What I was always into was the movement and the social change and the dialogue that was going on between people who didn’t really have the media,” says Mia Beardsley, aka DJ B-Girl, recalling her early interest in hip-hop. “I felt amped. I felt empowered.”
And while Beardsley now produces, DJs, and runs her own fem-centric label, that amped energy is also translating into a role more like a community organizer in local hip-hop culture.
“She’s really helped support a lot of the artists on the scene,” says Himanee Gupta-Carlson, a Cornish instructor who interviewed Beardsley for a book project on Seattle women and hip-hop.
Beardsley’s nonprofit, B-Girl Bench, is an amorphous community of female DJs, MCs, graffiti artists, break-dancers, and producers. They organize events like DJ practice sessions, which happen every first Wednesday at Electric Tea Garden, a gallery and performance space on Capitol Hill. They also sponsor Ladies First, a showcase for female artists that happens every first Saturday at Hidmo and is where radar names like THEEsatisfaction and Canary Sing have become visible.
“Once you get past high-school age, I don’t see too many places in Seattle for cultivation, where people gain mentorship, have a community to grow in their craft. Those few spaces are even tougher for women,” says local MC Gabriel Teodros. “Everything I know about [B-Girl Bench] addresses a lot of those needs.”
Beardsley also uses hip-hop to draw out another marginalized group: youth of color dealing with substance abuse and dependency. She’s the program director for Katalyst, a small, grant-funded operation that typically serves about 20 students at a time, most between ages 15 and 21. That’s about the age, Beardsley notes, where youth programs become harder to find.
For three months, her students learn to record on ProTools and navigate music-business concepts. They can earn a certification that allows them to use Katalyst’s studio independently. More important, though, are the bonds they develop with each other and the staff. Beardsley’s students have her phone number, and some of them will show up at the teachers’ gigs and events.
“To have someone who has only known negative reinforcement come in and start trusting somebody is a big deal. To have someone that’s honest with them, it’s a big deal. To have someone that’s patient and believes in them, that’s a big deal,” Beardsley says.
“I’m fortunate to be learning this stuff so I can teach it to other people,” Beardsley says of her job. “Learning and teaching, learning and teaching, learning and teaching. That’s my thing. That’s my calling.”