Students interview their heroes for Black History Month project

 The PNC Legacy Project opened its Celebrating Black History Month exhibit on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2014. To bring the exhibit to young people, the Legacy Project introduced an essay contest for 6th-8th grade students in Pittsburgh Public Schools. The three winning students later interviewed the subjects of their essays. This is the first of three entries in a special profile series exclusively for the New Pittsburgh Courier.  Here, Essence Davis, an 8th grade student at Obama Academy, interviews Demeatria Boccella, founder of Utopia Model Agency and FashionAFRICANA.

I picked Demeatria because of her ability to take the negativity she experienced in the fashion industry and make it something positive. By creating the “Utopia Project” for pre-teen and teen girls, she is teaching us about all aspects of the fashion industry.

Furthermore, both of us experienced not being comfortable in our skin, but we also overcame that part of our lives. Demeatria helps people see their true beauty and to accept diversity in fashion, music and dance.

When did you realize that you wanted to be in the fashion industry?

“I have always been really creative, and I think my interest began as a toddler. I recall at three or four years old, taking my mother’s scarves and tying them around my head and creating flowers. I just always wanted to do something creative. Maybe around middle school that’s when I wanted to model.

How did you overcome the feeling that you weren’t beautiful?

“I’m still on that journey of self-love and acceptance. You know, I think it’s an ongoing process. My mother played a significant role. She taught me that what really counts is how you treat people. You know, who you are on the inside exudes on the outside. And I always kept that in mind.

“What is so amazing about this interview is that magazine Essence really had a huge impact on me, Essence…The magazine that helped me showed images that looked like me. That gave me hope, and now I’m being interviewed by a beautiful young lady named Essence.

“The publication was very instrumental…I grew up in the ’70s. There weren’t many magazines out there that celebrated Black beauty. But Essence had amazing Black women in that publication, and so I saw a range of Black women from the lightest to the darkest. It gave me hope.

What inspired you to create the Utopia Project?

“It goes back to the people who played a significant part in my curiosity and desire to be involved in the fashion industry. I would ask them to mentor me, or if I could shadow them for a day. They really had no idea the impact they had on my life by giving me a couple hours. It really inspired me.

“So now that I’m older and have a little bit experience I wanted to create a program that does the same thing. My desire is to have a positive impact on young people and even if you decide you no longer want to model, then you’ve had an experience.

“I just would love to be able to nurture that desire young girls have. Because when I wanted to be involved in the fashion industry all I knew was modeling and being a fashion designer. I didn’t know that there were so many facets of the industry. So what I hope to do is share how art and commerce function together and then connect young people with industry professionals so that they can learn the many offerings within this billion dollar industry.

What sets FashionAFRICANA apart from other fashion shows?

“I think the distinction between FashionAFRICANA and the standard runway show is that it was created to celebrate the beauty and diversity of the diaspora through design, dance and music. I wanted to celebrate every aspect of our culture. The more I learned about my African ancestry the more it helped me to develop self-pride, to love myself more and to understand why I have these African features.

“You hear so much negativity about our culture. I wanted to celebrate it because there are so many contributions that people of African descent have made in fashion, in every industry. How can we go about celebrating all of that? So I try to do that through FashionAFRICANA.”


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