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Philly native Justina Miles’ phone started blowing up like crazy with texts and calls from her friends on Sunday. Her version of the TikTok #crushonyouchallenge had gone viral on Twitter.
And she didn’t even have a Twitter.
“All my friends were like, ‘You’re on my timeline,” Miles told Billy Penn in a phone interview. “I was like, what’s a timeline?”
Miles’ take was unique for a couple of reasons. First, the 17-year-old didn’t have the blue, yellow, green and red outfits signature to the challenge, a play on Lil’ Kim’s colorful 1997 “Crush on You” music video. She used orange, yellow, pink and mint instead.
Another distinction? Miles is part of the deaf community, so she didn’t just mouth the words like everyone else. She signed them.
Her ASL runthrough of Lil’ Kim’s iconic verse, posted to her @phillyqt12 TikTok account, is packed with all the attitude necessary for a track that proclaims “Imma throw shade if I can’t get paid!”
In less than a minute, she dances through the verse, changing outfits and makeup looks as her video jumps from colorful scene to scene in TikTok style.
Miles’ challenge, originally created by TikToker @thefacebully_, has now been viewed more than 1.1 million times on Twitter alone. “I really was trying to go viral on TikTok but somebody retweeted it,” she said.
Meanwhile, her TikTok has been viewed more than 83k times and garnered more than 27k likes, which actually isn’t considered viral in Gen-Z world.
But there’s been lots of other feedback, too. Another deaf teen reached out to collaborate. Deaf model and activist Nyle DiMarco reposted the video to Instagram, where it’s been viewed more than 150k times. And on Wednesday night, Lil’ Kim, the Queen Bee herself, reposted Miles’ sign language take to her Instagram story. “I was screaming,” Miles said.
She’s also fielding an outpouring of supportive messages on social media that she said move her to tears — and take her all day to answer.
Miles isn’t totally deaf. She’s what’s known as hard of hearing, but said her hearing is worsening. Miles’ mom is also deaf, and her family is mixed with hearing people. She lives in Maryland now, but grew up all around Philly, where her dad still lives.
When she’s not bopping to ’90s hip-hop and R&B, Miles is a straight-A high school junior and soon-to-be class president at the Model Secondary School, a D.C.-based boarding school for the deaf. She plays volleyball, participates in cheerleading and runs track, all with other deaf high school students from around the country.
There are also plenty of challenges, she said.
“When you’re in D.C. there’s a lot of ignorant people, and sometimes I’ll just be out with my friends, and we’ll be signing,” Miles recounted, “and a group of teenagers will walk by us, mocking us with fake signing, and laughing. We’re deaf, we’re not blind.”.
She doesn’t refrain from telling them that. “I usually always have that spunk,” she said. “I’m fast to speak my mind.”
With her newfound platform, Miles wants to spread a message: “The legal term for [deafness] is a disability, but we are not disabled. We’re actually people, we can actually do things,” she said.
“Also, I am a Black woman. Yessir, I’m from Philly,” she added. “Other Black women, I want them to see that they can do anything, for real.”