Humans of St. Thomas introduces us to some of the incredible members of the St. Thomas community. Read about more of our fellow Tommies here.
After interviewing Amira Warren-Yearby at the Office of Study Abroad at Murray-Herrick Campus Center on a frigid Friday afternoon, authenticity was the word that kept swirling around in my head. Warren-Yearby carefully chose her words as she answered questions, never hesitating to talk about the good times and the bad. The friendly senior, who is president of the Black Empowerment Student Alliance (BESA), innately understands it’s the highs and the lows (and everything in between) that has helped shape her into the insightful person she is today.
In 2015, Warren-Yearby, a St. Paul native who graduated from St. Louis Park High School, was named a ThreeSixty Journalism Scholar. With the title came a full-tuition scholarship to St. Thomas for her to study communication and journalism in the College of Arts and Sciences. She added a film studies minor to help fully explore her passion for storytelling and love of making movies and videos. (Tip: Check out her minute-long short film “Little Brown Girl Blues.”) During her junior year, Warren-Yearby studied abroad in Australia, where she immersed herself in classes in cinematography, lighting and editing.
We caught up with Warren-Yearby, who is one of this year’s three Tommie Award finalists, to chat about everything from her love of video, to what she likes to do to relax, to being a leader. Here are highlights from our conversation.
Why do you think you’re drawn to visual forms of communication? It makes sense to me. I’m not a movie buff; I like when stories are interesting and appeal to me. I like how everything pieces together. Even when I’m walking around listening to music, I’m putting together music videos in my head. Sometimes when I want to explain an emotion and have a hard time putting it into words, I’ll describe a picture instead. When you can’t put everything into words, sometimes you can see it and feel it visually. That’s the beauty of why I like video and movies.
When I graduate, I really want to tell stories about identity, vulnerability and authenticity. That’s often missing in mainstream culture right now. We have high depression rates – I feel part of the reason for that is we don’t always talk about the journey of life. It’s never talking about the low periods, the low moments that are so real … my favorite TV show is “Dawson’s Creek.” It’s very coming of age. He’s not interested in the girl, he gets the girl, he loses the girl but it’s really about all those things in between.
What do you think happens when people start talking about those low points – start to be vulnerable? I think it sets people free. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable, it allows others to be vulnerable, authentic, honest and real. On my Instagram it says: “Be real. Be you. Stay woke.” I notice when you’re constantly in spaces where you’re allowed to be vulnerable and authentic, the more you learn about yourself.
Do you feel like you’ve learned a lot about yourself during your time at St. Thomas? Oh, yes. Especially studying abroad, which allowed me to step back and look at everything from the outside perspective and then jump back in. I have grown a lot in the last four years.
What will you remember the most about your time at St. Thomas? The biggest takeaway for me is the friendships I made and how we’ve all evolved like a family. Because of the racial incidents that have happened on campus and even my own personal things – I was in an emotionally abusive relationship my sophomore year – it’s how you get through those times with your tribe of resilient people. We’re all striving toward a goal. You grab each other and comfort each other and laugh together. I wouldn’t have been able to get through it without the people around me.
You’re the president of the Black Empowerment Student Alliance (BESA). What has that group meant to you? BESA has meant everything. The one thing about navigating any space, specifically if it’s predominately white, is it’s so important to have a community you can rely on. BESA is a place I can go and just be. I can be authentic. There’s a stigma of what it means to be black even within black communities, but you still have a shared experience and go through similar things. We put on events, we laugh – it’s fun to be a part of that community.
The vision of BESA is important to a lot of people, especially during times when racial incidents happen on campus. I knew we had to do something and we did.
Who has been the most influential person in your life? Each year, there’s been a different person. Four years ago it was my dad, last spring it was my grandpa, when I was abroad it was God. I feel like it’s been my younger self and my future self. I owe it to my younger self to do well and graduate. And to my older self, it’s about the future I want to have.
What do you do when you want to let go of everything and relax? I watch the sunset or listen to music. Or do them both at the same time. It’s super peaceful to listen to chill music and to write. It’s a reflective time where I can center myself and figure out how I feel. It’s also a recharging period. I love being where the sun is and listening to music.
What’s the last album you downloaded? I like to listen to indie soul. There’s a band called Hiatus Kaiyote from Australia and they have a what I like to call an Afrocentric hipster-ism feel. I used to have a radio show called “Afrocentric Hipster-ism,” because I didn’t know what else to call my musical tastes.
I’m also a playlist enthusiast. I have a playlist for every month, but I specifically have a playlist for sunsets. It’s called “Songs for Sunsets.”
What makes you smile? I love sunflowers and the sun. Being around people. I joke around with my dad and my aunt a lot – we have a very similar sense of humor. And my friends make me laugh. My friends and family are way funnier than anyone else.
What’s the best concert you’ve ever been to? Beyoncé, because Beyoncé is great. That was a crazy experience. It was raining and she was dancing in water – who does that? It was so great. There was a Noname concert I went to in Australia – she’s cool and I got to meet new people when I was there and hang out with some of the band members. And then there’s Daniel Caesar – he sounded just like he did on his albums, but even better. He has such a good spirit.
What’s the last thing you ordered online? A space heater. I love to be warm.
What’s the last TV show you binge watched? “You” on Netflix. It’s really creepy.
What are you most proud of from your time at St. Thomas? Of not giving up. I’m proud of sticking with it and not transferring or dropping out. I’m proud of pushing through sad moments of depression, anxiety and feeling like I was by myself. Throughout college I’ve battled with depression and anxiety – I go to CAPS – Counseling and Psychological Services – I see the importance of seeking the help you need. I think sometimes people see only the good moments, but never the times you’re crying and upset and trying to get through the growing pains of life. I was really proud for making it through spring semester of my sophomore year, getting good grades and having a radio show. I’m proud of my junior year for studying abroad, not coming back early and making the Dean’s List. I’m proud of myself for being president of one of the biggest clubs on campus.