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As far as my memory can stretch, I have received a deep pleasure from the art of storytelling. Whether it was at my mom’s beauty shop, sharing stories to her clients about how I sobbed through my entire audition of the musical “Annie” in the third grade and somehow got the leading role. Or gathering  friends in the bathroom in between classes to share my triumphant story of how I confronted my bully in middle school. Simply put, being a performing artist was the path for me. There was no greater feeling than bringing a story to life, illuminating words from a page into action, and receiving audience response.

In the past few years, on paper at least, I had “made it” as a performing artist. WOOT WOOT! I became a SAG member and worked on over a dozen commercials, two television shows, and three major motion pictures. The opportunities seemed abundant and my identity was trending...finally! Queer, Black, femme presenting, quirky, multifacited, natural hair’d (let the record show that all hair presentations on black people are loved and honored) people were in the spot light, and I felt seen! My time had arrived. All the hard work and sacrifice had paid off, and I was ready to receive it. However, upon working on my first commercial, I realized the truth.

Yes, my identity was trending.  However, the sets that I was on were rooted in rape culture, and around every corner I experienced unwanted sexual advances. The crew and production team were filled with unaccountable white cis men who felt more like slave drivers than collaborative equals. And, the people who wrote these stories were more interested in profiting from my existence than uplifting it. When I spoke my truth about these injustices to security on set, the production team, or some family members, I was met with “That’s just the way it is.” For a moment I became depressed and walked away from the industry. How could my love for storytelling come with such opposition to what I stand for as a person? Could there be another way? I imagined working with an organization that focused on intersectionality, praised people sharing their truths, and honored the healing of the artists creating the work.

In August 2018 at AfroPunk Brooklyn, I saw Aymar in a PushaT mosh pit and greeted him with hugs and ideas. I told him that I imagined creating processes to address harm in creative spaces. I shared my belief that THE TIME IS NOW to uplift the storytellers who are telling stories from their own experience. I shared my dreams on developing best practices while creating transformative art, and my quest to find a deeper understanding of how to build community (yes, we had this entire conversation while listening to PushaT live). Aymar and the rest of the OTV team shared my dream... and shortly after, my journey as Head of Community began.

The community agreements and partnership engagement strategy included are my love letters to the Chicago creative community and to the world at large.The one thing in life that is constant is Change - meaning these agreements are a working document and are always open for discussion, dissection, and of course Change. I operate with the understanding that we are everything that we need, and together we can create anything we can imagine.

With deep love and intention,

Jenna Anast
Head of Community