Alain Locke alumnus Taylor K. Shaw sits for an interview

Alumni Focus: Taylor K. Shaw, Founder and CEO of Black Women Animate

For the final installment of our Alumni Focus series, we chatted with Taylor K. Shaw, a very familiar face here at Alain Locke Charter School.

Despite being in her 20s, Taylor is already making major strides in her ambitious career. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2016, she went on to produce video shorts for VICE Media’s cutting edge VICELAND television channel. Today, she’s a content strategist for VICE.

Perhaps even more impactful, though, is her work with the Black Women Animate collective. Having seen firsthand the lack of representation of African-American women that exists in the entertainment industry—both in front of and behind the camera—Taylor’s collective is working to increase black women’s presence in the world of animation.

“The majority of students studying animation at universities is actually women,” Taylor said in an interview with Mashable. “Sixty percent of classrooms are women, but we don’t see that represented in who’s getting hired in the industry.”

To combat this trend, BWA was designed to provide black women with opportunities in the industry. The collective has already forged partnerships with organizations such as Cartoon Network, with which BWA held an animation bootcamp last year at Cartoon Network Studios in Burbank, California.

Long before her days as a creative pioneer, Taylor attended Alain Locke from first through eighth grade. She said in a recent interview with Alain Locke that, in many ways, it was her alma mater that helped set her on her journey as a creative professional.

“The motto at Alain Locke was ‘absolute excellence,'” she explained. “I always felt like absolute excellence was the expectation [for my life], and so I carried that with me. … And having that bar for myself be set so high is why I am where I am today.”

Though she’s come a long way since her Alain Locke days, Taylor visits regularly to give back by inspiring future generations of graduates.

Below is a lightly-edited transcript from an interview conducted during one such visit.

AL: At what point in your life did you realize you were a creative?

TS: I remember coming in to Alain Locke before school started to read [with Alain Locke Board Chair] Claire Hartfield—her book, “Uncle Romie and Me.” … That really cultivated my interest in reading and writing, and just learning about the world. …

Now, I’m in front of the camera and behind the camera; I remember [my teacher] Mrs. Wilkerson cultivating that interest in me. She had me emceeing different events at the school—plays; concerts. And I was like, “Whoa, I’m pretty good at this.” And that is all because Mrs. Wilkerson put a steady influence on excellence, absolute excellence when it came to performing and being in front of a crowd and being comfortable in front of a sea of people.

AL: Tell us about your experience attending St. Ignatius College Prep and then Northwestern after graduating from Alain Locke.

TS: None of those things were easy, but I always had that self-belief that, “OK, I might be crying right now because I am under a huge amount of stress and work, but I know that I can do it.” And that is really because from a young age there have been so many people in my Alain Locke family that have said, “Taylor you will do this, because you can.”

“Alain Locke Charter School is a symbol, a beacon of hope. The investment that this school makes in the children, it’s an investment in the community; it’s an investment in the growth and development of the community.”

AL: In what ways would you say Alain Locke embodies the spirit of “absolute excellence?”

TS: Alain Locke Charter School is a symbol, a beacon of hope. The investment that this school makes in the children, it’s an investment in the community; it’s an investment in the growth and development of the community. I have so many classmates that are truly reaping the benefits of that investment today, and they still live here on the West Side.

There’s so much going on in Chicago right now and I think it is really important to have Alain Locke as a symbol and a beacon of light and saying that, “Education is really the key to change; education is the key to making a difference and seeing a difference in the world, and seeing a difference in Chicago. Education—we really have to put such a strong emphasis on it.” And Alain Locke does that.

AL: What keeps you dedicated to coming back to Alain Locke to share your story with students after all these years?

TS: Coming back to Alain Locke is so important to me. … The memories walking down these halls; remembering where my locker was; seeing my old teachers, who are still here, who are still pouring into these kids. It makes me feel whole to know, “OK, this is where I started, and because I started here the sky is the limit for me.”

And it’s great for me to come back and talk to the kids who go here and say, “You can really do whatever you want. I’m doing exactly what I imagined myself doing.” … I come back here because I want the kids to see me and see what’s possible. And I come back here because I love this place and I care about how Alain Locke is doing, because there have been so many years where Alain Locke has cared about what I’m doing.

AL: You shared some words of wisdom with Alain Locke seventh-graders not long ago. What advice would you give to your own seventh grade self?

TS: If I was talking to seventh grade Taylor I would tell her, “The world is so big and expansive; you have options. Don’t pigeonhole yourself; don’t limit yourself. Really explore who you are and really explore what the world has to offer. Because there’s so much out there and the horizon is huge. So just explore what you’re passionate about and make sure you’re doing what makes you happy and work hard at that. Whatever your passion is, be absolutely excellent at it.”

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