A PUPP Alumni NewsletterPUPP Periodical
Bentrice is a graduate of Trenton Central High School and Wake Forest University ’13. She earned her bachelor’s degree, with honors, in Studio Art with a Film Studies minor. She is the founder of a community-based arts organization- Both Hands Artlet, which partners with the Boys and Girls club to provide a safe space for teens in the Trenton area to gain mentorship while exploring various forms of art as a way of self-expression and personal growth. Bentrice is also a working artist and has done art residencies in Central New Jersey schools. Bentrice shared with us the reason she decided to launch Both Hands in Trenton.
What inspired you to come back and do this type of work after graduating from Wake Forest University?
This past year, Both Hands: The Artlet partnered with the Boys & Girls Club to provide our services. The Both Hands Curriculum includes an extensive instructional component that makes filmmaking language understandable and relatable to teens. Same goes for Poetry–writing is no longer a useless ritual, instead it becomes a tool of circumvention.
Week by week we learn to dissect and read films, so that the Young Artists would make conscious choices in their own films when it was time to shoot. There weren’t assigned themes to their films other than searching within themselves to find out what they were passionate about, what the world needs to hear and see, and what may change the outlook of the person watching it. The students learned pre- and post-production filmmaking, final cut pro and intermediate film editing, garage band, cinematography, equipment handling, and much more!
We kept each of the student’s individual film a secret from everyone beside me and the filmmaker until the day we had a public showing of their work. EVERY ONE loved it and was thoroughly impressed by the outcome of each of the films. The participants mentioned how fulfilling it was to see their ideas come to life and how proud they were of their ensemble/colleagues. In all, there were 4 short films: 2 short documentaries (one was Shana Langley a fellow PUPP Scholar Class of 2015), and 2 Poet adaptations) and a poetry collective with about 15 different poems from the Young artists and myself.
To learn more about Both Hands: The Artlet visit www.bothhandsartlet.org
Her Campus Article
Bentrice Jusu is an old soul. Don’t let her shaved head, ripped jeans, or vintage chucks (of the decidedly non-Greek kind) dissuade you. She listens with a quiet stillness that grants her a maturity beyond her years—and then she laughs. A real kid’s laugh, a raspy laugh, a belly laugh. She casts her spell and then she breaks it, reeling you in. Bentrice, a senior art major and renaissance woman from Trenton, New Jersey, kindly showed me her world one morning in late October.
Bentrice opened up to me about the non-profit she founded two summers ago, called Both Hands: The Artlet. The organization mentors at-risk local teenagers through the arts.
“Both Hands is my way of giving [back to]… the mentorship that saved my life in high school,” she reflects.
One mentor, an employee at the Trenton Boys & Girls Club, was especially noteworthy.
“I didn’t want to go home because of [domestic] issues,” said Jusu. I got engaged in extra-curricular activities to cover up what was really going on inside. Evonne Williams saw right through that…[I could] really become the best person I could be without any judgment.”
The mentorship spurred the idea for a program of her own.
“There are no centers directly focused on the arts or teens [in Trenton],” Jusu explained. “This attributes to high crime, high pregnancy rates, and other daunting factors in Trenton. It is my belief that if we give these teens something to look forward to, something to create, that will change.”
She piloted the program during the summer of 2011 through the Boys & Girls Club of Trenton, New Jersey, but independently directs the program out of a local high school, currently. This summer, the program ran for seven weeks using Jusu’s curriculum, six volunteer instructors and five student interns who mentored 31 teenagers
The name of her non-profit, like her own, has a higher meaning. “It’s called ‘Both Hands’ because my last name, Jusu, means ‘the right hand of God.’ I thought about how my spirituality is my strength. I can dance, I can draw. I’m a poet as well. I always like to articulate the issues. That’s my strong suit, but what about the left side? The weakness? The tears that no one gets to see? What about the gang members? The teen that’s going to drop out of high school? So together, we’re both hands, left and right, weak and dominant. We need to build a better community, an artistic, ambidextrous community.”
Her commitment to bettering communities clearly extends to Wake Forest. She aired her video project “Robin hood’s Conviction,” a film that highlights Wake Forest students drowning under the burden of tuition debt, on Youtube in mid-October. In her film, she digs a massive, dirt-filled hole by Martin Residence Hall as a metaphor for the crippling financial deficit Wake Forest students face upon graduation.
“There’s this big hole. How do you get out of it? Who’s supposed to get you out of it?” She pauses. “[Yet] I’m convinced that through artistry, a story can be told properly. I’m convinced that it can get better. ‘Robinhood Conviction’ is optimism about getting one’s self out of the hole somehow.”
Her optimism is infectious. I find myself unconsciously trying to out-grin her throughout the interview and fail, hands down. When I ask Jusu about her contagious joy, she quickly catches my Maya Angelou reference and smiles.
“Many women wonder where my secret lies,” she jokes.
Upon further prodding, she reveals the source behind her non-conventional façade.
“In high school, I had a really striking appearance because I hated what Jordans would do to my peers,” she says. “You had to have Jordans to be popular, or wear Hollister jeans. I deliberately went to the thrift store and bought clothes with wild colors. I wanted to make being different, being smart a cool thing, and it worked.”
Casting a glance at my requisite sorority t-shirt, she reassures me.
“I don’t look down upon anyone who is in a sorority or anyone who is in their Ralph Lauren,” she says. “That’s how they were raised. If that’s who you are, be that! At the same time, I am very aware of who I am.”
As our interview concludes, Jusu reflects upon her life philosophy.
“I just try never to forget,” she says. “A lot of times it’s easy for me, in North Carolina, to [forget] about everything that’s happening with my family. I’m privileged to come here. I am not doing this for myself. Nothing about education is about me. I’m just delivering the message I’m able to receive from it. That would be my message—never forget your origin.”
Written By, Elena Dolman
Wake Forest University, Old Gold & Black
Bentrice Jusu is as close to a superhero as Wake Forest can claim. However, our resident crusader prefers ripped-jeans to brightly colored spandex, and a film camera to brute strength.
The senior studio arts major not only creates socially and economically conscious documentaries, but she also runs her own nonprofit organization to benefit underprivileged teenagers and the arts in her hometown of Trenton, N.J.
“My love of film started out with my father, he is an entrepreneur,” Jusu said. “He was born in Liberia and came over in 1986. He was homeless for a bit and he was able to do side jobs to get to New Jersey. What he’s doing right now is his own film business and I’ve been working with him since I was about seven years old.
“I feel like now it’s hard to compete with painters — there are a lot of talented painters, a lot of talented sculptors, but film is one of the most effective ways of getting the message out there. And if it’s captivating you can captivate a specific audience. It’s the more modern way of having a voice, having an artistic opinion. You can speak loudly through video.”
And speak loudly she does. Jusu’s films often focus on social and economic inequalities.
They emphasize the problems Jusu sees in society today, especially in her hometown. Currently, Jusu is running her own not-for-profit organization and inspiring teenagers in the Trenton area.
The charity focuses on all the arts, not just film. “I’m always excited about where the teens are going to take their projects,” Jusu said. “They get this new information and then they just do damage.”
Jusu is responsible for coming up with a theme, but the students are given otherwise free rein over the project. Jusu describes her humanitarian work as a “selfless responsibility,” though from the look on her face it’s clearly a passion as well.
In 2011, Jusu received the Building the Dream Award from the Wake Forest Institute for Public Engagement. The award is presented anually to those who embody the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I am humbled by that,” Jusu said. “Everything that I do is not about me. It’s not even considered sacrifice because I want to do it. I’ve made it my role to do for others. All my artistry is dedicated to them. [This award] means I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.” She explained that her goal was to keep students from becoming disheartened by the “idea of Trenton.”
As for her own inspiration, Jusu admires the work of Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, whom she deems true innovators. “Quentin Tarantino did not go to film school and he did it his own way. [Film], it’s his passion and I love that and admire him,” Jusu said.
In the true artistic spirit, Jusu claims she doesn’t have a process. “I don’t wake up in the morning and say ‘I’m going to create a film today.’ It’s more so if I just see something. I look at it and then I say ‘oh,’ most of my inspiration comes from dialogue. The process is life.” Her advice to the aspiring filmmaker is simple, “Learn to look. Learn to look past the surface. Look, really look.”
She went on to explain that it’s everyday life that provides the most insight. When asked what she wants her fellow Wake Forest student to know she said, “Support the arts — not just my art, the arts. Art most of the time is overlooked. When it’s done correctly it’s done with passion.”
Written By Doresey Hill
On January 23, at the campus celebration of Martin Luther King Day, junior Bentrice Jusu received the Building the Dream Award for embodying Dr. King’s spirit and working for social justice. An art major from Trenton, N.J., Bentrice was a 2011 intern in the Institute for Public Engagement’s Summer Nonprofit Immersion Program. She worked in several programs at the Shalom Project in Winston Salem, including their food pantry, clothing closet and youth enrichment programs. She also developed and implemented an original art curriculum for their children clients (ages 5-11 years old). Her experience in IPE’s nonprofit management seminar and vocational reflection seminars intensified her goals to start her own nonprofit organization.
“Bentrice came to our program with an unwavering passion for the nonprofit sector and the desire to empower youth in our community,” said Velvet Bryant, Assistant Director of the Institute For Public Engagement.
Jusu is the owner of Both Hands Artlet, a nonprofit organization serving inner-city youth who are endangered by violence in their homes and on the streets of Trenton. Jusu’s vision is for her business to become a creative outlet for all teens, not just those at risk. In 2011, she received the “Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award for a Social Venture” from the Wake Forest Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship.
First of two parts.
Wake Forest senior Corvaya Jeffries won’t graduate unless she can pay a school debt of a little more than $500 by May 17. On top of that, she owes about $30,000 in student loans, she said in a recent interview.
“Sometimes I wonder if coming to Wake Forest was the best decision for my family and myself, and I don’t think it was,” said Jeffries, of Hoboken, N.J.
Jeffries is the first member of her family to go to college. Throughout her four years at Wake Forest, she has always held two or three off-campus jobs, which she said was a challenge to balance with academics. Jeffries said she expected to not have enough saved up before Wake Forest’s May 20 graduation to pay off the $500 debt and was planning to have to ask friends and family for money.
“There are a lot of things a lot of my friends don’t have to worry about because of help they get from their family and their parents, and I don’t have that,” Jeffries said. “There’s nothing I could have done to avoid the loans, and there is nothing I can do to be relieved from them.”
“I’m happy I’m graduating with a Wake Forest degree, I feel honored, but if I could do it all again, I don’t know if I would,” she said.
Wake Forest senior Bentrice Jusu is also facing substantial student loan debt. An art major from Trenton, N.J., Jusu addresses the issue in her film, “Robin Hood’s Conviction.” In the film, she lifts one shovel-full of dirt after another, continuing to dig. The hole becomes deeper and deeper, and she sinks lower into the ground, offering a metaphor for student loan debt.
“It’s a lifetime sentencing of debt. But I’m pursuing this because I believe that I’m going to be the reason to get out of this situation, no matter the cost right now,” Jusu said.
Jusu will graduate with more than $30,000 of loan debt, which is more than her mother makes annually, she said. She made her short film for a video art class she took last fall.
After she completed the film, she screened it on the door of the financial aid offices at Wake Forest one weekend. Jusu said she didn’t get any feedback about the film from financial aid officials, but that it resonated with a number of students because so many of them can relate.
Jusu is in the first generation of her family to go to college, in addition to being a first-generation American citizen. Her family is from Liberia.
“I’ve got to go (to college), because if I don’t, I’m going to be working a in a factory like my mom,” she said. “I’m not ashamed of that, but I don’t want that for her, I don’t want that for me anymore because it hasn’t gotten us anywhere; she’s been working there for 26 years.”
Jeffries said she considered transferring to the less expensive Florida State University her freshman year until one of her professors convinced her to stay. “He encouraged me to stay at Wake Forest because of the quality of a Wake Forest degree and to stick it out,” she said. “I felt like I was here for a reason, and I shouldn’t give up because of money.”
Jeffries is a communications major and hopes to work in broadcasting or journalism. She said since she hasn’t received any job offers, she is moving to central Florida, where her mother lives and runs a group home for abandoned teenagers. Jeffries said she plans on working at the group home after graduation even though it’s not what she wants to do long-term. She said she needs to earn an income so she can start paying off some of her loans, and hopes to be working for a magazine or television station by next fall.
Jeffries said her mother moved to Florida to escape their dangerous inner-city life in New Jersey and to try to give her two younger siblings a better place to live.
“I feel like I was the lucky one that made it out of the situation we were in and was able to take high school seriously and pursue my education,” she said.
Jusu also came from an inner city environment and credits school art programs for helping her make it out. She has founded a nonprofit organization for teenagers in her hometown, called Both Hands the Artlet. Jusu received grants and awards from Wake Forest to start the nonprofit, and most recently received The Samuel Huntington Public Service Award, which will provide funding for the organization upon her graduation. The organization’s purpose is to counteract bad influences that inner-city teenagers face and get them involved in art in a positive environment, while providing mentoring and a stable place for them to hang out.
Jusu’s grants are for the nonprofit and do not provide a salary for her, but she remains hopeful. She said that despite her debt load, she does not fault the university and is hopeful about her future. “It’s what I signed up for when I got here,” she said.
“So I”ll find a way … something will happen, it has to happen.”
Beyond the ticket price
David Dawson, a 2002 Winston-Salem State graduate, says that something positive can come out of student loan debt. Dawson, who teaches marketing at a Charlotte high school, still is paying off his student loan debt — all $36,000 of it. About $20,000 of his debt is from his undergraduate degree, and the remaining $16,000 is from earning a graduate degree.
“The positive side of taking out those loans is that it allowed me to get the education I needed to receive and to start my career,” he said. “Without those loans there was no way I could pay for my college education alone.”
Dawson said that student loans can cause problems for years to come and can easily mess up one’s credit score. “Sometimes you don’t know until you get into the thick of things, you don’t know how not paying off your student loan can affect you once you graduate,” he said.
Jeffries said she is aware of the payments and how they can affect a credit rating, and plans to always try to make payments on time. She said that students have to be proactive and seek out information about their loans on their own. “I don’t think the university is doing a good job informing students on how they need to take care of their financial debt upon leaving the university,” she said. “If students are not proactive and they’re not looking for information themselves, they’re left to figure it out for themselves.”
Dawson also stressed the importance of being proactive, especially at a young age. “This is what I tell my current high school students: ‘Put yourself in a position to qualify for scholarships, with a solid GPA, so you do not have to worry about taking out student loans.’ I was not in a position coming out of high school going into WSSU to qualify for those types of scholarships. So I put myself in debt by not putting myself in a good position,” he said.
“Save when your child is young, take advantage of 529 saving programs, put yourself in a position for scholarship money and do not out take more than you need,” he added.
Both Jeffries and Jusu are still grappling with what it means to be in the grips of a large debt.
“It’s not a critique about the university, I love Wake Forest; it’s the whole idea of what college is,” Jusu said. “It hypes you up about ‘Yeah I’m a fit, I’m accepted, I’m a top-tier student, but yet you get out and you’re applying to McDonald’s.”
Jeffries echoed Jusu’s sentiments. “All my life before college, I’ve seen my family go through hardships and find a way to make the next amount of money. And then as an undergrad in college working two or three jobs, finances has always been a stressor and knowing that leaving college it’s still there is sort of discouraging,” Jeffries said.
“Who knows how long it will be before I finish paying off my debt? When does it stop? When does this go away?”