Born in Harlem to Dominican parents, award-winning journalist, cultural activist, podcaster, and documentary filmmaker Raquel Cepeda is the author of Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina. Published by Atria, a division of Simon & Schuster, Bird is equal parts memoir about Cepeda’s coming of age in New York City and Santo Domingo, and detective story chronicling her year-long journey to discover the truth about her ancestry, the book also looks at what it means to be Latinx today. The companion curriculum, developed and written by Karen Robinson, a senior education officer at the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights’ Speak Truth to Powerinitiative, is now available for free download here.
Cepeda’s latest documentary Some Girls, produced by Henry Chalfant and Sam Pollard, focuses on a group of troubled Latina teens from a Bronx-based suicide prevention program who are transformed by an exploration of their roots via the use of ancestral DNA testing, followed by a trip to the seat of the Americas. On that journey to modern-day Dominican Republic, the white supremacist narratives about American history they’ve been taught are challenged, leaving them free to reconstruct their own respective identities. What does it really mean to be American? And, more importantly, what does that look like? The Some Girls companion curricula for 6-8th grade, High School, and Undergraduate students is available for free download here.
Cepeda is currently in production on her next documentary, along with partner Henry Chalfant. La Madrina: The Savage Life of Lorine Padilla is a feature documentary that paints a moving portrait of a rapidly shifting Bronx, spanning five decades, through the life of a charismatic community activist and former gang matriarch. Our protagonist, Lorine Padilla, 62, is the former “First Lady” of the 1970’s-‘80s Bronx gang (or street family), the Savage Skulls, who, while still part of the outlaw subculture, is a revered community activist and spiritual sage. Padilla’s life is a prism through which we will illustrate how an ostensibly ordinary citizen can rise above her economic and social circumstances to activate and demand change.
Cepeda’s currently writing, East of Broadway, about one community in New York City, the author’s beloved Inwood, as a way of shedding light on the impact of gentrification (Beacon Press). Cepeda co-created the podcast Our National Conversation About Conversations About Race, also known as ABOUT RACE, which debuted in late March 2015 as part of The Slate Group’s Panoply Network. Panoply deaded the podcast in January 2017.
Cepeda directed and produced the NAMIC (National Association for Multi-ethnicity In Communications) Vision nominated film Bling: A Planet Rock, a documentary about American hip-hop culture’s obsession with diamonds and all of its social trappings, and how the infatuation with “blinging” became intertwined in Sierra Leone’s decade long conflict. The film was co-produced by VH1/MTV Networks and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
For the past two decades, Cepeda’s writings have been widely anthologized and her byline has been featured in media outlets including The New York Times, People, the Associated Press, The Village Voice, MTV News,, and many others. She’s contributed to WNYC, CNN and CNN’s Inside the Middle East as a freelance reporter. Cepeda edited the critically acclaimed anthology And It Don’t Stop: The Best Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years, winner of the PEN/Beyond Margins and Latino Book Award. As the former editor in chief of Russell Simmons’ Oneworld, Cepeda was responsible for the magazine’s overhaul in September 2001, winning a Folio Award for best re-design and receiving accolades for her global take on urban culture.
On November 25, 2014, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Cepeda was presented with an award from celebrated Dominican artist German Perez at the United Nations. The plaque reads: The permanent mission of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations recognizes Raquel Cepeda for the courage reflected in her literature, her commitment to denouncing violence against women, and her work in helping young women’s empowerment.
A former NYFA Fellow, Cepeda, a recipient of the Cacique award an honoree at the 2016 Dominican Day Parade, was named one of El Diario|La Prensa’s Distinguished Women of 2013, sits on the board of City Lore and the Style Wars Restoration Project. Cepeda was appointed to serve on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s newly formed Latin Media and Entertainment Commission in 2018. She will act as a strategic advisor to position her beloved city as a global capital for the Latinx media and entertainment industry.
Raquel lives with her husband, Sacha Jenkins, a filmmaker, musician, and creative agency partner, daughter Djali [Jah-Lee], 21, and six-year-old son, Marceau, in New York City, “…concrete jungle where dreams are made of [and] there’s nothin’ you can’t do…”