underway, Shayla quickly realized she was not alone, and that quiet dialogue she had been having in her head around being a Black woman became a much louder, very public conversation.

In gearing up to find 100 women and girls willing to participate in her project, Shayla started with her family, friends and co-workers; her sister was the very first woman she drew and profiled. The participant list snowballed from there, encompassing women and girls she’s met through introductions, social media, and daily interactions. And with The 100 Black Females Project living well beyond earning her Master’s Degree and continuing to gain visibility, Shayla now has women and girls reaching out to her directly asking to be a part of the project, which, she says, “is so awesome and makes my day!”

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It’s Tuesday with The 100 Black Females Project and the black girl magic continues to flow! ? Today we welcome Folake and she talks about how she has navigated all the different societies she’s lived in. It will make you think about what it is like being a minority amongst the majority in 3 completely different countries. Read what she has to say… – – As a Black woman, do you feel like you are a part of the women's movement happening today? – – “Not particularly. As much as I admire the actions of the women, including the Women's March, I feel that as a black woman our struggles are endless and has naturally made us more tenacious. I'm an African and a Brit, who grew up in Lagos, London and Pennsylvania. The issue of patriarchy, eliticism and racism are very real in these respective places. So as a woman I am always trying to navigate societies where I have felt like the bottom of the ladder. Therefore when I look back on how I've achieved my success, it's because I have adopted an approach of maneuvering through the cracks in the wall rather than assuming I'm going to break these walls down. Having said that, I am extremely proud to be in a era where women are speaking up, feeling liberated and generally no longer accepting status quos.” – – #100blackfemales #blackgirlmagic #blackgirlsrock #blackwomen #blackgirl #females #womenofcolor #poc #equality #women #african #lagos #africanbritish #breakceilings #newera #proud #womenartists #dailydrawing #mysketchbook #colorpencil #illustration @newyorkermag @essence @for.harriet @blavity @onshegoes @blackvoices @huffpostwomen @glamourmag @blackgirlsbeing @blackgirlnerds

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Every woman or girl featured has her portrait drawn by Shayla, who works in color pencil from photos participants provide. The personal story that punctuates each illustration is the result of the participant’s responses to a series of 5 questions. To ensure the answers are as distinct and interesting as the women and girls she interviews, Shayla randomly selects the questions she asks from a long list she’s amassed. How and what the featured women and girls choose to share and express is what gives The 100 Black Females Project its rich texture. 

Through her work, which she emphasizes “is not just for Black women,” Shayla has created a powerful collective of vastly different personal stories that anyone can relate to, gain perspective from, and be inspired by. It’s also taught her a lot about herself. “I learned that I could talk about race in a way that I never have before, and that I should never hide anything about who I am or what I have achieved.” She added, “This project and these women remind me that I belong wherever I presently may be, and no one else should be able to tell me otherwise.”

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Today is a day of the sun, moon and stars like @astrostarbright ! This amazing young girl is dreaming big and wants to go to Mars. I have no doubt that she will get there. The 100 Black Females Project talks to 14yr old Taylor @astrostarbright about space, STEM and making changes in the world. Taylor is an inspiration to us all. Not only is she a member of the Mars Generation as a Student Space Ambassador, last year she raised $10K for girls in her community to see a screening of 'Hidden Figures' @hiddenfiguresmovie she plans to visit all NASA @nasa centers by the time she finishes high school. Read what this bright star has to say! – – What changes do you want to make in the world? – – "I want to change the perception of girls of color in STEM and in mainstream in general. And if I could wave a magic wand I would change how people treat each other in this world. I would eradicate racism." – – #100blackfemales #blackgirlmagic #blackgirlsrock #blackwomen #female #females #womenofcolor #nextgeneration #stem #science #engineer #stemgirls #girls #nasa #moon #sun #stars #maejamison #neildegrassetyson #mars #achieve #dreambig #illustration #colorpencil #sketchbook #womenartists #dreambig #space #spacecamp

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In thinking long-term, Shayla has her sights set on turning The 100 Black Females Project into a book. But in the here-and-now, she’s focused on keeping the digital version going and growing, always on the hunt for incredible women and girls to profile. “Maybe I can get Ava DuVernay and Oprah? Goals for 2019,” she quipped.