This is new to me.
I’ve led projects and teams before, but I was insulated. There were managers and directors I reported to, who reported to vice presidents and CEOs. Other departments and teammates shared the workload.
Now, I’m the Founder and President of an arts and culture organization where I’m the only employee. My 10-year-old self never imagined this trajectory. Shoot–neither did my 40-year-old self!
I'm bound to make mistakes.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ve already miscalculated. Leaving my position at a nonprofit centered on the popular arts wasn’t good economics. The job provided me with a modest yet steady income, paid vacation and sick time, and health benefits for my family.
Then I remind myself that leaving felt right for me. Over the last year and a half, I'd asserted my commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. I developed work that intentionally centered creators from underrepresented communities. As I did, an unsettling climate formed around my ideas and contributions:
After recognizing that a celebration of Zorro as the first superhero should also include an educational discussion of such topics as the appropriation of Mexican history, settler colonialism, and the story’s longevity of Native and Indigenous misrepresentation, my requests to move forward with such a program went unanswered.
To celebrate the coming of a new year (2021), I’d themed activities around Afrofuturism and two senior leaders asked, “What is the criteria that Afrofuturism was chosen above other cultures/marginalized demographics?”
In wanting to celebrate Jerry Lawson on Inventor’s Day 2021 for his contributions to video gaming, a senior leader asked, “Is there a purpose to recognizing this person other than he was a Black inventor? It seems very marginally connected to our mission.” Despite my best efforts, the idea didn't move forward. Then in May 2021, the same senior leader suggested celebrating Ralph Baer and his contributions to video gaming.
Activities I’d created to celebrate LGBTQ+ creators, Black creators, and Black LGBTQ+ creators and works during Pride and Juneteenth 2021–including comic strip prompts, a maze, a word search, a crossword puzzle–were considered by two senior leaders to have “adult themes,” “red flags,” and “would eliminate most elementary aged classrooms from being able to use them.”
These and other instances left me frustrated and spent, not least for what felt like an undercurrent of accusation.
After a lot of reflection, I looked beyond and remembered there are people who regularly operate from the same basis of understanding as I do. There are educators, creators, and gatekeepers extending paths and forging new ones, in parallel and in convergence, for we on the margins. I’ve worked with them and for them. If I continue to work with them, we take up more space. If I continue to work with them, we will develop more ways to thrive.
Hello Barkada will start as a virtual space hosting artist profiles, news about the arts, and career and educational resources. I will find a way to produce virtual programs as I dream up how (and when!) to host in-person events. Yes, what I’m starting will require a lot of asking and a lot of breaking through: I’ll still be pitching my ideas, my abilities, myself.
But giving permission to prioritize, center, and celebrate artists and works from historically oppressed communities, of which I also belong? To openly work and advocate for a socially and racially just future via arts and culture because it’s the right thing to do? To do this work with and for allies and accomplices? I have that power. I just had to claim it.
I'm bound to make mistakes, and I'm okay with that. I'm ready to learn from them. It's for the mission.
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PHOTO TAKEN BY SCOTT NORLAND • TAGS: ESSAYS