Video Highlights Womyn of Color on Campus


Screenshot from “Nice 4 What” video

Students at Oberlin, including video’s Creative Director Kiela Nelson, OC ’18, (Third from Left), perform in “Nice 4 What” music video.

Much of Oberlin student activism centers on promoting racial equality. However, no matter how much effort is put into making the school a more inclusive space, many students struggle in navigating certain aspects of Oberlin simply because they are Black at a predominantly white institution.

Kiéla Nelson, OC ’18, recently addressed this issue on August 15th, when she released “Nice 4 What,” a music video soundtracked by Drake’s “Nice for What” that featured Oberlin womyn and femmes of color celebrating their presence on campus.

“It’s so hard being at Oberlin as a Black or Brown person,” Nelson said. “I’m not even trying to be pessimistic — it was a great experience being here — but I didn’t even know what it was really like to go to a predominantly white institution, to not be at the top of my class, to not have all the opportunities that other people had. I struggled.”

Nelson’s work was informed by her experiences as a Black womyn/femme at Oberlin and the support she received from other POC on campus. As of Sept. 7, “Nice 4 What,” has more than 21,000 views on Facebook and over 1,000 views on YouTube. Nelson says many of the womyn and femmes featured in the video were a bedrock of support for her during her time at Oberlin.

“Everyone who showed up to our shoot was a person of color, so I ended up not even intentionally having a video with just POC. I wasn’t mad obviously — but that kind of speaks to my experience,” Nelson said. “The people in that video, and the Black community, and the community of minorities on the Oberlin campus are the main people who helped get me to where I am. That was my support system.”

Nelson’s inspiration for the music video was learning that Drake’s music video was directed by a fellow 22-year-old woman of color, Karena Evans. “I was like, I can do this. She’s 22, I’m about to be 22, there’s no reason I can’t do this.”

Nelson used this project to document her life on campus, showing the people and the places who motivated her to keep pushing forward despite the struggles she faced in school.

“I went around to people who I know have helped me get through these past four years, those people who are womyn and femmes, also people who I’ve just seen … these beautiful people walking around me who inspire me to keep moving on. [The video shows] people being at peace with themselves, people standing in front of things that they think are beautiful, or standing in front of places where they have felt at home.”

Nelson’s process for making “Nice 4 What” was, in many ways, simply putting a lens to this community. “A lot of those shots I just literally went to the West African dance rehearsal, I just got a lot of shots there because [it] was a community of women [who] like to dance,” she said.

The video, edited to feel like a vintage home videotape, is a celebration of the Black community at Oberlin, who often feel cast aside on Oberlin’s predominantly white campus.

“The thing is, Black and Brown people are on this campus doing the dang thing every single day, but it is hard to find recognition for our work and our presence outside of our own communities,” said junior Miyah Byers, the lead videographer for the video. “I hope that current and prospective Black and Brown students at Oberlin see this video and become inspired by the truth and joy that it contains. I hope they see that there is a community for them to find a footing in. I hope they see that there are Black and Brown people not only making it through here, but thriving here.”

This message certainly rings true. “Nice 4 What” represents femmes of color on screen as a distinct, vital, and vibrant force within the Oberlin community.

During her last semester at Oberlin, Nelson served as the creative director for the wildly successful “Sankofa Remix’d: Reclaiming my Fly” fashion show. After a whirlwind four years, she is now working as a dance teacher in Chicago. Nelson is also performing in CLR, a singing trio that stands for “Creative Life Restored,” with Oberlin double-degree fifth-year Dianna Hope and Andre Cardine, OC ’18.

“I want to inspire young people everywhere to accomplish what they want to do regardless of what anyone says,” Nelson said. “I’m going to continue to use my community in my projects. I will continue to do what I can do with no budget — I spent zero dollars on ‘Nice 4 What.’ In the future, when I have money to get amazing editors, I’m going to take the world by storm.”

After seeing what was accomplished with this video, there’s no reason to believe otherwise.