Episode 43: Artivist Maven Gina Belafonte

Heather Newman:  Hello everyone. Here we are again for another Mavens Do It Better podcast where we interview extraordinary experts that bring a light to our world. I am very excited today to have a wonderful woman on our show, Gina Belafonte who needs no introduction, but I will do a little bit of an intro. Born and raised in New York City, spent your life in entertainment and activism and I got to meet Gina a couple of years ago working on the INTO Action project and I'm so thrilled that you're on the pod today. Hi Gina.

Gina Belafonte:  Hi Heather. Thanks for having me.

Heather Newman:  Absolutely. It's been awhile. I haven't seen you in a bit because we've both been running around the world doing lots of awesome things. So, I was so excited to grab you for a moment. I know you're super busy with all the things that you're doing and I was hoping that we could talk a little bit about the activism part of your life. I know that's a very important part. And I know you're working with Sankofa and lots of other organizations, can you give everybody a little scoop into kind of what's going on in that sort of the world for you?

Gina Belafonte:  Absolutely. Absolutely. And again, I want to thank you for the opportunity and, you know, to have this platform and to share more about the work that I'm doing. So currently, I'm an artivist and I work in the intersection of art and activism using art as a tool to communicate thoughts and ideas and open hearts and minds. I am the executive director of Sankcofa.org. That's s a n k o f a.org and it's founded by my father, Harry Belafonte. And we educate, motivate and activate artists and allies in service of grassroots movements and equitable change. And we develop and create cultural content in a deep partnership with our artists and community partners.

Heather Newman:  That's so cool. How long has Sankofa been around?

Gina Belafonte:  I think officially it's maybe five and a half years that we've been putting ourselves out there and doing our best to be on the front lines. We really started right after so much, I mean, I'm realizing we and also so many other artists and activists started activating themselves and creating agency for themselves and platform themselves after the Trayvon Martin murder. And especially after the verdict, the George Zimmerman verdict, but many organizations were birthed during that time. Like Black Lives Matter and Movement for Black Lives and BYP 100. And there's just so many organizations that have emerged out of that time period. And Sankofa is one of them. We began a bit before that, but we really activated ourselves during that time period to be in service of the grassroots that were emerging and the victims and families of just police brutality and those awful, awful, just murders that seemed to happen like one a month, that were really put forward through social media. And we wanted to find a cultural way to respond, to get the word out for people to be more informed about the totality of the issue. Not just what was forward facing on mainstream media. And, we really also thought culture could be used as a healing opportunity as well, to give more agency to the grassroots in cultural ways for them to express their trauma, their fear, their anger, and to empower them to find nonviolent ways to respond right to the issue that they were facing.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. There's a lot of anger and being able to channel it, deal with it, and move it into a positive swim lane is huge. Right. And I think the, I just read the Ryan Twyman, who was just killed and so sad and 37 bullets, right. For that man. And so it's something that, you know, a friend of mine, we were talking about it and he was like, yeah, you know, that happened. I was like, no, it's happening right now. Like right now it's happening somewhere right now. And I think that your organization is one of those lights in the world that's helping people for sure. Wow. And with that, so I guess what are some of the ways that, like, I guess the programs that are inside it, I would assume that there's multiple programs that are inside of it, but like is there like a larger piece of it that you're working on with folks?

Gina Belafonte:  Well, we do our best to support the grassroots. Often there are initiatives, there are movements, there are fundraising events. There are things that we can do to support the grassroots because they're busy on the ground doing the one on one projects and community service projects. We have a few of our own that we do engage and Sankofa is in great support of many different organizations. We've partnered with the Women's March Los Angeles Foundation. I am one of the cochairs of the Women's March. So we've been working very intentionally with them and finding ways in which we can bring a cultural perspective to the work of women and the issues women are facing. Sankofa and myself are on the advisory board and partnered with the World Human Forum, which is an international organization. It's a small group of initiators of various origins, cultures and life experiences who are concerned about humanity and nature. And, we've brought together ourselves around common purpose to have a conversation around breaking down borders and to sort of respond holistically to all cultures in all facets and places in need, and to bring to light what people are doing in their communities that are really best practices in a way that we can sort of use and share different ways in which one can live and exist and have a whole human experience in their life. And then there are, where we get into direct service, where we get on the ground with specific organizations and artistic companies to do very specific work. We're a big support of 2nd Call, which is Second Chance at Loving Life, which is an organization that works with formerly incarcerated individuals as well as, individuals in the community who are looking to find ways in which to create careers and also to do life skills programs, to do nonviolent direct action work and find ways in which to communicate and to respond to things that happen in their communities as first responders in a nonviolent way and to accurately sort of be accountable for their community. And they also have a great workshop. And then from that workshop, men and women find career placement in trade jobs, union trade jobs, which is really, really exciting. And then there are just so many, there's the Get Lit Players, there's Community Coalition, there's Barrios Unidos, there's Creative Acts. There's just so many organizations that we work with. And then last year we were able to partner with the For Freedoms Collective and do the largest cultural initiative in US history where we did a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to take over some billboards across the country. And it was the first time Kickstarter allowed an initiative to be multi-state simultaneously and we requested $3,000 from each state. We hit our goal and we did a billboard campaign in all 50 states, including Puerto Rico and Washington DC. And it was really quite amazing. I mean, the billboards really varied in their messaging. For Freedoms is a nonpartisan kind of space. So we engaged artists all over the country and all over the world to participate. you can go to the For Freedoms f-o-r freedoms.org website and you can see there sort of the initiatives and what happened. And one of the things that we did for this initial outreach was Hank Willis Thomas came up with a reimagining Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms f-o-u-r freedoms, which is freedom of speech, freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom to worship. And so actually where we met at our interaction event, which is another way in which Sankofa and I sort of partner, we did a beautiful photo shoot. And so we reimagined Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms with the diversity of what America provides as it relates to how we look, how we present ourselves, how we eat, what we eat. That initiative was and continues to be extremely rewarding. We got the cover of Time magazine and we've had lots of really wonderful town halls in museums and community centers across the country talking about the diversity of our communities and the issues in our communities and folks that are living in ways that are not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. So we have a lot of folks that we engage that are living in poverty and we talked about those issues. And also the Los Angeles Poor People's Campaign is part of the nationwide larger initiative. And I've been very participatory in that struggle as well to create platform for those folks who are living below minimum wage who are having difficulties in finding a way to live in this capitalist society. And yet here we are in there they are. And so we have to get rid of the us and thems and become the we-s and work with our community as a whole because, you know, like when they say you're as good as the weakest link or weakest player in sports teams and things like that, I feel that way too. Like we're only as good as society as our most marginalized are and we really need to create ways in which that we can uplift and find equity with our fellow citizens.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that campaign was beautiful. I didn't realize it was called Four Freedoms, but I saw it all over the place. Eleuthera and I talked a lot about it too because, yeah, just beautiful. You are involved in so many things and, you know, it's all about lifting people up and bringing light, right. And trying to connect and how do you like just take care of yourself doing all of this work? You're a busy woman and it's also, you know, this work isn't easy. You know,? It's the tough work. It's the, you know what I mean? Like, and I know it's, if you love what you do, it's not work. Right. But, you know, how do you, how do you find some balance in that, in your life?

Gina Belafonte:  You know, I think that finding the balance is a moment to moment experience. You know, I think that yes, it would be really nice for me to take a two week solid vacation and get offline. I think it would be nice. I think it would be more actually a struggle for me. And so I would probably need to take a longer amount of time to actually like come off of the rhythm that I've sort of find myself in my life. But I, so what I do my best to do is find balance in each moment and in the work that I'm doing to take a pause when I really need it to be as nonviolent as possible, not only to others, but to myself. Being less reactive and to be more sort of suspending my judgment and to take a breath. You know, it's an ongoing work or human beings. None of us are perfect and it's important for us to acknowledge when, you know, we're being mean or rude or cruel. And a lot of the time I think that comes from not taking more time for oneself and checking in with oneself. But I meditate, I play with my dogs, I visit with friends. I engage in cannabis related activities to help like my shoulders, you know? And I love to dance, so that helps. Those are all things that help and I do my best to eat well. You know, I, but I also like to, I like chocolate and you know, I like, you know, certain things sometimes to like eat and I like to watch certain shows on TV or relax and kickback and space out. So, you know, I do my best to find all kinds of different ways, you know, to relax them, to heal. You know, cause in this work there's a lot of trauma. Not only do you witness, observe, and take on some of some of the time, but then it also sometimes unlocks your own personal trauma. So it's important to stay sort of present with yourself and gentle with yourself and give yourself an opportunity to really, you know, look within sometimes, and give yourself a break.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. No, I agree. I think when I get angry about things I've learned to sort of, not react, I still react sometimes, but I find that those are the things that I write about. Those are the things that I create presentations about. Those are the things that I connect with other people about because I have to sort of channel that instead of holding it in. Right. And I, yeah, it seems like similar with you. I, yeah, cause sometimes it's heavy. I did a presentation on fear and toxicity in the workplace and my phone blew up and people started, you know, coming to me and telling me stories and I was like, whew. You know, like, and that happens when you, when you do this work where you're like, okay, I want to hold space for you and I'm a keeper of your story and your secret. But, whew that's a lot, you know, it's like, wow.

Gina Belafonte:  Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And I think it's important for us all to uplift each other, you know, and recognize each other and send each other like little hellos and, you know, silly gifs and fun, you know, kind of messages to remind ourselves that we're here, we've got each other's back, and that we're not alone in this work. You know?

Heather Newman:  Completely. I've started something recently where I was like, I want a Kudos committee. And, you know, and it's like reaching out to people in your life and being like, you know what, I need some Kudos right now, or I need some like help spreading a message and being deliberate about it, you know, like, why not, why not support each other when something cool is happening or important or whatever and say, I need you to retweet this or to share it or to whatever, you know, and build that for ourselves. People sometimes do it anyway, but I think it's okay to be deliberate about that kind of thing. You know? And like you were saying gifs and emojis and I don’t know, little scarfs.

Gina Belafonte:  Absolutely. You know, it's interesting because most recently I'm part of a group of women who, it started out by a friend of mine Stacy Lynch who is the daughter of Bill Lynch. And Bill Lynch was a political strategist, on the east coast in New York. He was national, but he really focused on New York elections and issues and just a great mastermind really behind the scenes. Not many people, you know, who are not in the know, know of Bill Lynch, but those who are in the know, know how a strategic and important he was to so many experiences in New York City, you know, and he helped, he helped get Mayor Dinkins, the first black mayor of New York elected and worked very hard also on the visit to New York in the United States of Nelson Mandela when he came. Anyway, his daughter Stacy, who is really wonderful reached out to me and to another girlfriend of hers and just said, Hey, let's have dinner and let's invite some other sort of folks who are in our world, other women. And so, we had this dinner and out of that dinner we had more dinners and then out of those dinners there were seven of us that emerged in a collective to create I don't even know what to call us yet because we're still in the process of figuring it out. We call ourselves Daughters of the Movement. And so, it's Stacy Lynch, Bill Lynch's daughter. It's Ilyasah Shabazz, who is one of the daughters of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz. It's Hasna Muhammad, who is the daughter of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. It Is Dominique Sharpton, who was one of Al Sharpton's daughters. And it's Keisha Sutton, who is the granddaughter of Percy Sutton, who also a lot of people who are not east coast, don't always know who he was. He was the creator of the Amsterdam News. He started a really amazing radio station on the FM dial called WBLS. But anyways, so his granddaughter, and then there's the daughter of Diahann Carroll and Monte Kay, and myself, you know, the daughter of Harry Belafonte and Julie Belafonte. And so we formed this group and then we decided that we would take our stories, you know, to a broader audience and see if there was interest, you know, for people to hear what we have to say, what we have to contribute. And so, we've been panel discussions and speaker series and we have just recorded our first test, sort of draft podcast. And we're really excited about like where we might go with it. You know, it's all daughters of the civil rights movement and our family's legacies that we're bringing forward who played a big role in the civil rights movement. So that's another exciting thing that I've just become a part of.

Heather Newman:  That's amazing. You just gave me goosebumps with everybody's names. I was like, wow, that's so impressive and, and, and wonderful that you've like that you found each other, you know.

Gina Belafonte:  Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. Some of us have known each other since we were little. Some of us met when we were in our teens, and some of us just recently, you know, really began a friendship. I feel like we've all been sort of circling around each other as well in terms of our family's connections to each other because all of our parents know each other in one way or another. We're connecting through either art or politics. And so, it's just been a really beautiful process of discovery for, for the seven of us.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, that's fantastic. Well, and it's, you know, in a way it's like, oh, right. Like, why wouldn't you? Daughters of civil rights activists and movement, you know, it makes, it makes so much sense, but at the same time, people live all over the place and have their own, you know, that's real, that's super cool. I can't wait to hear more and see more from you all about that. That's amazing. I guess

Gina Belafonte:  We're so excited because there's so many people to include, you know. There's just so many walls. So we're excited to, to see where it goes and how we build and, and what comes forward from it.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. And who else is out there, you know, that you can bring into the fold. That's so cool. And I guess, you know, sort of speaking to being, you know, a daughter of an of activists, you know, your childhood, I would assume was, we've talked about this a little bit before, but like that was in your house, right? You know, like, yeah. Will you talk?

Gina Belafonte:  I sat on the laps and held the hands of all the aunties and uncles of the civil rights movement. So many, so many. You know, my father and Dr. King formed a very, very, very deep and close bond and they were best friends in some ways, you know, and my father and mother both created sort of a safe haven and a space and a place where many civil rights leaders could come to our home and just relax and let loose and feel like they didn't have to, you know, be on guard. I mean our phones were tapped, but we don't think our house was tapped. SO we were able to, you know, really come and just relax and also strategize. A lot of the strategy of the civil rights movement, you know, so critical to so many major moves was discussed out of our home. You know, and of course I was quite young, but like a sponge, I used to just, you know, do my best to keep my ear to the door and, you know, be introduced to such iconic notables, you know, like Fannie Lou Hamer and Odetta and Dr. King himself, of course. And Julian Bond and Bob Moses and Diane Nash. And I mean, it's just so many incredible icons. And you know, my aunt who was my father's youngest sister, moved in with us. She was very young and then she became one of the first members of SNIC. And so, and she was, until my daughter was born, she was my most favorite person in the whole world. She's my second most favorite person. So yes, I was just completely immersed in civil rights and then in her own right, completely, my mother is quite a force. She is a Russian Lithuanian Jew, born in the United States on the lower west side of New York. And brought up during the depression, quit high school, got her GED. She quit the music and arts school of music and art and got her GED and then went to school at the Katherine Dunham School for Dance. And then became a teacher there and then became the only white member of an all-black dance company that toured the world in the forties. So that was a very unique story life to live. She's 90 now and very much still alive and still campaigning for different politicians, you know, out on the street, registering people to vote. In New York City. And she always was very, very political and I learned so much of what to do and how to strategize also from her. And she's the one who really pulled me in, in a more intimate way. She would have any common, you know, lick stamps and envelopes for the fundraisers or for the notices or for the petitions. She'd have me go out into the streets for petition signing. She would have me help paper, lick envelopes, the whole thing. So I was put to work very early in that way. And, it's just part of my DNA it feels.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. I just had John Erickson who's the director of public relations for Planned Parenthood on, who's become a friend. And we were talking about, you know, strategy, you know, and the strength of strategy and that, you know, movements and change don't happen necessarily with just let's go put on a show, you know, or that sort of thing. Do you feel like, you know, the civil rights movement had momentum and then also a lot of tragedy and with the deaths of, you know, Malcolm X and, and Dr. King and looking at, you know, today in strategy, in creating change, do you feel like things are more together, more fractured or, you know? I, sometimes I look around and I'm like, can't we just get together? And it seems like there's people who are like, oh, I have to lead this, or I have to own it or whatever. And I don’t know, I think I have a lot of people ask me about, you know, where, where should I go to help and who should I align with? And, and I often, you know, what does your heart speak to and what do you, what are you passionate about? And go to those kinds of organizations. I don't know. Do you, do you find there's, there's a, a wholeness to this or, I mean, I know it's a work in progress, but I don't know just your take on the temperature of that.

Gina Belafonte:  Yeah, I mean I think that you've sort of unpacked a lot. I think it's not just one thing. I think that as it relates to a person, a person's individual contribution, I think it's the same as it's always been in some ways. I mean, you know, a lot of people often don't know what to do, who to trust and who to engage and who to follow. And who to walk beside, you know, I think that, I think that was the same in the civil rights movement and it is in all movements. I mean, the civil rights movement itself also had a lot of fracturing and a lot of infighting and people disagreeing and wanting to do one thing one way or another way or other people feeling like one person was getting too much of the attention. I mean, Dr. King himself, you know, at first was not really up for what he ended up sort of doing, how he sacrificed so much of his life literally for the movement. But I also want to say this, that we have a responsibility as human beings to treat people in a certain way and to make sure that our fellow citizens are, you know, living their life as responsibly and as fully with choice as they can. And you know, I think many of us, especially, I'm 57 and I know I'm a direct beneficiary, but we're all beneficiaries of the work that our parents and our communities did before us. They wanted, at least many wanted, in their own eye to make the world better for us than it was for them. And in many ways it did. And in some ways in doing that, we as a generation, you know, didn't learn how to do stuff because I think in many ways, some of our families didn't want us to ever have to do it. They didn't want us to come up against all of the trauma and the disappointments and the challenges. Not quite even acknowledging themselves, the deep and great reward this work has, especially when you're building with people who you do trust and people who do bring exquisite imagination to healing and engaging people in a better way for all. So yeah, yeah, yeah, there's a lot of people who want us to like, you know, steal the mic shall we say, or take over the mic or don't want to share the mic. And I think there'll always be that. I mean, I think that there is a deeper need in the movement, I think, for mental wellness and healing for people to actually do the work as human beings that it takes to just walk through the world. And I think, you know, the challenges that we face with each other are just a dynamic that we need to find a way to heal. And I personally feel that, you know, nonviolence is the way to go and the first place to be is nonviolent with yourself. And really check yourself. And the more you check yourself and see where your own shortcomings may be or your own fears may be, you can create more empathy within yourself for someone else who is maybe reacting sometimes the way you react or you know, you can see an insecurity or a feeling that you can feel more connected to because you're acknowledging it in yourself. So, yeah. You know, I think, you know, we're all human, so I think some people are going to want to take the light blue road and some people are going to want to take the aqua blue road and other ones are going to want to take the deep blue or the royal blue. But we have to acknowledge at least we're all in blue. No political pun intended. But, you know, yeah, we do things different ways. And also I think we also have to give a greater awareness to the ancestors and to those sort of more ritualistic and holistic ways other civilizations worked. And, you know, take a pause and say that maybe our way is not the way to go at this time and in this moment, and what we have to do is live up to this moment as fully and as best as we can with what's happening and not force something else to be another way.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, I, yeah, I agree. I always sort of go back to my, one of my favorite quotes from a very authentic person, "If you can't love yourself, how the hell are you going to love somebody else? Can I get an amen?" from RuPaul.

Gina Belafonte:  Yay, woman!

Heather Newman:  For sure. Thank you for all of that. I can listen to you talk for days. I really love connecting with you. It's so nice. I, and to have your wisdom and experience on the podcast for our listeners is so great. So thank you for that. That's terrific. I have a question about, so Beetle Juice, have you been to it in New York to see it on Broadway?

Gina Belafonte:  Oh, the musical play? I haven't. I have not, but I know the film pretty well.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, of course. A friend of mine who's also been on the podcast, Jim Keirstead is one of the producers. And I was like, well, they're singing Day-O in that for sure. So I was like, okay, that's kind of fun. And I had wondered if you've maybe seen it or not. So

Gina Belafonte:  No, no, I haven't seen it. I mean, you know, in the film they use so much of my father's catalog. For the film, which is so quirky and fabulous that they choose him as opposed to, you know, someone, some other contemporary of his. So, I just love, I just love that. But no, I haven't seen, I haven't seen the musical.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Yeah. I haven't seen it yet either. I think it won a Tony for something as well too, which was really fun. So, and speaking of acting and all of that, you know, you're also, you're a working actress and are you doing, is that playing into all the other things that you're doing right now? Are you doing anything in that realm?

Gina Belafonte:  Acting wise, no, not at this moment. But you know, you never know what might come in a couple hours.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Right. I know the phone will ring and

Gina Belafonte:  I'll put it to you this way, I am and it's, it's hard for me to say it out loud but here I am going to say it out loud. I'm working on creating a solo show that I'm going to take a few years to imagine and put together. So that is something that I'm really excited about and I'm also a part of some really wonderful cultural initiatives that are taking place currently. Like I also mentioned the 50 state initiative with For Freedoms. So that's an ongoing concern. And, you know, I just last night I went to the NAACP theater awards here in Los Angeles because I was nominated or I was nominated for best director for a show that actually won best solo show. Lyrics from Lockdown, Bryonn Bain's, Lyrics from Lockdown. So I'm super proud about that and I really, really love the theater and I love directing. So, you know, acting is my first love. If someone said to me, you can only do one thing that will sustain, you have to choose, I would choose acting because acting, you can be so many other things and so many other people that you don't need to be anything else. As an actor you can take them all on. And, and so it's just my first love and I really feel so whole when I'm, when I'm doing it. But the theater and film, through documentary, narratives, everything, just all of it, I just art, dance, music. I want to do it all.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. I know. I know. Being a theater major too, I was like, I need to get back to the stage sometime. Arrg, you know, but I mean, you use your voice and like I speak, you're out there speaking and giving presentations and all of that. So it's like the muscle gets worked, but it is a little bit of a different muscle when you're actually, you know, creating a role. But, um,

Gina Belafonte:  Yeah. Very, very true. I mean, creating a role, you really get to immerse yourself in so much that is not you while using all of who you are. You know, so it's super exciting, you know, to do that though. I will be producing a really exciting projects coming up with the Get Lit Players. We're going to be collaborating on a civics project that is creating thirty second to three minute video content around civics and we'll get youth and predominantly the Get Lit Players to develop, write, direct, and star in these videos with the adults of Sankofa.org and Get Lit to be producers on the project to help guide it in that way. And so I'm really excited about that because I feel it really will be for all ages, but I'm interested right now in developing and creating something that is, you know, from our youth that speaks to our youth about civic engagement and about the electoral process and about politics and about community engagement. So I'm really, really excited about that.

Heather Newman:  That's awesome. That sounds amazing. So, that "no" is actually all those amazing other things that you're doing.

Gina Belafonte:  Yeah. Exactly.

Heather Newman:  And I love it that you said it out loud that you're doing a solo show. We have to say things out into the universe. Right. I do that too. If I put it in my newsletter I have to do it. Right. You know, I always like to ask also, you mentioned moments and sort of sparks and I like talking about sparks with people and is there something, it can be right now or way back, that is sort of that a spark or a moment that led you on the activism path like that? Like if there was one thing that you could be like pinpoint and go, that was a moment when I was like, Yup. Is there anything that comes to mind for that?

Gina Belafonte:  Well, I think there were like several unconscious ones. Because you know, I think about as a child, like my mother working on, you know, a campaign with Bella Abzug and her running as a delegate for Shirley Chisholm when she was running for president. And, you know, meeting Shirley Chisholm and meeting Bella Abzug and having these incredible women in my life that my mother, you know, was the bridge to introduction to. And, but I think really in my adult, young adult life, I had already been sort of following my mother and father around with all of the major incredible work they were doing. Like my mother was working with the UN with this project called School in a Box. And my father, you know, initiated We Are the World which kicked off Hands Across America and Live Aid, and Farm Aid, and all those kinds of like big events with a lot of really incredible outcomes to it. But right after I had my daughter, she was about two, I met a man through another incredible fem-tor of mine. Connie Rice, civil rights lawyer, who is just phenomenal, an amazing woman. My father was getting an award, he was getting the Thurgood Marshall Award and Connie brought to the event a group of young men and I was there and we were all sitting at the same table and this one guy was sitting across from me, you know, he and I struck up a conversation, then he came around and sat next to me and we just super hit it off. Just talking about the work that he was doing. He referred to himself as a gang interventionist. And, I thought, oh, that's really cool. And so we got into a pretty deep conversation. And anyway, the night went on and was over and we were all leaving, and he turned to me, he said, you know, I would really like for you to come join us in our community for our celebrity softball game. And you know, this was in Los Angeles. And so he said, celebrity. And I thought, oh, that's kind of fun. I was like, cool, thank you so much for including me. Absolutely. I would love to. So gave me the address. It was in, um, yeah, I'm not sure if it, I can't remember now if it was South Central or if it was Inglewood, I can't remember which, community, in the Los Angeles area it was in. I took my then two year old or two and a half year old daughter and we went to the park where this softball, celebrity softball game was and we come to the park and we park and we're getting out and this man, his name is Bo Taylor. He's the young gentleman that I met, he comes over and greets us and we come over and I'm looking around and I'm like, Huh, that's interesting. There's like a barbecue off in the distance a little bit, but I'm not seeing any celebrities per se. So we go over to the, you know, softball diamond, baseball diamond and I look in like sort of the two dug out areas and he goes come over and meet the team and then I go over with my little girl and I'm looking at massive, predominantly all men, massive men, with tattoos on their necks and really, really muscular. And, if I had to guess, knowing now I would just, if I had to be like totally judging from the outside of who they were, I would say formerly incarcerated, former gang guys, you know, and I go in and they are totally beautiful, warm, loving, how you doing, striking up conversation. Then the game begins and I'm looking around and I'm still not seeing any quote unquote celebrities. So, I'm thinking, all right, well that's unfortunate. I feel so sorry for Bo that, you know, whoever he invited to come as a celebrity didn't show up. So it's time to play the game. I go up to bat, I get a base hit and then, actually, before I go to bat, I hand my daughter off onto one of the guys in the dugout, like some big brother with like tattoos all over and the two of them are having a great time, they kind of bonded a little bit. And so I'm off at bat. I get on base and then the next batter comes up and hits a home run and brings me home. And so I'm running into the dugout and I'm seeing these guys, big guys just yell out, yay, yay, look at your mom, look at your mom, she got a home run! And there's like in these squeaky little voices talking to my two year old and they're like gimme a high five and we're all high fiving and we get in. Anyway, I turned to Bo and I say, oh my gosh, that was so beautiful. And I say, Bo, listen man, I'm so sorry that no celebrities have shown up to your softball game and to support you. And he looked at me, he looks at me like I was from another planet, literally. And he was like, what are you talking about? And I was like, well, you said it was a celebrity softball game. And so, and he cut me off and he said, Gina, look around you. All these men that are here today that are playing, that have come back home from being incarcerated or who are formally engaged in gang activity. They are the celebrities. They are the heroes of our communities who are now turning their lives around and choosing to do the right thing. And when he said that to me, I looked at him like a deer in the headlights, eyes glazed and just was like, oh my God. And that's, the first thing that came to me was when my father told me about the first meeting he had with Dr. Martin Luther King. And it was supposed to be a 45 minute meeting where Dr. King wanted to solicit my father's support and they spoke for upwards of four hours. And my father always said that after that conversation, he knew that he would be in Dr King's service for the rest of his life. And, that is exactly what I felt when Bo said that to me about the men that I was surrounded by, that they were the celebrities. That those were the men that were being honored today and in celebration of, and I just was totally blown away by that. And so, I think that was a real push for me and a catalyst for me to become more deeply involved. And more deeply nuanced and even more deeply committed. And so, I feel, and unfortunately Bo is no longer alive, but I have been and will continue to be in service for his life and legacy. And I also do most of that work with 2nd Call and Skipp Townsend and the men and women of 2nd Call, which is again, Second Chance at Loving Life. And I would look them up at 2-n-d-c-a-l-l.org, 2ndcall.org. They're a beautiful organization. They deeply keep it real and I'm just so grateful that you know, Bo came into my life and that he remains there and his legacy remains with me. Always.

Heather Newman:  Thank you for sharing that story. The air quotes around of service, right?

Gina Belafonte:  Mm hmm.

Heather Newman:  For sure. That's amazing. Thank you for everything you do in the world and all the light you bring and the inspiration and grit because I know those, those are all of the things that you bring. Last question. So I know there's a million people that you could probably pluck out, but is there anyone right now that you're like, this person is just making me so happy with what they're doing and inspiring me? Is there somebody or something out there that you're like, you've got to check that out. Someone that's sparking you?

Gina Belafonte:  Well, Jeez.

Heather Newman:  I know that's a tough one.

Gina Belafonte:  That's tough. There's so many, there's so many people I work with. Well I would say, I would say one person who I'm deeply inspired by would be Emiliana Guereca, who is the cochair of the Women's March Los Angeles. She's really amazing. And she also sort of like, Bill Lynch, is very quiet about what she does and how she does it. She's really, really fantastic and very inspiring. And I would say, you know, Skipp Townsend at 2nd Call. He's just an amazing person. And all the men and women that work with him are really incredible. You know, I would say, oh, there's just so many, there's just so many. I don't even know where to begin. There's a lot of, there's a lot of, you know, even traditional production companies and theaters that are doing really important work around the country, bringing stories to us and networks that are stepping up to, airing, you know, works that we really need to see, to hear and to listen to. Because for so long the African American experience has been brought to us by the same folks who wrote the Bible, if you know what I mean. You know, the true and authentic stories need to be told really through the mouths of the people that are experiencing them. And, even in narratives, I think it's important to have one's self surrounded by the authenticity of the period or the incident or the issue and the people that were most affected by it. And I feel like there's a lot of artistic work and a lot of people who are really stepping up and contributing to the opportunity for all of us to get more woke and more organized and more educated. So there's a lot of really beautiful and great work out there. And I think that's why we see the counter of that in our current political climate in the United States and around many countries around the world. Coming to a point of such heightened conflict, shall we say? You know, because it's being met with a really good amount of reverb shall we say, and I think we need to be, to own that and to stay conscious of that. That there is balance in this work. And that we need to elevate into the consciousness of everyone, the light and the beam of the cool things that are being done and the, you know, all the counter activities that are going on in support and in honor of the tragedies and the conflicts. So it's hard to just pinpoint one thing. I would say my daughter also very much inspires me. A young woman just graduating from university, having the privilege of having gone to, you know, great educational institutions and she is really finding her way. And it's really beautiful to witness and to be a part of. And, yeah, just, stay current and, you know, being a part of stuff has just been so rewarding.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. That's awesome. Well, you're wonderful and amazing and thank you for being on the show and sharing all of that with our listeners. I really appreciate it.

Gina Belafonte:  Absolutely. And always, I just want to honor the ancestors and those who've come before us who paved a way for us all to be here. To share and to walk this path together. So, than you Heather. Thanks so much for including me and offering me this platform.

Heather Newman:  You're welcome. Absolutely. Thank you, Gina. So everyone that was a another episode of Mavens Do It Better. You can find us on all the regular places, iTunes, Spotify, and Stitcher. And here is to another beautiful day on this big blue spinning sphere. Thank you.

 

Heather Newman

Heather Newman is an award-winning marketing maven, technology entrepreneur and an epic connector that brings many worlds together. She has extensive experience marketing products and services for Enterprise businesses, startups and emerging markets. Heather builds plans and processes that are nimble, human and different. She is an adept storyteller and is passionate about growth for both employees and the corporate bottom-line. Heather hails from the arts and the bulk of her career has been working with the largest technology companies in the world (Microsoft, Google, Amazon, NetApp, Hewlett Packard, and Dell). Her nineteen years of experience working at technology companies and building global high-tech marketing strategy has driven millions of dollars of revenue and multiple award-winning campaigns. She has led global marketing teams for many technology companies including AvePoint, IT Unity & KnowledgeLake. Heather was a part of the original Microsoft SharePoint Marketing team. During her tenure, she helped launch multiple versions of the product, build the SharePoint Partner Ecosystem and conceived of and produced the first three Microsoft SharePoint Conferences. Creative Maven has produced thousands of global marketing campaigns and events. Currently CM is focusing on go to market strategies for Microsoft and its partners as well as a new site sister site launching in 2015 called Marketingfixer.com. Heather also serves as Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Content Panda, an innovative technology startup looking to actively disrupt how content is delivered inside software.