Djali Brown-Cepeda has a rhythm of joy in her heart about life. The 16- year-old speaks with delight and depth, combined with a refreshing sweetness—even an intermittent giggle grounded in art, music and family. Djali (pronounced jah-lee) is the creator of Family Swank, her blog on massappeal.com featuring profiles of the young (ages 16-21) and dynamic.
“I know so many great DJs, photographers, rappers and other artists who are around my age and we don’t get a lot of exposure. I wanted to create that space for my generation.”
A multidimensional high school senior, Djali is a writer, photographer and pianist, with 11 years strong studying piano. “I don’t want to stop playing music when I go to college,” she says. “I want to learn more about composing and music theory. I can’t just drop it. Music is something that I really love.”
Djali attends the Beacon School in Manhattan; her schedule is full and she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I wake up pretty early, around six a.m,” she says. “Unlike most of the seniors in my school, I actually take every single class, so I have eight a.m. classes every morning. Two days of the week I don’t have lunch, but that’s completely okay.”
After school, extracurricular activities may take her to senior committee or yearbook staff or the Students Movement Against Cancer. Homework gets done on the train and when she gets home. Then she hangs out with her parents and plays with her 1-year old little brother, Marceau.
This insightful daughter has provocative ideas about life. “I believe we all choose our parents. I completely believe that that’s true.” That said, Djali’s parental blessings are her mother, Raquel Cepeda (author-filmmaker) and her stepfather Sacha Jenkins (ego trip co-founder and hip-hop culturist).
“Writing with my mom and my stepfather has helped me a lot. My [biological] father [music engineer, Djinji Brown] helps me with music. My grandfather, Marion Brown, was an avant-garde alto saxophonist who played with jazz musicians like John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins.” Very choice.
Of the support she receives with her photography goals, Djali says, “My father and my stepfather bought me a camera, which was very important to me.” Images of cityscape and social commentary empower her current portfolio. The budding photographer shoots the stars of her blog and for her high school yearbook as well.
Djali has set her higher academic sights on Wesleyan University, Brown University, Barnard College or Syracuse University. Concerning her future major, she still has some decisions to make—some unique combination of psychology, music and theater. “Applying to colleges has been fun and interesting, but also frustrating.”
Preferring to be true her multicultural background, there are no boxes to check for her perspective. “They always ask how I define myself. I identify as being African-American and as Latina.”
Defining herself as an artist, she says, “I am open-minded. Whether it’s playing piano, writing or photography, I like to look at a thing from different angles. What I do know for a fact is, I’m going to be continuing on all of those paths and I’m not going to stop. We’ll see where one of those paths takes me.”
Cool List from the Coolest: Djali Brown-Cepeda
Book: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
Author: Margaret Atwood
Poet: Gloria Anzaldúa
Photographer: Stefan Ruiz
Writer: My mom, Raquel Cepeda
Blog: Family Swank
Band: The White Mandingos
Singer: Erykah Badu
Rap Group: A Tribe Called Quest
Model: Chanel Iman
Joicelyn Dingle travels to find the Coolest Black Family in America exclusively for EBONY.com. She splits her time between Savannah and Brooklyn. She is currently completing a documentary on the making of Honey magazine and the 1990s urban publishing era. Friend her on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @editorialgenius.