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Red Bull Amaphiko Academy Social Entrepreneur Program A Success!

Ten days of inspiration, mentorship, and relationships in Baltimore took social innovation projects to the next level.


Women at the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center



Red Bull’s Baltimore, Md. Amaphiko Academy brought hundreds of people from across the country to be a part of an entrepreneurship program that aims to bring together social innovators focused on addressing social issues and inequities in their communities. A group of 15 innovators were selected for the Academy and took part in a 10-day residency, August 11 through 20, consisting of lectures, storytelling workshops, coaching clinics, and business simulations hosted by some of the country's leading change-makers. 


There was also a calendar of free public events for the Baltimore community, including a festival, music performances, food, storytelling, and conversations, pop-up shops, a wellness evening, art installations, and more.


Photos by Amaphiko


The Red Bull Amaphiko Academy took place at the Eubie Blake Cultural Center in the Mt. Vernon part of Baltimore—a well-known community space associated with the city's musical Jazz and artistic heritage.
"Amaphiko" translates to "wings" in Zulu, an official language in the program's origin country of  South Africa. Red Bull Amaphiko Academies have taken place five times across the world since 2014: three times in South Africa and twice in Brazil, supporting more than 100 social ventures globally.



Photos by Amaphiko 


This year in Baltimore there were a total of 14 participants in the Academy and thousands of attendees and guests over the course of the event. Approximately 600 people attended the Open House, 100 or more people attended the Medicine Show, and around 200 participated in Wellness Night. More than a thousand attended the Festival.


While the global Red Bull Amaphiko Academy is expected to return to the U.S. in the future, the dates, and location have not yet been decided. Please visit the website or Facebook page for further details.



Curve videographer Shelby Coley traveled to Baltimore during the event to experience the Academy and to meet with select innovators who shared their stories, below.


Ava Pipitone

Photo by Shelby Coley


Pipitone is a worker/owner of the radical co-operative bookstore and cafe, Red Emma’s, and the executive director of the Baltimore Trans Alliance, and the co-founder of HostHome. In her work, she says she is “intervening in the structures of marginalization from the inside-out.”


Pipitone describes Red Emma’s is based on the concept of consensus—a non-hierarchical worker co-operative in a historically Black part of the city, and “a space for the runaway queer youth, for the radical thinker, organizer or activist.”


“Everyone working at Red Emma’s owns the project to which they sell their labor...All voices are heard, no one is silenced, and we can move forward.” It is that model that Pipitone sought to bring into discussions at the Amaphiko Academy, along with raising awareness about the oppression of trans individuals, which mostly manifests as violence against black and brown bodies. She says she is checking her privilege, investing in others, and finding empowerment through mentorship.


Her social innovator project is Host Home—a donor-powered AirBnB for the trans community. Host Home takes people in need and houses them immediately through a 1800 number who connects needy people with willing hosts. "It's a lifeline for trans people," says Pipitone. "It’s the first-ever tech startup founded by transfolks. "


Pipitone identified the Amaphiko Academy's offer of mentorship as a worthwhile application of the tools and ethos she had formed at Red Emma's, and she hopes that what she is bringing to Amaphiko is "the technology of consensus." She sees the model of the worker co-operative assisting in the trans movement. In her workshop there "seemed to be a hunger for conversation around gender,” with wins in cross-solidarity and the sharing of common hierarchies of oppression. “The freedoms we’re fighting for are bound up in each other.” 


Eli Erlick

Photo by Amaphiko


Eli Erlick is a 22-year-old queer-identified transgender woman activist, writer, public speaker, and director of the Trans Student Educational Resources (TSER). "Trans Student Educational Resources is a national organization dedicated to transforming the educational environment for trans and gender nonconforming students around the country," says Erlick. "We are the only educational organization led by trans youth, and the only one focusing on trans students."


Erlick, who goes by the gender pronouns 'she' and 'her,' founded TSER when she was 16 years old and living in a very rural Northern California community. "I opened up about being queer and trans when I was eight years old," says Erlick. She was met by a context of hostility, violence, and ignorance around trans issues. "It can still be kind of hard to talk about," she says. "There was a lot of physical bullying. There was a lot of isolation and harassment that I didn't just face from my peers, but also from my teachers and community members. My family wasn't there to support me either."


Her parents did allow her to transition when she was 13 years old. "I was very lucky, but at the same time, the violence didn't stop. So when I was 16 I knew I had to make a change in the community for all the youth like me."


Erlick joined forces with some other young trans people and launched TSER in 2011. The organization has since expanded and offers a range of services, including starting trans-activist policies within other institutions and providing training and resources for other trans activists.  


Addressing the needs of young trans people is both challenging and inspiring, says Erlick. But it's necessary. "80 percent of us feel unsafe in school and over half of us have been physically assaulted," she says. TSER focuses on supporting trans youth from preschool to grad school, with education and services working on a "by us, for us" model. "So we also provide leadership training for young trans activists," says Erlick. The leadership summit is the only one of its kind in the world.


Erlick became involved with the Amaphiko Academy by invitation and welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with others working in social innovation. "My main goal was connections, and meeting other people who were critically engaged with their communities, whether through thinking or through action."


National organizations and events are of great importance to connecting queer and trans people who grow up in isolated rural communities. "When I came out I was the only trans person in my whole town and the nearest city was three hours away." She was able to forge networks through the internet. "Trans youth are making it better by producing resources and making connections online."


Priscilla (Pri) Bertucci

Photo by Shelby Coley


Pri Bertucci is a queer Brazilian multimedia artist who prefers the pronouns "they" and "them". The founder and creator of [SSEX BBOX], filmed simultaneously in San Francisco, Sao Paulo,  Berlin and Barcelona, Pri started the project to create an educational platform with which to talk about gender and sexuality in the LGBTQI community, especially around the intersection of race and class.


Pri was inspired especially by a 2010 Brazilian reality TV show in which a white cisgender man berated a lesbian on public television and not only was tolerated—he won the prize money, as voted by the Brazilian people. This led Pri to start to think about the power of masculinity over women and gender. They created a web TV series with the intent of dismantling assumptions around gender binaries.


"We decided to go for a web documentary series filmed in four different cities looking at cultural differences and understandings and sexuality. When we launched the series we did screenings in the cities and invited educators and academics to come and start a conversation around the film. This is how the international conference was born. It was about holding space and creating a safe environment for people, to talk about their identities and about the trauma caused by these binaries and the boxes we have created for human sexuality and gender identity."


The web series examines forces such as religion, educational shaming, and misinformation as a tool to enforce and control binaries.


"Being queer in Brazil was difficult because in Brazil we didn’t have an undertaking of transgender identities. In the beginning, I identified as a lesbian or dyke because that’s what I thought was available and it was only when I moved to the Bay Area that I started thinking outside of the binary. 


"I had a lot of signs from childhood that I was probably going to become a transman. But later on, I saw that I was comfortable with my body and didn’t need to go through some transitions. I still identify as trans, but I didn’t need to become a transman, I identify as genderqueer. In the beginning, it was hard because I was socialized as a woman and I’m still socialized as a woman. Also being a woman of color adds another layer of trauma — in school, I was bullied a lot, kids would throw me in the garbage or pee on me, steal my lunch, call me names because of my hair. Call me a dyke.”


Pri has found healing through exposing the social structure through the [SSEX BBOX] art and educational project. “I have found so many people who identify in similar ways—as I healed, I was helping to heal others. One of the goals of the project is helping people to understand that genitals don’t mean gender. To separate gender and body. We need to help people understand that gender identity has nothing to do with the body."


"Being part of the Amaphiko Academy was really transforming for me by bringing all those ideas into the group—or even saying my preferred gender pronouns are 'they' and 'them'. I want to create a space in which LGBT people can exist because we cannot exist as we are in this world today with the violence that exists.  


"We need to ask how can institutions benefit from diversity? How can we better educate allies rather than intimidating or confusing them?"


Pri is also working on [DIVERSITY BOX], which uses intersectionality and applies it to corporations to look at how diverse the environment is when it comes to not only gender and sexuality but class, ethnicity, race, disabilities etc.


"Why we have chosen to see the world as a machine rather than as a living organism in which things connect and are changing all the time?" says Pri.


More information about Red Bull Amaphiko can be found here

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