A Queen’s Mind: Schuyler Nickleberry, Miss Junior for Clark Atlanta & Filmmaker

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College is a place where we go to make our dreams a reality. An HBCU is meant to be the key that unlocks all the untapped potential that lays dormant inside of all of us. However, I feel as if we don’t truly act upon said potential. We allow our warped sense of popularity and what’s valuable to diminish the chances that we have to live our dreams when we’re on the yard. We all need to seize the opportunities that are in front of us. We need to be more like Schuyler.

Just recently, Schuyler’s short film “Rebuild” won the AAFCA Film Festival. She was flown to LA and accepted her award in front of industry luminaries such as Ava Duvernay. She has her own web series that she writes and directs called “The Plug” Not to mention, she serves as Miss Junior on Clark Atlanta University’s Royal Court, under the reign of Royale Greene.

We got the chance to speak with Schuyler about her career at CAU and her film career after accepting the honor for her film “Rebuild”. What ensued was an amazing talk that should motivate any student or alumni creator to act upon the opportunities that are in front of them and always make sure you’re ok.

Randall: Thank you so much for allowing me to do this interview! Truly an honor! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Schuyler: I’m Schuyler Nickleberry, a Junior at CAU studying Mass Media Arts with a concentration in Television in Film. I’m from Fort Worth, Texas.

Randall: How was your high school career?

Schuyler: In high school, I was lowkey an outcast. I didn’t fit into any boxes that the typical high school structure tries to impart on us so most of the time; I was making moves by myself, hanging with who I wanted, on my own wave basically. My biggest accomplishments involved me being captain of our step team, taking audio and video courses, directing a whole fashion show/talent showcase, and graduating top 20 of my class.

Randall: How’d you end up at Clark Atlanta University?

Schuyler:  knew that I wanted to study mass communications around my Junior year in high school, but never really knew too much about HBCUs so I started taking interest in PWIs like NYU, SMU, etc. It wasn’t until my Aunt, a Southern University alumna, really hipped me to how her HBCU experience changed her life and that I should look into some that have great communication departments. I applied to Howard, Spelman, CAU, and Texas Southern…and was denied by my first two leaving CAU and TXSU to choose from. I never wanted to stay in Texas; that was just my backup plan. I figured Atlanta would really nurture my creative side. Never toured the campus or anything! But as soon as I got there for CAU Experience, I knew I was at home. I like to say that CAU chose me.

Randall: Tell us about your major. What do you want to do after graduation with that degree?

Schuyler: Mass media arts, concentrating in Television and Film. I’ve always been a lover of the arts since I was a young girl. I was always creating something new and being involved in a lot of artistic programs and events throughout primary and secondary school. I really enjoyed my Audio/Video classes in high school though. Using my experience and knowledge along with collaborating with my classmates on projects was really amazing! When I got to CAU, my eyes were opened to the art of storytelling and how that works in our favor as Black filmmakers. Often times, we don’t have the power to change the stigmas and stereotypes that are pressed on us in the African American community. Being a Black filmmaker is a tool to create and shift our own narratives and show society how we want to be viewed in ways that many successful filmmakers have not been able to achieve in centuries! I want to do that, endlessly! That’s why I chose Mass Media Arts. After graduation, I plan to work with many production companies and brands that align with my main goal: Telling the multifaceted and unique stories of our people.

Randall: Let’s talk about your college experience! I want to go through your first few years at CAU. How was your:

  • Freshman Year?

Schuyler: Freshman year aas very new and full of freshness. I hopped into everything I could get into. Talent shows, open mics, parties, etc. I also was a part of the dance team so I spent a lot of my time practicing and performing. My friend group was pretty solid for the most part, we had some down moments that kind of shook me into reality, though. To sum Freshman year up, it was overfilled with memories. If I could go back to any year in undergrad so far, it’d definitely be Freshman year.

  • Sophomore Year?

This year was the year where I learned my limits and how to protect my energy. Because I had been super involved on campus and kicked it with my friends so much, I kind of lost sight of taking care of Schuyler, leading to me developing a slight case of depression and anxiety. I attempted to get myself under control and had to let some things go (classes, “friends”, and campus organizations) to protect my sanity…Sophomore year, God really put me in check.

  • Junior Year?

It’s been a breeze so far. Not going to lie, it was very hectic when we all first got elected, but my previous experience with balancing tasks with caring for my mental and physical health helps me stay on track. My court sisters, best friends, and Nana keep me grounded as well. This year…I’ve really been in my BAG! I feel a huge level up in my growth from Sophomore year. I can say I feel more like a productive woman who can still turn up sometimes. I now know exactly who I am and where I want to be. No one can stop me from achieving all goals I set for myself.

Randall: One thing I discuss in my book A Queen’s Pain is campus politics and the social environment at HBCUs. In the book, the main character Raynetta Duram has a warped sense of what popularity is. She sees popularity and “clout” as being Greek (specifically a member of the Rho Eta sorority on Laketon State’s campus) and holding a title. In your opinion, what truly defines popularity?

Schuyler: I honestly believe when people reach “popularity”, it’s because there is something in them that people around them admire. To me, someone who is widely admired by many has qualities of being confident in themselves. Someone who has an infectious spirit and can influence the masses. They believe in themselves which will make others believe in them as well!

Randall: Does popularity on campus and success go hand-in-hand?

Schuyler: I personally do not think popularity and success are synonymous. It’s one thing to be liked and adored by many…but what you do with that influence, will determine your success. 

Randall: How’d you rise to prominence at CAU?

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Schuyler: One of the most important thing at CAU is your involvement on campus. I easily fell in love with my school after my first week there so when it came time to be a part of organizations and participating in events, I was ready to work! I became a part of Onyx Dance Team, an Orientation Guide, served on the Sophomore Class Council, performed dance or spoken word at almost every open mic night, attended and hosted events through my membership in these orgs, and so much more. At CAU, the more people see your face and your presence on campus, the more you get to interact with people who will latch onto you and support you no matter what.

Randall: What made you want to run to be Miss Junior?

Schuyler: In a nutshell, I was greatly impacted and inspired by campus queens that came before me and I realized that me and those women were not far separated…I felt like I was making impacts on other people just as I was, so I thought holding the position of Miss Junior would help me maximize that impact. (And it most certainly has!!!)

Randall: Tell us about your Miss Junior campaign!

  • What was your platform?

Schuyler: M.A.G.I.C.—Making Adjustments to Grow Individually and Collectively

  • What were strategies that you used to reach the students to garner their support?

Schuyler: Being my authentic self, 24/7. Too often do prospective candidates “turn on” a persona they think would appeal to the masses for votes. My strategy is really no strategy at all! When running for a Queen title, your student body wants to see who you truly are. I was my authentic self when I was on the Promenade talking to students who passed by, had genuine conversations regarding their experience at CAU and what they felt they were lacking. I was authentic in speeches and debates. I was authentic with my creative ideas and execution for all of my campaign graphics and videos. I was my authentic self in the pageant, and I think that’s what truly wins people’s hearts and support.

  • What were some problems that you encountered in your campaign and how did you overcome them?

Schuyler: The only problems I encountered was the weather changes! Atlanta weather is so bipolar so one time all the candidates for the Spring Elections had to move our tables into the student center, when I got out of class to set up, there was no more space, so I didn’t have a table that day, but that didn’t stop me from reaching out to my peers.  

  • How’d it feel when you found out that you won?

Schuyler: Well, fortunately for me, I ran unopposed so I knew I had it but I still had to execute a phenomenal campaign, or else people would think it was just handed to me. But all in all, what’s meant for you, is for you. Realizing I was on my path to being Miss Junior, I was unexplainably grateful that God saw fit for me to be that girl! Officially hearing my name preceding the “Miss Junior” title made me feel elated because I know I had worked tirelessly for it and I was ready to work even more!

Randall: Tell us about your AAFCA Winning Film Rebuild!

  • What is it about?

Schuyler: REBUILD is about a young college woman who was assigned to research a piece of history that occurred on her campus and she so happens to stumble across a brief glimpse of history behind the Atlanta Student Movement that happened in the 1960s (Civil rights era)

  • How’d you found inspiration to make the short film?

Schuyler: I drew inspiration for this film since my campus and the other Atlanta University Center schools have so much history embedded in each building, sidewalk, etc. We walk on the same bricks our ancestors marched on to defend their rights. I also felt that many generations of AUC students have lost that sense of activism and strength so REBUILD is me reintroducing the ASM with hopes to spark my peers’ interest to bring that community back.

  • Tell us about the competition? How’d you find out about it?

Schuyler: My Multimedia professor, journalist Christopher Daniel, sent out emails to our class with the flyer for the competition and he knew that I am invested in creating film/television content so he encouraged me to enter the competition. But it was so last minute AND I was in the middle of production for my Pilot episode for my web series “The Plug”, I convinced myself to skip out on it and I emailed him about my concerns for the quick turnaround (it was due like 3 days after we were notified) and he said verbatim, “For some reason, I feel like you’re gonna murder this!” So I did!

    1. How did it feel when you won?

Schuyler: To this day, the whole experience, from me winning, to being flown to LA, giving my acceptance speech in a room full of Hollywood’s finest (INCLUDING MY BIGGEST INSPIRATION, AVA DUVERNAY) felt like a dream! It was also very humbling!

  • How do feel as if this will aid in your future career as a filmmaker?

Schuyler: The experience of writing, directing, shooting, and even starring in my own production then being awarded for that work was a challenge and going through with it is just proof that I can make any vision come to life. That is important as a filmmaker. Thorough research, work and execution.

Randall: Tell us about some of your other film projects!

Schuyler: In my Sophomore year, I decided to create a visual for one of my spoken word pieces about navigating the world as a woman and it kind of captured the essence of one of my favorite films, Love Jones. That’s something I’m very proud of. Last semester, in my Multimedia course, we were assigned to create a pilot episode for a web series so I wrote, directed, and shot with my friends Aiyana Newman and Malcolm West for “The Plug” which is a story centering Sade, a fresh college graduate who deals marijuana in her local neighborhood who has dreams of opening and running her own dispensary. I wrote that over the winter break then we casted, rehearsed, shot, and edited that episode in 5 days…I can say I’m very used to producing great work with tight deadlines!

Randall: What’s next for you?

Schuyler: Since arriving back to Atlanta from Los Angeles, even while in LA, that question has been lingering in my head for a while. I’m still kind of living in my present moment…being careful not to rush into anything but I am most definitely cooking up some more stories that need to be told. But for sure, I am continuing with my programming and events as Miss Junior and working on maintaining straight A’s for the remainder of this semester!

Randall: Where can we find you on social media?

  • @schuylerpaigee on Twitter
  • @schuylerpaige on Instagram
  • Schuyler Paige on YouTube
  • Schuyler Nickleberry on Facebook

 

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