Q: You use different terms to describe your work from nonprofit executive to developer, cultural broker to curator, organizer and healer, how would you best describe your work?
A: I am an applied anthropologist with a curatorial and healing practice that informs my projects. I use social ventures and innovation methodology to investigate land, labor, creativity and cultural production while examining spatial culture and social connectivity within institutions and community. I have developed several projects that range in scale from grass roots to well funded philanthropic projects; I am most interested in the use of space and programming by the people and creating intersectional spaces for connection and healing.
Q: In today’s bottom line global capital system, how do you measure impact and why are narratives so important in your work?
A: I use narrative in my practice because it is nonlinear in nature and so much my work is examining or investigating the systems or structures with which we all operate within. Narratives have a genesis in oral histories and the griot being one of the keepers of culture along with the shaman; I believe that these traditions provide very useful information and context that support sustainable decision making. It allows the whole person to be more evident and to find more complex layers of connectivity within communities as well as across communities.
Q: The notion of intimacy within the public sphere seems to be a key theme in your work, why is ritual, cultural memory and colloquial design so important in your project based work? How does it show up?
A: It's true, I am fascinated with the idea of intimacy outside of the western canon and how it shows up for disenfranchised people; who feels comfortable saying what to whom and in what places- all lend to the social strata in place or as bell hooks describes the “white supremacy capitalist patriarchy” as a framework and way to intersect simultaneous structures at play all the time. Allowing for intimacy in public humanizes us, it allows us to empathize and I believe so much of our problem solving must include empathy as a way to think and live more holistically, long term. When we empathize and can be vulnerable we have a chance to embody equity in our decision making.
Q: You are asked to interview, facilitate dialogues and often guide conversations, what approach do you take and how is it uniquely contributing to the field?
A: My own work focuses on the intersectionality of food, art, healing and education through which I create radicalized community spaces to engage in cross-talk, both cross sector and cross-community. The idea of colloquial design allows me to think about creating temporal solutions to problems with specific communities in mind. For instance, if a certain group of people have been excluded from a space that I have access to, some of my work is to redesign how those people might enter that space and present new ways that it can be used and shared. I think I navigate the field as a developer, curator, healer, organizer and bring those skills together to provide time, space and connection. I think that each human needs access to these places; be it physical or conceptual, in that way; I design spaces to hold and expand dialogues that have not had space or are actively working through a framework. Or it could be more simple to say that I embody my healer archetype and simply hold space and expand to others to share with sincerity, humility courage and strength.
Q: How is your concept of the Contemporary Longhouse a nod to emergent strategies and why is it important to discuss now?
A: In my first book Modern Matriarch, I describe and flesh out this idea of feminist spaces and the necessity of countering the patriarchy with spaces that support feminine energy. The Contemporary Longhouse is a flexible fractal based approach to design and setting up the structure with aesthetic choices meant for radical living and being. The Contemporary Longhouse is where the double consciousness, code switching and masking can be dismantled and left at the door whereby the integrated multidimensional self is welcomed and honored. It is important to talk about these types of spaces given the current state of society sometimes referred to as VUCA. We need safe spaces for restoration, experimentation and creativity and the idea of the Contemporary Longhouse might be an emergent way to think about this. I have used it over time to set up my household which is all male to focus and center around my sustainability and joy.
Q: Describe the concept you coined Social Magic? What are the components and how is it used?
A: Social Magic is a rhizomatic system that creates space for paradigm shifts within individuals and within groups. I opened a place based incubator in Central City, a neighborhood in New Orleans as my first attempt to work at the intersection of food, art, healing and education- my field work was to study the impact of this intersection in neighborhoods that had been the recipients of divestment by mainstream society. I was most interested by this idea of radicalized spaces and Social Magic later became the language that explained these seemingly unexplainable moments of cellular memory, heightened creativity as one had an opportunity to re-write DNA and predispositions along with playing with problems from an emotionally distant yet highly empathic state. What I encountered both personally and within groups was that I could shift my thinking thereby shift the outcome that I was seeking by working in this way. More detailed components of this model can be found in my first book Modern Matriarch.
Q: You speak in an unapologetic manner about being a mother in your professional life- why is that important to highlight in the professional sphere? How does this influence or shape your work?
A: I think that preparing to mother and then becoming a mother was a rite of passage in a life long initiation process; one that I believe can happen with or without children, but for me motherhood prepared me for many of the challenges I withstand in my professional life. I talk about it because women are underpaid for the same work as men and mothers in particular are given a double message in American society; you are expected to contribute to the workforce, and black women have never had the option en mas to not participate in the work world but on the other hand women are, many times the first teacher of a nation and are responsible for shaping the lives of our next generation- two very difficult jobs and yet one is not acknowledged and many times is the elephant in the room. I use my badge of motherhood as a badge of honor to showcase how qualified I am to handle complex projects with high degrees of change because if you have had to mother you know problem solving, complexity and navigating ambiguity while trusting your instincts is essential along with a high dose of creativity which also happens to be some of the same traits of our best and brightest leaders. The two influence each other and the more I am supported in either or both spheres, the better I am able to be successful and contribute to society in deeper and more meaningful ways.
Q: As an independent curator and cultural producer what is your responsibility to community and what is community?
A: I operate in state of both individual being and collective being at the same time and I do not divorce myself from this fact so there is a clear distinction between what is self oriented and what is for collective good- I aim to serve both simultaneously or at least with a degree of harmony. I am interested in the creative state of black joy as a mode of operating and the push and pull that is needed to create this dance. My community consists of many concentric circles of people with whom I experience a connection to and with- sometimes there is deep harmony between the communities I exist in and other times there lies a great paradox- it makes up the multiplicity of self. I do try to be explicit about whom I am speaking when I use that word community so as to support clarity, transparency when necessary and to distill my intention for interaction with, on behalf of and through the communities I speak of. When I work on a project or unpack an idea or thesis, I am always thinking about my own relationship to the subject or question I am asking.
Q: What are few takeaways or core tenants that provide a framework for your practice?
A: To the degree that I have authority, and even boldly and rebelliously when I do not have authority, I seek respect and believe in approaching situations with a great deal of care for the people with whom I interact, the space I am inhabiting and the circumstances with which I find myself in. Reciprocity and mutual accountability are also core values, the idea that we should think about the binary of what both or all parties received from interactions and how to make sure that agency is something all parties are exercising. Creativity and intuitive actions seem to go hand in hand- if you have ever experienced a trance like state through dance, meditation, yoga, arts or scientific pontification then you know what I mean- Being in alignment with myself is my key to creativity. I think all humans deserve the right to be creative and need time, space and resources (or investment) to solve our society’s issues. What would happen if menial labor was subsidized by technological advances and humans had more time to be creative- imagine what problems we could solve together.