INTERVIEW BY CHANTE DYSON. PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF Sophie appel , JHEYDA MC GARRELL, GABRIELLE RICHARDSON, AND ALIA KADIR.
Here at Black Girl In Om, we are committed to making our community as inclusive as possible, by celebrating and championing the often voiceless, even in our already marginalized communities. Personally, the concept of my own pride has felt incredibly threatened by the intense hate-driven rhetoric and horrifying tactics by this fear-based government. The news tells us every day that we are the minority, and that our beliefs and experiences are not valid - our skin color, gender, or sexuality deeming us unworthy.
When I start to get overwhelmed, I breathe and center myself back into my intention. That intention is to heal myself in order to assist my community with our collective healing and uprising. Our commonalities should be celebrated and we need the space to ultimately heal from our collective trauma in order to raise our consciousness. I am hopeful to live in a world where Black women see themselves in their full divinity as healers with all the tools they need in this very moment. A world where the universal belief is that abundance is not only deserving, but is our right as queens on this planet.
My passion is in amazing women - the healers and creators of this world. Nothing fascinates me more than women who are aware of their divinity in themselves and in others, and who are aware of their purpose and service to us all. To conclude PRIDE month here at Black Girl In Om, I had the pleasure of speaking with members of Art Hoe Collective, an organization founded by queer people of color with the purpose of providing a safe space for creatives of color with no judgment. Their well curated Instagram page accepts art submissions from POC, and they offer in person events to continue to bring the community together. I had the pleasure of speaking with curators Jheyda Mc Garrell, Gabrielle Richardson, and Alia Kadir to represent the collective at large and have a deep discussion around pride, community, art, and healing. Jheyda Mc Garrell is a multimedia artist and current student at NYU. Gabrielle Richardson is a model, artist, and activist currently based in NYC. Alia Kadir is a singer/songwriter now based in LA.
Speaking with Jheyda, Gabrielle, and Alia truly strengthened my own sense of pride and served as a soul-full reminder to continue to thrive in my purpose of lifting our community to new heights. It was beyond refreshing to talk to a group of women who are on a similar path to what we are curating here at Black Girl In Om. We are two collectives with an understanding of the need for safe and inclusive spaces for our people. We are doing the necessary work. I wanted to speak deeply with these women about what pride means to them, and how we can look beyond the rainbow colored apparel and festival fun, to further understand the deeper meaning of PRIDE in order to extend these lessons not only in the month of June, but all year round.
It is important to honor the existence of queer women who are doing the work day in and day out to make art and healing inclusive and accessible to people of color. It is women like Jheyda, Gabby, and Alia who inspire me to keep going - to keep being - to keep accepting - and to keep healing not only for myself, but for the community in which I love. Journey with us as we talk through healing, art, pride and safe space for wellness... and for freedom's sake.
ON BECOMING AN ART HOE:
An art hoe is a reclamation of the term hoe.
Historically, that has been used against black women who are sexually liberated, who are sex workers, who might even be a random person walking down the street looking good. It is someone who is liberated and really about their art and about sharing art and beauty with people. And honestly, yeah, you can become one - it’s for everyone. It’s just something that you are, and to become one is to grow into yourself and to grow into your own liberation and support and love of your community. I know a lot of people, including myself, have had a lot of problems with the concept of when someone else does good, you’re doing good. So I think being an art hoe is to see other people besides yourself prospering. It’s seeing them loving art and having fun and being there for them by encouraging them.
It’s expressing your sexuality and gender however you want, and celebrating yourself and your community.
Art Hoe Collective is a safe space for queer artists of color and disabled artists of color to showcase their art work on the platform - whether it be through art shows, galleries, open mics etc. If you feel like inclusiveness in an art space is important and everyone’s work is valid regardless of their sexuality, and everyone should be credited and paid when a budget is available then yes, you can identify yourself as an art hoe.
On growth, healing, and transformation since joining Art Hoe Collective:
The response to Art Hoe Collective has been overwhelmingly positive. There’s so many people who I’ve gotten messages from who have felt liberated through the validation of their art. They saw opportunities that they didn’t even know they could take for their life. In just hearing about other people’s processes and their work, you realize 'Oh, people of color can create work and it makes sense.' You can create and not be a starving artist; you can be successful. And that's amazing that we can help so many people and create a platform that is accessible. Because without accessibility, nothing can truly be radical, and I think that’s one of the pillars we try to build our community on - is that anybody can truly be a part. Once we take down all of the exclusionary politics I feel so many people have, we’ve become one big family.
As someone who has a lot of accessibility to education and has a background in speaking and writing, I’ve been able to amplify voices of people who don’t really have the same ability to get their point across as I do. The response has been very positive and has helped me grow a lot. I’ve been heavily involved with the events and it has been such a positive experience to see people come to the events and tell me that they’ve felt so alone. They found our page and saw that we were having a reading or a conversation and came out and felt very happy to have met some new friends with like-minded thinking. They know that even if it’s not in the physical form, they have a community - which is very important to me because I grew up in the suburbs around a lot of white people, so I turned to the internet to find my own community. I’ve always related to that and understood it. I’m really excited about our future, continuing forth, and seeing the potential for growth and knowing that there’s something on the line - people that care about us personally, as well as our community.
On developing pride in today’s world where society is more polarized than ever:
I find pride not only within, but from outside sources. If I see people who I love doing very well, I get a lot of pride in them and I think you can receive pride just by realizing other people’s successes are also your own. Seeing any black person or any queer person doing something amazing fills me up with love. Helping other people and just realizing that everything is not just me, helps me become proud of myself and proud of my community.
We live in this really dark universe where hate is becoming more normalized and more ingrained into our country’s politics. When I think of myself going through that alone I feel very weak, but when I think of my whole community succeeding and persevering, it fills me with a lot of strength and pride by knowing that I can accomplish anything.
I know as a united front we can accomplish anything.
On coping and realigning when pride is challenged in personal and public settings:
I face a lot of problems with that because my parents are both immigrants from Caribbean and Mexican catholic backgrounds, so they’re pretty homophobic and not really understanding a lot of the times. They don’t really understand the identity of having the label of Black or Afro-Latino. So a lot of the time in my experience, I found that you really have to be understanding of people and know that not everyone is in the same generation of thinking as we are. Especially within family situations, if we keep an open mind and hopeful heart, there’s always room to grow. And even if people are like “Oh, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks," I just really think that it’s a lot of work, but it’s really possible to show people to learn how to accept. It’s possible to grow and to change and to know that even if people aren’t in our corner to begin with, that they have the potential to realize and think about things and understand them eventually.
In a public setting, I’ve also experienced my pride being questioned because I am very femme - and even at this Pride, a cis gay tried to fight me and called me a straight woman, and really tried to take up a lot of space and denounce my identity. We got into a bit of a scuffle, not a physical one, but an argument. For me, it’s easy to rebuke what other people say and hold my own, but I know for a lot of other people that’s really difficult. I think having a strong sense of self is probably the best solution to that, because without my strong sense of self, I don’t think that I would be able to have pride and really bypass different groups of people telling me that I am not allowed to be who I am and that I am not allowed to have my own systems of beliefs.
Fortunately in my small group of friends, nobody is really straight, which rules out room for judgment but also people that are around us know better because of us. When we do deal with outside energy,
Unfortunately, we can't control outside energy, but we can control how we approach situations and move about our day. I prefer my freeness over others comfort. Wherever I'm placed, I will always feel comfortable in who I am.
On the ways that art heals and contributes to positive self-esteem:
Art can heal in many ways. I know when I was younger, I felt very lost in museums looking for art that represented me. I always talk about this story when I was like 14, in 8th grade. I went to an art museum and they had a whole room dedicated to Asian art, they had a whole room dedicated to Greek art. I went and asked the person working there, “Is there a place where I can see the black art?” And they were like, “We don’t have that here, you have to go to the National History Museum.” I felt very discouraged. I was in this major museum, and I couldn’t see anything reflective of myself and my culture. I was being bombarded by all of these other pieces of work, claiming that these were beautiful but my stuff was just history. And our history wasn’t enough to be considered beautiful.
I think once I was able to view my work as something other than the archaic, to study without the benefit of emotion that you have when you see something beautiful, it kind of helped me feel more beautiful and valid and just generally more important. Creating art can easily transport you into another world, a beautiful disassociation - where you can transport yourself into a different experience or learn a different experience just through the visual, which speaks so much louder than something that can be read, because it is more accessible and anyone can view and understand art.
It crosses all language barriers, and because of that it can bring people together, bridge gaps, and also educate in a way that is subtle and important.
Art is giving pain to purpose.
Sharing your feelings and emotions with the world is healing. You create because how you feel matters. Nothing brings me more joy than creating. The experience of taking everything you feel in your head and turning it into a song / art piece is therapeutic.
On teaching non-queer folks one thing about PRIDE month:
I think all of us can learn a lesson in acceptance and having an open mind and open heart. If I could teach non-queer people (and this could even go for cis gays) one thing, it would just be to allow people to be who they are and to allow trans people to join in on the fun. There are a lot of instances where people are really aggressive and don’t want to have trans people in their space. I would teach them about Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, and that this liberation and parties we get to have were started by trans women. Being queer should be about the ability to be liberated and feel like yourself. I would bring up some charts and teach them about the historical background of gender-nonconforming people all throughout history and the third gender in India. I’d bring out charts about how women lead villages in some countries in Africa and have multiple husbands and are the matriarchs. I would show that this difference in gender and power dynamics has always existed, and that queer people are not a new thing and we aren’t going anywhere. We are here to accept others, so they should accept us.
People need to get that it’s not just a festival. It’s not about the rainbows and fun parade.
Queer people are taking the time to celebrate themselves.
Some queer people have to hide a lot in their day-to-day lives. Some don’t get safe spaces to be as proud as others. Pride month is about queer people celebrating themselves. There are murders for being queer. This month is about celebrating the LIFE of queer people. It’s televised for us to see trans black women being killed for attacks because of their identity. When they take this time during pride to celebrate themselves, the "support" they want isn't a bunch of cis people acting flamboyant and pretending that they’re accepting for the moment.
Pride is about them celebrating their life and existence. If you want to come and be a part of it that’s cool, but don’t come into the space and make it about you and your rainbow skirt. Pride is not about coming to a parade in your underwear. Even though there is a lack of clothes, some of the people who come shirtless and topless - spend the rest of the year being shamed for their body. There’s a lot of body dysmorphia in the queer community. Don't think that pride is about coming to a festival without clothes. If you're not at Pride for the right reasons, then you shouldn’t come.
On extending the pride that we have for our communities and individual identities past the month of June:
I think one thing people have to realize is that queer people getting hurt is a black issue because there are queer black people. Every kind of issue is intermixed and there are people in one community who are also in another community that intersects.
We need to have more acknowledgement of the queer community and all of the subsets of it.
There are definitely lesbian black trans women who don’t feel safe during black history month or pride month, or even any other month. Every month is a different thing; there are probably queer black veterans during veteran’s day. Once you realize that all of these issues are another issue, then people can continue this all year. There are black veterans, there are queer veterans, there are black queer people, there are black queer trans people, black trans disabled people etc.
There are so many intersections that one month is truly not enough, and it needs to be extended to every single day because they cannot only have acknowledgement for 30 days a year. Or even 60 days a year if there’s some intersection, because for every month there’s millions of people to acknowledge.
We don’t exist on separate islands.
When it comes to carrying pride outside of the month of June, make sure that your safe spaces are inclusive and that your feminism is intersectional.
Trans people still get discriminated against and can’t use their bathroom of preference. Do your part. Don't make people uncomfortable because of how they look and how they identify. Don’t stare. If you don’t understand, don’t stare and bring that energy onto them. If you can’t appreciate how a person is representing themselves...DON'T STARE.
Respect queer relationships - don’t sexualize them. Queer women of color who are being romantic in public don't exist for the male gaze. Staring in confusion at someone is uncomfortable - STOP. Just respect queer women and their relationships.
On advice for others still coming into their identity:
My advice would be to be gentle with yourself because it’s so easy to be difficult and to feel a lot of disillusion. It’s so easy to really experience these moments of putting yourself in your own head and not being able to talk yourself down. It’s a process and we should never hate our former selves for something we may have said or did when we were still trying to assimilate, or in the place of not allowing our own acceptance. In the process of becoming, it’s so important that we remember that it’s all a process and that everything is constantly growth. It’s really hard to become oneself, but it’s all evolution. We have to be nice to ourselves.
You have your entire life to figure it out. Your identity is for you and for nobody else to figure out. There are no rules. There’s no guideline. There’s no right or wrong. In your life, you get to decide the way you want to be identified or not identified. Other people's issues with YOUR identity are simply their issues.
On go-to self-care ‘pick me ups’:
Self-care, for me, is a brief stint of isolation and then putting myself back into society because I feel like a lot of the times, we don’t allow ourselves to be alone because we feel like there are so many things to be done and our brains are super manic. But for me, I need to be by myself for a brief stint and not talk to anybody for a couple of days. Allow yourself to do whatever you need to do - and also maybe take a bath.
Whenever my anxiety is overwhelming to me, I medicate with cannabis. For people who can’t smoke or when I'm not in the right places, there’s THC-infused cold pressed juices @eatgreenla. The owner is a woman of color with an inclusive team, and they make THC-infused health conscious products. I practice yoga and meditation, which both help me so much. When I come out of a meditation, I feel like I have a new heart. Breathing is insanely therapeutic. I practice various methods of self care and cleansing. Music is one of my methods. Putting my emotions on paper helps.
On the art and wellness worlds joining forces to uplift the culture:
I think that the art and wellness worlds are pretty intertwined and if they are not, then they should already be at all placements, because making and viewing art is very therapeutic. I’ve read a couple studies about people in lower-income areas having an accessibility to art, and it really helps take down rates of crime and gang violence. I think that art and wellness go hand in hand, in that art allows us to have these different mediums to process and to evaluate our emotions and experiences. Wellness is all about taking a step back and having time and space to process. Both art and wellness have to continue to grow together and we have to remove the competition aspect out of art so that everyone can use it to their well-being.
I know that my art is what makes me feel better, but at the same time it is what stresses me out. It’s really something that I believe go hand in hand, but we have these different things that we need to work on so that it is more accessible and less of a competition.
Through our own decolonizing of goodness and looking at things subjectively and as tools of well-being, we can share all this beauty and stability with so many people.
If you are based in Los Angeles, be sure to be on the lookout for Jheyda’s solo show on July 7th and Alia’s jam session in August. I will certainly be there supporting these women and championing them for their commitment to inclusivity and accessibility for people of color and their art.