PWID 2016 Scholarship winner – Nabeeh Bilal

Nabeeh_Bilal-photo You never know how the things you experience today can prepare you for an opportunity tomorrow. Likewise, you also never know how a person you met yesterday can influence your five year outlook. Let’s just say life is a puzzle and it’s up to notice the pieces and put them together.

I vividly remember the day I was finally accepted — after initially being rejected — into the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Duke was, and still is, a vibrant arts magnate high school in the Georgetown area of Washington, DC. The school had visual artists, dancers, actors, musicians, singers, writers, and everything in-between. Duke was truly a different world, the kind of place you go to if you want to embark on a journey into the arts, a place that bleeds talent and cultivates success.

Coming out of the 8th grade, I really had no idea what or who I wanted to be when I grew up, but somehow I saw Duke as an essential piece to my puzzle. The fact that my sister had been accepted a year earlier gave me confidence that I’d somehow be a shoe-in.

Unfortunately, I broke my drawing hand a week before my audition which meant that I went into my audition having to draw with my left hand. Add that to the fact that I wasn’t very focused on academics at the time, and you may understand why I received a big fat rejection letter from the school. Needless to say, I was crushed. How could I ever piece together my life’s puzzle without the center piece?

I knew that had enough grit to survive in an environment like Duke, I just needed a shot. Luckily for me I had a father who was very determined to help his children achieve success. Somehow, my dad got me accepted into Duke on a probationary status. It meant that I had to attend summer school prior to the start of 9th grade, but most importantly, it meant that I could take the next great step in my life toward and eventually make a success of myself. The center piece of my puzzle was intact.

Fast forward 16 years later and I’d have to say that Duke was an essential experience for me. The people I met there inspired me to do better and be better. In fact, the people I met at Duke are the reason why I’m even in a position to attend the PWID.

Three years ago, I saw a play called “Callaloo: A Jazz Folktale”. The play was about a greedy young boy named Winston who eats all of his aunt’s Callaloo and is magically transported to the island of Tobago to learn a lesson. Months after seeing the play, I was inspired to approach the playwright to find out if she had bigger plans for her play. It just so happened that the playwright, Marjuan Canady, and I attended and graduated from Duke Ellington together (class of ’04).

I gained a lot of experience animating, designing, and illustrating for people in the years prior to seeing that play, but I now wanted to do something for myself, I wanted to do something that would have a lasting impact; something that would make me happy. Callaloo felt like the next piece to my puzzle, yet, a puzzle within itself.

Initially, I approached Marjuan about doing an animation of Callaloo, but animation is very tedious and time-consuming — especially if you’re the only one doing it — so we opted to start with a book. When we began our partnership, neither of us had ever written or illustrated a book of any kind before, but After nine months of drafts and revisions, countless sketches, character revisions, and skype meetings, we self-published “Callaloo: A Jazz Folktale” in January 2014.

Since publishing our first book, Callaloo ( has taken on a life of its own. It features a book series, unique characters, a web series, live performance, and an arts educational program. I love to illustrate, but I love being involved in the entire creative process of building things even more.

My partner referred me to the PWID conference and its scholarship, and honestly, I did not think I would be awarded the scholarship to attend because there are so many people more talented and just as deserving as I am, but I’m fortunate that this came together. I don’t know what to expect, but I’m excited to be at the 2016 PWID because I know it will be a great experience to connect with so many other talented and ambitious people doing the same things I’m doing and trying to figure out how best to connect the pieces of their own puzzles. You never know how the things you experience today can prepare you for an opportunity tomorrow.

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