Hip Hop Artist Loreal “Queen Victoria” Bell became a Thomas J. Watson Fellow in 2013—one of 40 nationwide. As she reflects back on her experience of a year of fully-funded independent travel, it is clear that The Watson provides unparalleled exploration for graduating college seniors. At Berea, applications are due every September 15 for students who are graduating that December of the following May.
When Queen conceived her dream-year integrating her unique experience, proven skills and passion, she landed on the project: “Prisoner of Words (P.O.W.) [_____]: A Look into Feminist Euro Hip Hop Artists.” It led her to the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany and Austria, where she used interviews and documentary production as a tool for connecting with masculine women from the LGBTQ community who are involved in Hip hop culture.
What did she get out of her Watson year?
- A sense of community and the concept of abundance and generosity. Three times complete strangers who became instant friends offered her the keys to their home so she would have a place to stay while they were away. That sense of people taking care of each other has inspired her expand her initiatives to promote, sharing, bartering and the exchange of professional services, with a small team of like minded individuals—no money involved.
- The experience of collaboration. Women all over Europe invited her to give workshops and collaborate with her on projects. All though most of her time was spent on “P.O.W. [_____],” she maintains contact with all of them. They now form an essential part of Loreal’s world, where ideas abound and there is never enough time to incorporate all of them.
- A sense of purpose. “I realized I could influence people in a positive way to think more critically,” she explained. Currently, Loreal is working at Berea’s own Partners in Education as a VISTA Volunteer. An arts visionary, she also is building up a local non-profit called Bobtown Arts in conjunction with Phillip Wiggs, Vicky and Clarence Hayes. Already replete with property and a community kiln, this arts residency program will feature space for artists to live-in while they work on their specialty, which could range from something traditional like pottery or weaving to newer mixed media forms of art. The residencies will include encouragement for musicians, filmmakers and writers.
- A commitment to life-long learning. Loreal now tries to learn something new every single day.
What advice would she offer student applicants?
- Be courageous and bold.
- Plan, plan, plan. “Have a Plan A and a Plan B and a Plan C; be open to changing and helping your project evolve as you move through the year,” she remarked.
- Get ready to get lost. If you are prepared to experience ambiguity and uncertainty, you will allow yourself to get lost in the flow of the year. That may lead to moments when you get literally or figuratively lost. “That’s okay,” she quipped, “I met the people who became most important to my project during those times when I got lost.”
- “I only wish it was a two-year fellowship,” she said. The experience ended too soon. But that’s not stopping her from continuing her docu-series. She’ll return to Berlin in September to attend the Queer Film Festival there and do more filming, interviewing, collaborating and—you guessed it—learning!