Balance / Carrying the Movement

November 19, 2020
Kayla Jones-White
Kendall Chambers, Davarja Daniels

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 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.

Ebony Ohen: graphic designer, model, writer
Hanno Riak: model, influencer 
Genaé Parnell: photographer, adventurer
Here's what they had to say:
The first question was an intentionally ambiguous one, allowing the interviewees space to describe themselves freely and declare as they deem fitting.
Question: What do you identify as? 

Ebony: I pretty much just identify as a creative. 

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

Genaé: 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. 

Ebony Ohen shot by Davarja Daniels

Question: 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, like 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. Actually 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 like a simple email. 

Genaé went on to recall her experience spending the weekend protesting and having to return to the office as if it were just another Monday, her white counterparts unconcerned or unaware of the growing political and social inequity that weighed heavily on her conscience. 

This question was encompassing - and each woman interpreted it differently. The answers varied from implementing meditation into their daily routines to relying on scripture for guidance in times of uncertainty. The overarching commonality in their answers was the plight of black womanhood and a dire need for change. 

Question: 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... for example I recently wrote a piece titled Black Women Get Off the Frontline. And 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. 

The conversation between Hanno and I shifted a bit when I asked this question. As she’d previously mentioned that she makes a living partially from social media as a brand ambassador, I posed a follow up question: do you feel pressure to center your social media content around  developing stories so as to not appear insensitive? 

Hanno: Yes! And what I’ve been noticing is that people will ask me like ‘Hanno why aren’t you posting about these things that are happening around the world’ and I’m just like... 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 Parnell shot by Kendall Chambers

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. 

Question: 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 kind of 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. 

The last question allowed the creatives to share words of wisdom for every content creator as we juggle multiple obligations, conquer obstacles, and overcome shortcomings to continue to produce. 

Question: 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.