Meet the Black creatives carrying the movement through a tumultuous year

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Genaé Parnell. // Photo by Kendall Chambers

[Editor’s note: In a partnership with By Design magazine, we are running some of their projects here at The Pitch to give local Black voices a larger platform. Enjoy this month’s dispatch.]

Eleven months ago we entered a new year with an optimism that hoped for abundance and growth. We jotted resolutions, shed the weight of the past 365 days, and clinked our glasses to a new decade whose opportunities were boundless.

Our optimism was met with adversity.

Police brutality sparked a passionate fight for social justice. A global pandemic claimed the lives of thousands. We blindly entered 2020, a year of unprecedented events and seemingly endless uncertainties.

Amid the turmoil, life continued. Geared with masks, we navigated our way through the new norm. In a year like this one, even mundane tasks seem daunting; go to work, produce content, maintain a connection with others.

We spoke to creatives about how they balance their day to day lives in the ever-changing world around them in 2020. This is what they had to say:

Ebony Headshot

Ebony Ohe. // Photo by Davarja Daniels

What do you identify as? 

Ebony Ohen (graphic designer, model, writer): I pretty much just identify as a creative. 

Hanno Riak (model, influencer): I’ve been trying to figure it out. A lot of people have been saying I’m an influencer. 

Genaé Parnell (photographer, adventurer): I’m more than just creative… it’s more-so just my spirit. People want to be around me. People gravitate to me. Not just because of pictures. They book me for a reason, because of the energy I give off. I’m an adventurer. 

How do you balance your day-to-day life and the current fight for justice?

Ebony: I try not to let the condition of this world discourage me. If anything it kind of gives me inspiration on what angle I need to go in. With my spiritual background, I already understand that this world is a falling world. I don’t really expect it to be any type of perfect utopia, but I do understand that if I want my work to have any impact that I do have to understand the condition of the world and the conditioning of humanity. I don’t let it discourage me, I don’t let it bring me down, and the most important thing is I don’t let it distract me from the ultimate purpose that God has me here for. 

Hanno: Lately my life has been in shambles; it’s been crazy. The way I’ve been able to handle that is by doing a lot of self-care and self-evaluation. When it comes to the whole brutality thing, I feel like we have to live with this shield over us. When I go out like normal, I’m treated like less than a human. And then when I am dressed up and present—they treat me a whole different way. 

Genaé: Of course I have a 9 to 5 job [that is] predominantly white people. Now that I think about it, I am the only Black person. One of the things that I disliked was the fact that, you know, nothing had been acknowledged; even just a simple email. 

Hanno Headshot

Hanno Riak. // Photo by Kendall Chambers

How does the current political and social climate impact your creative works/processes?

Ebony: It impacts the work I do based off of just understanding where people are and trying to find a way to communicate to them. For one, showing them a mirror of where they are. I feel like a lot of people are more reactive than proactive. I recently wrote a piece titled “Black Women Get Off the Frontline”. That was just me speaking to this reactive state of women that are so quick to get on the frontline and do the work that is actually meant for our men to do. 

Hanno: People will ask me like ‘Hanno why aren’t you posting about these things that are happening around the world’ and I don’t have to follow the wave. I can choose a time where I am like, let me shine a light on this. And not just because everybody else is doing it. 

Genaé: For me, yes. But not in a way where I’m trying to continuously, like, advocate Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter. No – I actually want to put in the action. So, I’ve collaborated with other Black photographers. That’s something that I rarely do so I just kind of put myself out there to connect with other Black photographers. Seeing how they work, how they do things, how they do business. To me that’s a way of trying to find a balance with my own people. 

What do you do when you feel rutted, uninspired, overwhelmed, or experience any emotion or situation that isn’t conducive to productivity and creativity?

Ebony: Yeah, I definitely get overwhelmed. I remember earlier in the pandemic I found myself getting overwhelmed and really depressed. One thing I do is I allow myself to feel what I’m feeling. If I need the time just to cry for a few hours, I give myself space to do that. I’m also blessed to have a really supportive circle of friends and community that I can talk to these things about. 

Hanno: When I get in these slumps, I feel like I’m starting to become more aware of when [this happens], so that I can try to avoid it. Because once you’re in that hole, it’s a rabbit hole. And the only way I can get out is self-love, literally. 

Genaé: Obviously, therapy. However, I wrote a letter to myself. And in a sense, I guess you can say that it’s a form of mediation, but it’s a pretty lengthy letter that I wrote to myself and I read it every single day. In this letter it just describes the woman that I see myself as. The woman that I want to become. And I have to believe it’s not who I want to become, but the person that I’m going to unveil.

Genae Headshot

Genaé Parnell. // Photo by Kendall Chambers

What message do you have for yourself or other creatives during these unprecedented times? 

Ebony: Try to leave this world empty. One thing that I learned from Chadwick Boseman’s life is that he poured his entire life out into his craft and into all of the films that he worked on… focus on making sure that you leave this world empty. Get everything out there that God wants you to do. Make sure that it is from God. Don’t be so consumed with the world that you’re speaking the same language as the world. Leave empty and leave making sure that you’ve walked in the proper direction for your purpose in this life. 

Hanno:  Be aware of yourself and the energy you’re giving off. With the state of the world right now it’s essential that we stay connected to people [we] love. 

Genaé: Well more-so it’s a question that a creative should ask themselves. ‘What is your why’? Why are you doing this in the first place? Sometimes it’s hard being an entrepreneur, it’s hard to come up with ideas. It’s hard to not be the same as the next person. Unless you know why you’re doing this, I feel like that is the only message creatives need to know for themselves. 

These women, like countless others, are teetering through a tumultuous year. Through self-reflection, discipline, and a passion to create, they find a balance. It is this mental steadiness that allows them to push forward. Here’s to the creatives that are trying and doing. We commend you.

Categories: Culture